Dogs and cats are curious by nature, particularly when it comes to food. They're also very good at begging for a taste of whatever we may be eating or cooking. It can be tempting to share your food with your four-legged friends, but we need to remember that some foods can be dangerous causing discomfort and even death. Below are 5 foods that are in a lot of our homes but are toxic to our pets!
Grapes and Raisins
Grapes and raisins are toxic to both cats and dogs and can lead to acute kidney failure or even death. While all forms of grapes are bad, it’s thought the dried versions of the fruits, which are often found in fruit cakes, trail mix, and snack bars, are more likely to cause severe symptoms if eaten. It’s not clear exactly which substance or chemicals in grapes and raisins causes poisoning in dogs, but even a very small number of grapes or raisins can cause severe problems, including death.
Normally symptoms start showing between six and 12 hours after your pet has eaten grapes or raisins, with liver failure developing within 24 to 72 hours of exposure. But these may not take effect for several days. In the most serious cases, the fruits can also cause sudden kidney failure.
Other symptoms can include
- diarrhea (possibly with blood present)
- abnormal drinking or urination
- increased drooling
- lack of appetite
Caffeine - Coffee, Tea, and Sodas
Many common products contain caffeine including coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and some supplements (e.g. pre-workout and weight-loss supplements). Since these products are commonly found in our homes, it’s important to be aware of the effect they can have on your pet, and to know the signs of caffeine toxicity.
Caffeine affects pets per body weight meaning the severity of the toxicity is dependent on their weight and the amount the pet consumes. Research suggests caffeine is lethal at 70 mg per 1 lb body weight. For example, instant coffee contains 60 mg of caffeine per teaspoon. That means that 4 teaspoons of instant coffee could be fatal to a 5-pound dog. Other caffeinated beverages such as tea, soda, and energy drinks pose no lesser threat to your cat or dog than coffee.
Caffeine is a stimulant. That’s why it helps us stay awake. Most of the symptoms of toxicity are a result of the stimulant effects of caffeine. Dogs and cats may exhibit clinical signs of caffeine toxicity within 30 to 60 minutes of consumption.
These symptoms include:
- Increased heartrate and blood pressure
Chocolate and Cocoa
When it comes to chocolate toxicity, it's imperative to remember this fact: Dark is most dangerous. The darker the chocolate, the larger the amount of theobromine, a cousin chemical to caffeine, that it contains. Thus, baker's chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and gourmet dark chocolates are more dangerous than milk chocolate. A substance like pot brownies is doubly problematic due to its chocolate and marijuana content.
Chocolate is toxic because it contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine. Theobromine is the predominant toxin in chocolate and is very similar to caffeine. The severity of chocolate toxicity varies greatly depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested and the size of the pet. Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity can take hours to develop and last for days.
These symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Excessive urination
- Elevated heart rate
- Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
Xylitol is a common sugar substitute that can be toxic to our dogs in even small amounts and it can be fatal. It’s regularly found in sugar-free chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamin supplements, a small handful of peanut butter brands, and other 'low sugar' or sugar-free products.
In both people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. However, it’s different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. This rapid release of insulin can cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar as well as liver damage to dogs. Cats and people do not experience this problem.
Chewing gums and breath mints typically contain 0.22-1.0 gram of xylitol per piece of gum or per mint. Thus, to achieve a potentially toxic dose, a 10-pound dog would only have to eat one piece of gum!
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption These symptoms include:
- Seizures and tremors
Onions and Garlic
Garlic and onions, as well as other plants of the Allium species (leeks, chives) in either fresh, dried, or powdered forms are toxic to both dogs and cats.
Garlic is more toxic than onions with raw garlic, toxic ingestion is around 1 gram per 5 pounds, and with onions it is 1 gram per pound. Onion and garlic powder are more potent and can cause more serious problems than fresh. Onions and garlic are a common ingredient in many of the foods we eat including foods you might not consider a danger to your pet. These include pizza, some baby foods, and tomato sauce. Garlic was once thought of as a "home remedy" for flea infestations; however, it has been shown to be ineffective and is not recommended.
The primary toxic ingredient in garlic and onions is n-propyl disulfide, an oxidant. This can cause red blood cell destruction (specifically, Heinz body formation) and result in anemia. Ingestions of onions or garlic of more than 0.5% of dog’s body weight are potentially toxic. For example, this would equate to a 30 lb dog ingesting about 2.5 ounces of onion or garlic.
Cats and Japanese breeds of dogs (Akita, Shiba Inu) are even more sensitive to the effects of these plants. Symptoms of onion and garlic toxicity can develop with one day but it can take several days to a week for your pet to show signs of anemia. These include:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased heart rate and respiratory rate
- Red, brown, or discolored urine
What are some foods that are safe for your pets?
It's not all gloom and doom for the pets who picnic with us, here are some healthy human food treats options. As with all treats, these should be fed in moderation.
- Green beans
- Sweet potato’s
- Zucchini and summer squash
- Easy Cheese
- Peanut butter (without xylitol)
- White rice
- Plain, boiled chicken
If you suspect you pet has consumed one of the above, contact the Pet Poison Helpline and your veterinarian immediately. These toxicities can be treated, but it’s important to seek medical attention as early as possible. Always keep your veterinarian and an emergency veterinary clinic phone number and address easily accessible.
Cortinovis, Cristina, and Francesca Caloni. Household Food Items Toxic To Dogs And Cats. Frontiers In Veterinary Science, vol 3, 2016. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fvets.2016.00026
Caffeine Are Toxic To Pets | Pet Poison Helpline. Pet Poison Helpline, 2020
24/7 Animal Poison Control Center | Pet Poison Helpline. Pet Poison Helpline, 2020