Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human foods poisonous for dogs

Like many dogs, carefree little Kokanee merrily grazes through her home looking for interesting stuff. After sniffing around mom’s purse, she hit the jackpot and snagged a few pieces of tasty xylitol sweetened gum. That was the start of some serious health problems and a lot of trips to the vet. The little gal is fine now, but it was quite a scare.

People typically child and pet-safe their homes by locking up prescription and over-the-counter drugs, alcohol and vitamins, and avoiding poisonous household plants, then accidentally or lovingly treat their furry companions to fatal foods. Here are some non-fido-friendly ingredients to watch for as either whole foods or as ingredients found in processed foods:

  1. Products sweetened with xylitol

Danger, danger. If you live with a diabetic or someone on a diet, watch your sweeteners. Even a few sticks of xylitol-sweetened gum or sweetener packages can cause liver damage. Check the ingredients listings – even when a product is sweetened with aspartame, it can also include traces of xylitol.

  1. Chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate icings

Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound which makes dogs pee a lot and increases or changes their heart-rate. While excessive urination is uncomfortable, the heart rate changes can kill them. While some dogs miraculously eat a box of chocolates and survive, it’s likely that the chocolates were fruit filled with lots of milk and sugar rather than real high-quality chocolate. It’s chocolate purity that counts. One ounce or 28 grams of pure dark chocolate can kill an 11 pound dog.

  1. Coffee, coffee beans and coffee grounds

They all have caffeine, and dogs that eat caffeine can suffer from caffeine toxicity. The symptoms are similar to the symptoms of chocolate toxicity, and just as serious, if not more so.

  1. Hops

If you’re a home brewer, watch out. Hops can cause malignant hyperthermia, and potentially death. Unbeknownst to most vets, at least eight cases of hop toxicity in dogs have been recorded by the National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois.

  1. Macadamia nuts or macadamia nut butter

The toxic compound is unknown, but the affect causes locomotory difficulties. Dogs develop a tremor of the skeletal muscles and weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters. Affected dogs are often unable to rise and are distressed, usually panting. Some dogs have swollen limbs and show pain when the limbs are manipulated.

  1. Raw, cooked or dehydrated onions, onion powders

Onions contain a substance called thiosulphate which dogs and cats can’t digest. According to veterinarian Dr. Wendy Wallner onion toxicity causes a Heinz body anemia. Heinz bodies are small bubble-like projections which protrude from a red blood cell and can be seen when the cells are stained. This "bubble" is a weak spot in the red blood cell and, the cell has a decreased life-span and ruptures prematurely.

  1. Raisins and grapes

Grapes and raisins appear to cause renal failure in dogs. Veterinarians have not determined the toxic component and it’s also not clear if long-term ingestions can lead to the same effects that a large one-time ingestion can.

  1. Raw, cooked or powdered garlic

Garlic is also a member of the Allium species, in causing changes in red blood cells in dogs and cats.

NOTE: There’s a lot of controversy around garlic for dogs. Some sources claim that it’s poisonous, while others recommend serving it in small doses for its natural antibiotic properties. Do your own research. Talk with your vet. Then make your own informed decision.

  1. Green, unripe potatoes and tomatoes

The green parts are toxic. Potatoes, tomatoes and other Solanum species plants are members of the nightshade family. These plants contain solanine and other toxic alkaloids, which can produce drooling, severe gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, drowsiness, central nervous system depression, confusion, behavioral changes, weakness, dilated pupils and slowed heart rate.

  1. Other
  • Significant quantities of avocado fruit and branches.
  • Fruit pits or seeds, which often contain cyanide, which is poisonous.
  • Spices such as tumeric, nutmeg and mustard seed.
  • For cats, avoid cleaning and disinfecting products that contain Phenols

Cats are unable to process phenols and so if they ingest any (for example licking their paws after walking across a damp floor) the phenols will build up in their body as well as potentially cause severe burns to the skin. Phenols are found in pine scented products (pine based cat litter has the phenols removed) and in disinfectants that turn water 'milky' or cloudy.

Individual animals also have food allergies, which make them intolerant to specific items. Although problematic, these are not typically fatal. If you think your dog has food allergies, there is no reliable diagnostic test other than a strict food elimination diet. Your veterinarian would likely recommend an extremely limited diet and reintroduce foods until the cause is found.

Similar to humans, fatty foods can be harmful and even lead to pancreatitis, a serious inflammation, which can be fatal. And, large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning. It’s best to skip feeding fido salty scraps such as meat fat, chips and dips.

If you think your dog has been poisoned, telephone ahead, then bring your pet immediately to your veterinarian. In Regina for after-hour emergencies, contact the 24-Hour Clinic in Regina located at 1846 Victoria Ave East, 761-1449.

For more information, talk with your vet and read other online resources:


  1. Louise,
    Thanks for spreading the word on pet toxicities from human foods on your blog. You've comprised a very helpful and acurate list.
    I'm thrilled to hear that Kokanee eventually recovered. I hope everything is continuing to go well!
    As a veterinarian at an animal poison center, I speak to so many dog and cat owners who realize the perils of poisoning (especially from human foods) when it's too late. When in doubt, call an animal poison control center early on!
    I wanted to make you aware of another important resource out there--Pet Poison Helpline. Pet Poison Helpline is an animal poison control center and is the most cost-effective animal poison ($35/case vs. ASPCA's new $60/case) control out there. Unfortunately, because animal poison controls are not federally or state funded, there is a fee to allow the service to be run 24-7. We provide a similar service to that of the ASPCA's center, but have the added benefit of veterinary specialists (in internal medicine and emergency and critical care) as part of our staff. Please visit our website for more info and helpful tips! Our 24/7 phone number is 800-213-6680. Thanks for spreading the word!
    Dr. Ahna Brutlag, DVM
    Assistant Director of Veterinary Services
    PS: We also have listings of household and toxic foods on the site. http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/IsThatPoisonous/

  2. Excellent post Louise! Very informative and eye-opening.

    Gale :)

  3. Great post on poisonous foods for dogs! We did one a few months back too as there are many of these that some dog owners just don't know about. one of our clients told us that they were sharing their chocolate bars with their dog! I thought the dangers of that one was much more common. Quite scary.
    There are also a few others many dog owners don't know about (the xylitol/gum one especially) so it's so good to get this info out there.
    Thanks so much for this article!


  4. You're very welcome and thank you right back Dana. I just looked your post up - it's very well done. So many pet people want to do the right thing - with more of us spreading the word, we can help them.


  5. Thank you for this! I never knew about xylitol causing liver damage; my purse will be off the floor from now on!