• Which Foods Are Toxic to My Dog or Cat?

  • Which Foods Are Toxic to My Dog or Cat?
  • By: Dr. Clayton Greenway, B.Sc., DVM | Nov 1, 2016

  • In this video, Dr. Greenway discusses which foods are toxic to cats and dogs and debunks myths surrounding what is poisonous and what isn’t. Some topics covered in this video are chocolate, caffeine, chives, onions, garlic, alcohol, avocado, grapes, raisins, yeast dough, macadamia nuts, bones, and xylitol.


    I’m Dr. Clayton Greenway for healthcareforpets.com. What we’re going to talk about is toxic foods that you may feed your pet. These are common household items that you may have in your home right now that could be toxic to your pet. You may even be feeding them as a treat.

    Keep in mind that these things are all about dosage, it’s about how much you give. For instance I’ve seen a lot of pets come to me that have eaten chocolate. We all know that that is toxic to our dogs and cats but at this point I have never seen an animal die from it, I haven’t seen them eat enough to be at a level of a toxic dose.

    So if you’re concerned that your pet may have eaten something toxic I want you to take a sample of it and really try to record exactly how much of it they got. That’s the first thing your veterinarian is going to ask for, to try to determine if a toxic level dose was ingested. When these events happen, keep in mind that you can always call a poison control center.

    So let’s go through the list now of common food items that you may have in your home that are toxic to your cat or dog.

    The first would be alcohol. This is something that many people will have in their home, it’s not something that they commonly offer to their pet as a treat of any kind or at least I hope not but if they do get into it there’s a couple things it can cause. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lethargy and dullness and even at a very high dose it can cause depression of the central nervous system, and even cause tremoring and seizures.

    The next on the list is avocado. This is something that a lot of people think are very toxic to cats and dogs. This is actually something that we worry about with ruminants like goats and cows. It’s actually fairly safe for dogs and cats. You don’t want to be giving it to some other pocket pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.

    The next on the list is chocolate and chocolate has a product in it called methylxanthine and what this acts like is it acts exactly like caffeine in our body and if they eat enough of it then there’s a high enough dose to create symptoms. What you really want to think about too is the source of chocolate. Methylxanthines come from cocoa and so the higher the cocoa content in that type of chocolate the more methylxanthine dose your pet is going to receive. So for instance baker’s chocolate is very high in cocoa whereas regular milk chocolate is very low in cocoa. This is something where when I see a pet that has ingested chocolate, I really want to know the source and the amount of grams. I also see a lot of problems with dogs that eat the chocolate with the wrappers around them and they start having problems with that being in their stomach as well. So the symptoms we see with chocolate ingestion are vomiting and diarrhea, hyperexcitability, almost like your pet has had a dozen cups of coffee and can’t sleep and keeps walking around, panting, salivation, it can even lead to tremors, seizures and death if the dose is high enough.

    The next on the list is citrus so what this would be is it would be the leaves and shavings from fruits. This is not something that animals typically get into but if they are in your home, it’s something to be aware of. They can cause irritation in the gastrointestinal system, vomiting and diarrhea. Actually eating the fruit doesn’t really cause a problem but it’s all these peels off of oranges, lemons, and things like that, that will cause these symptoms.

    The next on the list is coconut and coconut oil. This is often used by a lot of people to help with skin by applying it to the skin or even ingesting it. But the milk and flesh from coconuts is very high in a type of oil that can irritate the gastrointestinal system and it can cause upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. This is really related to dose as well so some of these coconut-based products are okay, you just don’t want to overdo it with them and you really want to pay attention to the amount that they suggest you use on the bottle.

    The next is grapes and raisins. We know that these are toxic, we don’t want to give them to our pets. It’s unknown at this point what mechanism causes the toxicity in our pets but we do know that it can cause renal failure. We just don’t know the specific ingredient inside grapes or raisins that causes this problem and we don’t see it with all pets but many of them will have kidney damage if they eat enough grapes or raisins.

