While many foods are pet-safe in moderation, a few notable exceptions can result in serious—sometimes life-threatening—illness or toxicity. Knowing the foods to share and those to spare is critical for your pet’s health and safety.
Whether your pet tries being pitiful (e.g., sad eyes, pleading paw) or borderline obsessive (e.g., drooling on your shoe with a disturbingly unblinking gaze), sometimes you can’t help but share a bite.
But, while many foods are pet-safe in moderation, a few notable exceptions can result in serious—sometimes life-threatening—illness or toxicity. Knowing the foods to share and those to spare is critical for your pet’s health and safety.
Defining the danger—toxic versus harmful foods
Many online pet toxin lists include harmful but not technically toxic foods, to ensure pet safety, but this can be confusing. Harmful foods can cause mild to severe—sometimes life-threatening—complications, from mild gastrointestinal (GI) distress to dangerous intestinal blockages and pancreatitis, based on the pet and the amount consumed. Toxic foods, on the other hand, are poisonous to pets.
We strongly advise pet owners to never feed the following foods to their pets, but we know accidents can and do happen. So, pet owners must know the difference between toxic and harmful to ensure you respond appropriately and your pet gets the help they need.
“Visible illness signs in pets can be delayed as much as 24 to 48 hours after harmful or toxic food ingestion.”
Toxic foods for pets
Fortunately, few foods are authentically pet-toxic. However, their potency means that pets need to consume only a small amount to experience dangerous illness or injury. Always keep the following foods away from pets and never share prepared dishes or baked goods containing these toxic ingredients.
Grapes and raisins
Grapes—and raisins, their dehydrated form—can cause acute (i.e., sudden) kidney failure in some dogs. Although the cause of toxicity is unclear, affected dogs generally start vomiting and have diarrhea 6 to 12 hours after consumption, followed by progressively worsening signs. Kidney damage typically begins 24 to 48 hours after ingestion and is irreversible.Toxic doses can vary depending on the dog’s size, although some dogs seem especially sensitive and may experience poisoning after consuming only a few grapes or raisins.
Onions, chives, garlic, and leeks
The same organosulfur compounds that give the Allium plant family their distinct aroma and flavor can damage a pet’s red blood cells. As few as 5 grams per kilogram of onions in cats or 15 to 30 grams per kilogram in dogs can lead to hemolytic anemia (i.e., altered red blood cells that decrease the blood’s oxygen-carrying ability).Pets should not consume these ingredients in any form, including fresh or cooked, and especially not the concentrated versions (e.g., liquid extracts, granulated, or dehydrated preparations).
Many pet owners are aware that chocolate is poisonous to pets, but know little about its potency range. Chocolate contains methylxanthines, which are chemical compounds that behave like stimulants in the body and are poorly metabolized by dogs. Once consumed, methylxanthines trigger cardiac and nervous system responses, such as arrhythmias, tremors, and seizures, and GI upset. Bitter and dark chocolates (e.g., cocoa powder, baker’s and semi-sweet chocolate) contain the highest methylxanthine concentration per ounce, making them more dangerous than common milk chocolate. However, the sugar and fat content in all chocolate can cause pancreatitis and keeping all types away from your pet is vital.
Macadamia nuts are known to be high-fat, but the toxic reaction that impacts nerve and muscle function in dogs who ingest the nuts is poorly understood. Affected dogs may experience severe lethargy, hyperthermia (i.e., high body temperature), vomiting, unusual stiffness, and a sudden inability to walk.Like most toxic foods, macadamia nut ingestion is most commonly seen during the holidays when the nuts are gifted or featured in baked goods.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener commonly found in sugar-free candy, gum, and baked goods, as well as some prepared snack foods and spreads (e.g., peanut butter, jams and jellies). In humans, xylitol is prized for its low glycemic index, but in dogs, the substance causes a large insulin release and a corresponding blood sugar drop. In addition to severe hypoglycemia signs, including weakness, lethargy, seizures, and coma, some dogs experience acute and irreversible liver damage that results in deathXylitol quantities can vary significantly by product, brand, and flavor, so ensure you keep all wrappers or product labels, and take them to the veterinarian should your pet ingest xylitol.
Harmful foods for pets
Harmful foods, which are equally hazardous for pets and can trigger serious illness or physical injury, include:
- Alcohol — Many pets are attracted to alcohol’s sweet smell, but highly sensitive to its effects. As little as a few sips from an unattended or spilled drink can lead to alcohol poisoning, with signs that include incoordination, vomiting, drooling, depression, and low body temperature, and sometimes seizures and respiratory distress.
- High fat, sugar, or salt foods — Gravy, sauces, meat trimmings (e.g., skin, fat), cured ham, desserts, nuts, and salty snack foods are too rich for your pet’s digestive tract and can aggravate the pancreas or GI tract. Signs include severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and pain, and death, if the pancreatitis is not treated.
- Meat bones — Never feed your pet any meaty bones and ensure trash cans that contain bones or meat remnants are inaccessible. In addition to choking and constipation, cooked bones can splinter and lacerate the gums or GI tract, while raw or cooked bones can become a life-threatening blockage requiring surgical removal.
- Yeast dough — Fermenting yeast from unrisen dough releases alcohol in your pet’s stomach, causing toxicity signs, and the rising dough can form a dangerous blockage.
- Dairy products — Dairy intolerance is common among dogs and cats and can cause significant GI upset. Senior pets can also experience age-related changes in their digestive enzyme production that make breakdown of milk, cheese, and other dairy products difficult.
What to do if your pet consumes something dangerous
Visible illness signs in pets can be delayed as much as 24 to 48 hours after harmful or toxic food ingestion. If you know or suspect your pet has eaten something dangerous, don’t wait—prompt veterinary treatment can reduce or reverse harmful effects and ensure your pet has a positive outcome.
In addition to calling our clinic during normal business hours, your Dr. Treat One™ membership provides 24/7/365 emergency assistance at your fingertips via the Dr. Treat app. Our virtual care team can triage your pet’s condition—day or night—and refer you to an emergency veterinary facility, if necessary. If your pet is already symptomatic, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Recognizing and protecting your pet from everyday hazards is a big step toward ensuring their health and safety. And, you will have total peace of mind knowing that your efforts are backed by the Dr. Treat team’s expertise and be able to focus on your four-legged companion.
Discover the immeasurable advantages of a Dr. Treat OneTM membership and experience a revolution in concierge veterinary care.