FOODS THAT ARE POISONOUS
TO DOGS AND CATS
Everyone loves their pet. And many of us like to show our love by sharing our foods with our furry companions. Sometimes our feline or canine friends like to indulge in our foods without our consent. In either case, some of these foods may be toxic to our pets. In this article toxic foods will be discussed, along with symptoms and signs of toxicity. This article will focus on foods that one might be thinking of sharing with their pets. We will assume that no one would intentionally give their pet alcohol, coffee, or moldy spoiled food. Not only are foods toxic, but many plants and medications are toxic also. The ASPCA has a poison control center that is staffed by veterinarians 24 hours a day to answer any question and recommend treatment for any suspected poisoning. The ASPCA can be reached at (888) 426-4435 (a $60 consultation fee will be charged). Their website is www.aspca.org.
ONIONS AND GARLIC
Many of us think of garlic as a healthy food that helps to fight infection and boost immunity, but to our pets garlic and onions (and also leeks and chives) may be too much of a good thing. These species of the Allium family contain a complex mixture of sulfur containing compounds (this is what gives them their distinctive odor). These sulfur compounds are able to bind with the hemoglobin inside the red blood cells of cats and to a lesser extent dogs and cause the red blood cell to burst and die, creating anemia. Toxicity usually occurs with one large dose or repeated small doses. A common cause of poisoning in cats is commercial baby foods containing onion or garlic powder. Consumption of greater than 0.5% of their body weight at one time can cause signs of toxicity. Japanese breeds of dogs (Pugs, Akitas, Lhasa Apsa, Shih Tzu, Chow) are more susceptible. Symptoms of toxicity will often occur several days after ingestion and include lethargy, rapid breathing, exercise intolerance, and possibly diarrhea.
Most pet owners are aware that chocolate can be toxic. However, not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain more of the toxic compounds theobromine and caffeine than does milk chocolate. Approximately 1oz of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is toxic, whereas 0.1oz of unsweetened chocolate is toxic. White chocolate is not toxic. Signs of toxicity occur 6-12 hours after ingestion and include (think what happens when you have too much coffee!) restlessness, and increased urination that can progress to vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures. If the pet is caught in the act of stealing chocolate or if it’s been within one hour of eating it, vomiting can be induced by giving hydrogen peroxide by mouth (1 teaspoon/ 20 pounds of body weight repeated every 15 minutes for 3 doses if necessary).
Despite the fact that the underlying toxic mechanism is unknown, these tasty little nuts can cause big problems for dogs (not cats…they must be too smart to eat them!). As little as 1 gram/ pound of body weight can cause symptoms. Within 12 hours of ingestion dogs become lethargic and run a very high fever. These symptoms progress to weakness and then finally to complete paralysis of the hindlegs. However, within 48 hours all symptoms completely resolve!
We all love the taste of freshly baked bread straight from the oven. Apparently some dogs (again cats are way too smart for this one!) just can’t seem to resist the temptation to eat it before it even reaches the oven! Once ingested, the bread dough continues to rise at the perfect body temperature of 101-102 degrees, producing ethanol, a type of alcohol, essentially causing alcohol poisoning. As would be expected, the signs consist of behavior changes, depression, and an unsteady gait (not to mention the drooling over that cute poodle that lives next door!), all of which require veterinary attention.
GRAPES AND RAISINS
These tasty little snacks are poisonous to dogs? But grapes are good for you! Unfortunately, dogs can develop kidney failure from eating only a few grapes or raisins. The reason that dogs are so sensitive to grapes and raisins is unclear. It was initially thought to be some mold or pesticide residue, but none was ever detected. And many owners have fed their dogs grapes and raisins for many years with no ill effects. But to play it safe, cut out all grapes and raisins from your dog’s menu. Kidney failure is serious and usually results in death. Initial signs are usually weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, and most importantly, drinking and urinating excessively. Any change in your pet water consumption is important and warrants a call to your veterinarian.
Xylitol is a sugar-alcohol used as a sweetener in sugar-free gums, mints, nicotine gums, chewable vitamins, oral care products, and baking products. Xylitol is made from corncobs or hardwood trees. It is as sweet as sugar, but only has 2/3 the calories. Xylitol appears safe for human consumption, but not for dogs (and likely cats). Unlike in people, ingestion of xylitol by dogs causes a rapid release of insulin which in turn causes a rapid decrease in blood sugar levels (ingestion of > 0.1 grams/ kilogram of body weight can cause hypoglycemia). Ingestion is usually followed initially by vomiting, and then within 30-60 minutes, lethargy, weakness, and seizures. However, in some dogs, liver failure develops 9-72 hours after ingestion without the signs of low blood sugar. Dosages of >0.5 grams /kilogram of body weight have been associated with liver failure (there is 0.3 grams/ piece of gum and 1 cup of xylitol= 109 grams). These dogs are sick! They are not eating, vomiting, very lethargic, and usually have evidence of bleeding on their skin or in their stool. Since the onset of symptoms is rapid, any dog having ingested >0.1g/kg of xylitol should receive veterinary care immediately.
It is obvious that many foods can be toxic to our pets. However, supplementing
our pet’s diets with fresh, whole foods can be beneficial to their overall
health. Supplementing with fresh cooked meats and eggs is acceptable, along
with the addition of fresh, cooked vegetables. Dairy products, sugary or processed
foods, and fruits are usually best avoided. But if one of the above mentioned
foods has been eaten, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice, or
contact an animal poison control center.