SIKESTON — It's a natural inclination to give pets leftovers and table scraps.
But as the holiday season begins, veterinarians say that's one of the worst things that people can do.
"I recommend that, as hard as it is, we practice 'tough puppy love,'" said Brian Heuring, veterinarian at the Delta Veterinary Clinic in Sikeston. "I know that we want to spoil them like we spoil ourselves, but we aren't doing them a favor if we feed them off the table or give them scraps."
Steve Williams of Animal Health Center in Sikeston agreed. "Every Turkey Day and Christmas Day in the past, we've been in here working on people's pets," he said. "Owners think they're doing no wrong."
Heuring agreed. "It never fails (that we see an uptick in calls after the holidays)," he said.
Two of the worst things for a pet are spices and foods with high fat content, said Williams.
"I would totally stay away from anything spicy," he said. "The spice can upset a dog's stomach to no end."
Foods with high fat content can lead to a serious condition called pancreatitis — an inflamed pancreas, said the veterinarians.
"It's unbelievable how many cases of that we're seeing," said Williams. Pancreatitis can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and even death, he explained.
Heuring said he routinely sees dogs with that condition as well. "It's also caused by stress and eating something they're not used to eating," he said.
Just as holiday gatherings can be stressful for humans, they take a toll on animals as well.
"There are more people around, which gives added stress to animals' lives," said Heuring. "Especially for cats, who are used to always doing the same thing."
Heuring said that not only sets up pets to act out of character and perhaps bite, it can also lead to irritable bowel syndrome.
There's another piece of bad news for dogs this holiday season: Veterinarians don't recommend bones be given, whatsoever.
"In the occasional dog, a bone will get obstructed and they'll die," Williams said. Bones can also get stuck in the roof of the mouth, and some splinter, which can lead to intestinal perforation, he added.
Williams did note, however, that pumpkin pie is good for dogs and cats because of the high fiber content.
In addition to not feeding scraps to pets, Heuring said it's important to keep trash somewhere that dogs and cats can't reach it.
"They're sneaky and have a good nose," he said. "It's amazing how pets can sniff the smallest treat in the bottom of the trash bag."
In addition to the regular holiday fare, Heuring said baking chocolates, macadamia nuts and grapes can be dangerous for pets. He also noted that it's been said that xylitol, a sugar substitute used in a lot of sweeteners, gum and some desserts, can be "very toxic" to dogs.
Aside from food dangers, the holiday season can present other hazards for dogs.
Pet owners should be aware when placing poinsettias inside their homes, as the leaves are extremely poisonous. "They need to be kept away from pets," said Williams.
Heuring also noted that strands of lights can pose a risk for pets.
"Cats especially like to climb trees, and the light cords need to be kept high enough where dogs can't get to them," he said. Both animals have been known to chew through cords, which results in electrocution.
Williams also noted that cats easily get stuck on any tinsel used to decorate trees.
Those with pets in the house should think twice before using additives to preserve or maintain their live tree, added Heuring. "If they drink the water, it can upset their bellies," he said.