Here at the Service Dog Society, our service dogs are a part of the family. That means they’re a part of all gatherings and holidays, including Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is full of new and exciting smells and foods, but many of them are not safe for your dog. By planning ahead and taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that this special day is fun and enjoyable for all members of the family, especially the four-legged ones.
Work or Play?
You’ll want to decide ahead of time whether you need your service dog in working or play mode. Much of your decision will be based on whether your dog is able to respond and assist you if needed even when they aren’t necessarily in a strict working mindset. Consider your disability and what task work you may need that day.
Take into account where you will be celebrating. Will you be hosting dinner at your home? Perhaps it will take place at a family member’s home or even a public venue. If you are going to be in a public place that isn’t normally pet-friendly, such as a restaurant, your decision is easy. Your Service Dog should be in working mode for public access and on his/her best behavior. If you are going to be staying home or going to another private residence, you have more flexibility.
Once you’ve decided what is best for your needs and as a team, make sure to communicate your decision clearly to your family, friends and those spending the holiday with you. If you are comfortable, let them know what your needs will be. It could also be helpful to provide concrete ways that they can support you and your dog if needed. Make sure that everybody is on the same page ahead of time. That way, expectations are clear and any potential disagreements can be ironed out beforehand, rather than during the festivities.
Traveling Out of Town
If you are planning on flying or driving out of town for Thanksgiving, and are taking your service dog, you’ll need to prepare accordingly for the trip. The holidays can render airports especially hectic, so having your ducks in a row will really pay off.
For airplane travel:
- Be sure that your service dog has the training they’ll need to work smoothly in the airport and on the plane. This includes working amongst crowds and a very solid tuck/down-stay.
- Be prepared for going through security. This requires a rock solid sit or down-stay and fabulous recall.
- Find out where the airport’s pet relief stations are, in case you need one.
- Plan out your dog’s exercise, potty and food/water routine for the day before and day of travel. Restricting food and water before the trip can be helpful in ensuring your service dog doesn’t need to potty on the plane.
- Consider bringing a travel mat of some kind for your dog to lay on in the plane. The floor is colder than you think!
- Make sure you have all the supplies your dog needs on the trip.
- Review the applicable laws (ACAA and the ADA) and print out copies to have with you if needed.
- If you have an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog, make sure you bring the appropriate documentation.
- Bring copies of your dog’s important paperwork and medical records, just in case.
For a road trip:
- Secure your dog safely in the car while driving. (Read – Safe Travels: Driving With Your Service Dog)
- Bring a first aid/emergency kit along for the ride, just in case.
- Make sure you have all the supplies your dog needs on the trip.
- Bring copies of your dog’s important paperwork and medical records.
- Plan out opportunities along your route to potty your dog and let them stretch their legs.
- Never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle.
For a hotel stay:
- Review the applicable laws (ADA) and print out copies to have with you if needed.
- Consider where your dog will sleep. Bring a pop-up crate, regular crate, travel mat, bed or whatever works best for your dog.
- Make sure your service dog is comfortable eliminating in a strange place and on various surfaces. Figure out where you will potty your dog once you arrive.
Save the Feast for the Humans
Many Thanksgiving dishes are rich, fatty and flavored with hazardous ingredients (for dogs). Fatty foods such as turkey skin, gravy, desserts, butter, and oils can cause Pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the organ that helps digest food and controls blood sugar. Some signs of Pancreatitis include belly pain, appetite loss, vomiting, and diarrhea.
There are also many choking and obstruction risks from things like corn on the cob, cooked turkey bones, food packaging and more. Make sure to keep the turkey carcass well away from the edge of the counter or put away where your dog can’t jump up and consume it.
It’s extremely tempting to feed your service dog table scraps during the holidays, especially when they are looking at you with cute puppy-dog eyes. Even when you are able to resist, you still have to worry about family and friends slipping your dog a treat under the table. Inform others not to feed your service dog without your permission and watch out for those who may not listen. They may think you’re being cruel and unfair, but it is far more cruel for your dog to become ill due to your (or others’) lack of discipline. Be an advocate for your dog and stand up for their best interests.
Foods that are harmful to pets and should be avoided:
- Alliums (onions, chives, garlic, leeks, scallions) – can cause toxic anemia in larger quantities.
- Stuffing (may contain alliums, herbs, spices, etc)
- Gravy and fatty sides – can cause Pancreatitis and other issues.
- Cooked bones – can splinter in the digestive tract.
- Turkey skin – very fatty and covered in herbs, butter, oils and spices that are difficult to digest.
- Corn on the cob – choking and obstruction risk.
- Grapes, raisins, and currants – can cause kidney failure.
- Walnuts and Macadamia nuts – can cause “macadamia nut toxicosis”.
- Xylitol (a sweetener found in nut butters, baked goods, and gum)
- Chocolate (look out for baking chocolate in recipes).
- Nutmeg (in sweet potato dishes and desserts) – can cause seizures, central nervous system issues, and death.
- Sage – can cause an upset stomach.
- Alcohol (can be found in some desserts as well).
- Yeast dough (don’t leave to rise where your dog can get it!) – the gas and ethanol by-products can be life-threatening.
If you believe your service dog may have ingested a dangerous food or another item, immediately contact your veterinarian, nearest emergency veterinarian and/or the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 888-426-4435.
Feel bad that your dog is missing out? Here are some safe foods for your dog to enjoy. Keep in mind, even safe foods, if your dog isn’t used to them, can cause digestive upset. So keep new foods to a minimum if you choose to offer them.
**If your dog is allergic to any of these foods or has other health complications, please refrain from feeding them unless approved by your veterinarian.
Foods that are usually safe:
- Pumpkin puree
- Plain turkey (white meat, no skin or bones)
- Green beans
- Apple slices
- Plain sweet potato
- Check out these cute Thanksgiving-themed dog recipes!
Keep Your Dog Secure
The holidays can be stressful for both humans and dogs. With so many people coming and going, there is a higher risk of your dog escaping. Unless you are 110% certain that your dog won’t try to run through an open door, take the proper precautions to keep them secure. Make sure guests know there is a dog present and to be aware when they are opening an outside door. Consider tethering your dog to you with a leash or utilizing baby-gates to contain them in a safe area. Watch the exits when guests arrive and leave, and know where your dog is at all times.
Put a collar and identifying tags on your service dog before the event starts. Check ahead of time to be sure that your dog’s tags are up-to-date with accurate information in case they escape. Even if you are pretty sure that nothing will happen, it’s far better to be prepared just in case.
Watch Out for Other Pets and Children
Most likely, there will be some attendees that are not as dog-savvy as you. No matter how prepared you and your service dog are for the event, you still need to keep a keen eye out for the dangers that others pose to your dog’s safety. You should be especially vigilant if there are other pets and children present.
While some children know how to be polite and appropriate around dogs, many don’t. Be sure to protect your dog from children who might feed your dog something dangerous, accidentally let them escape through a door, or be physically rough such as jumping on, sitting on, pulling on or hitting your dog.
Even if your dog is well-mannered and tolerant (which a service dog should be), you can’t control how other dogs, cats or other pets may react to your dog and the Thanksgiving celebrations. If you are visiting someone else’s home, be sure to discuss with them ahead of time how they think their pets (if they have any) will deal with the situation. Unless you are extremely familiar with the other animals, proceed with caution. Look out for resource guarding (especially with all of the high-value foods around) and body language that indicates stress from both your dog and the other pets.
If you can’t guarantee your dog’s safety, and the host isn’t willing to put their pets safely away, it might be best to leave your service dog at home or to stay home yourself. This situation might also come up if the host is resistant to you bringing your service dog for any reason. This is a very difficult dynamic to find yourself in. Not everybody understands the important role that a service dog fills, especially if you have an invisible disability or if others aren’t aware of how your disabilities affect you. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for discrimination, of course, but it does happen sometimes, and if we’re dealing with a private residence, they have the right to make their own rules.
Do your best to educate if you can. In the end, though, you need to do what is best for you and your service dog. You need to make sure that you are both safe. If that means staying home, try to make the best of the situation. Find a good support system that understands what you are going through that you can vent and cry to. Chances are that there are other handlers out there at that very moment dealing with the same thing.
Other Hazards to Keep an Eye On
Sometimes hazards come from places that you wouldn’t expect. Here are some dangers to have on your radar:
Plants – Many festive plants are dangerous if consumed by your dog. These include amaryllis, baby’s breath, lilies, hydrangeas, sweet william, poinsettias, holly berries, mistletoe and more. Wondering if your plants are safe? Assume they aren’t and keep them out of reach until you are able to look through ASPCA’s extensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants.
Holiday decorations – Holiday decorations and gifts can be made up of small and/or toxic parts. Centerpieces might have glass pieces or be created from toxic plants (see above).
Trash – Items such as food covered tinfoil, food packaging, turkey carcasses (which may have strings and plastic bags inside, not to mention the cooked bones), toxic food remnants and more are waiting to be discovered by your dog in the trash. Keep trash cans locked and behind closed doors to protect your service dog from needing a late night emergency vet visit.
Cooking appliances and kitchen tools – Cooking Thanksgiving dinner requires hot appliances, such as the oven or stove, as well as sharp items like knives and corn on the cob holders. Keep these tools well out of the reach of your service dog and check to be sure they are well out of harms way before opening the oven or carrying hot foods.
Purses and coats – The belongings of guests are a minefield of hazardous objects. Visitors may bring in harmful medications, gum sweetened with xylitol, cigarettes, chocolate, sharp objects, or other substances. Make sure that all coats and purses are securely behind closed doors and off the floor where your dog could get into them.
Be Prepared But Enjoy
Thanksgiving may present some unique challenges for you and your service dog, but by keeping these points in mind and preparing beforehand you can have a wonderful holiday. Whether that means being surrounded by others or a quiet evening at home, you’ll have at your side the greatest blessing of all, your service dog.
**Don’t forget to check out our Black Friday/Small Saturday/Cyber Monday Deals for Service Dogs!