    The next is macadamia nuts. This is something to be aware of, they could be around your home or put out at parties. They are definitely toxic to cats and dogs. They will cause depression, tremors and even seizures, and the signs actually don’t show up right away. It takes about 12 hours after ingestion before they actually start to have problems with it. Again, it’s based on dose and you’ll want to tell your veterinarian about how many you think your cat or dog consumed.

    The next to be aware of would-be milk and dairy products. A lot of pets will have no problem with this and let’s face it we do give milk to our cats from time to time as a treat, we’ll just keep in mind that some dogs and cats won’t be able to break it down. They may be lactose intolerant or less tolerant of lactose and it could cause things like diarrhea. Probably nothing more severe than that but if you’re ever giving your cat a little bit of milk, you always want to watch the stools and make sure that it’s not creating a problem for them.

    Another broad category is just nuts in general. Any amount of nuts particularly for dogs, they’re very high in fat and protein, it’s something that can stimulate vomiting and diarrhea, it can also cause a very common problem that we see called pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ that digests fats and proteins. When dogs get a high-fat or high-protein meal it can cause irritation of the pancreas, cause it to inflame and then cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. So keep in mind that if you feed nuts, you’ll definitely want to only give a few and you don’t want to overdo it.

    The next is onion, garlic and cloves. These are things that we all typically have in our household and sometimes you may want to add it to the food to spice up the taste. In fact onion powder is often used to stimulate an appetite in both dogs and cats. These things are okay in small amounts but in large amounts they will definitely cause irritation of the gastrointestinal system, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression so you just want to be weary of that and keep in mind that a lot of these products are kept in a large volume, particularly in a bag of garlic or a bag of onions so when a dog does get into these things they’ll tend to consume all of it. So again dosage is most important and the more they get the more irritating it will be.

    Another thing that we worry about is raw meat. Now we’ve all heard about raw food and I encourage you to watch our video about raw diets but keep in mind that raw food, uncooked food, meat, bones, eggs, products like this that people add to the food, there could be bacterial content on it particularly E.coli or Salmonella which can cause gastroenteritis or an inflammation of the stomach and intestine and really cause a lot of problems there with vomiting and diarrhea. Whenever you consider giving any amount of raw food to your pet, you want to start with very small volumes. You don’t want to give them a large meal of this, you want to give a little bit and then watch how they respond to it and make sure that you’re handling these products well by cleaning up surfaces in your kitchen, by washing your hands afterwards because these products will have a higher amount of bacteria on them and it just has to be managed. If you are using a raw diet, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian about how to introduce it and how to manage it as well.

    A really common household item that is toxic that we are seeing a lot of now is something called xylitol toxicity. So xylitol is a natural product that forms, it’s not a chemical that’s created but we’re finding it in more and more foods. The biggest problem we see it in is nut free peanut butter. We are seeing a rash of toxicity cases presenting at veterinary clinics particularly for this item. A lot of people will use peanut butter to fill a Kong or put a pill in and if it’s nut free peanut butter it’s going to have a very high level of xylitol. I can’t overstate how dangerous this is. In fact, a spoonful of it has been known to kill a dog. The way it works is it tricks the body and the body thinks that it’s actually sugar so they get this very high level of xylitol in the body. Then how the body reacts is it releases insulin which drives the actual sugar content very, very low and creates what we call hypoglycemia or low sugar levels. That causes animals to be weak, causes them to pass out, become lethargic, and even feel like a ragdoll. Symptoms will include, vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, seizures and even coma and death. And I have to tell you we’re seeing a lot of this problem and a lot of veterinarians are talking about it. You’ll also find xylitol in high concentrations in sugar-free gum, baked goods and candies that you might find around the house.

    So it’s a very long list but what you want to do is you want to look around your home and basically pet-proof it. Look for these items, make sure that they’re out of reach or they’re contained so that your pet can’t access them and always consider when you leave your pet with someone or someone comes to house sit or if you’re having a party and having guests over, you want to make sure that the things they bring into the home are safe for your pets as well.

    Whenever these events happen, again, call a poison control center or call your veterinarian right away. There are specific treatments that we do for all types of toxin ingestions. They involve ideally making your dog or cat vomit as soon as possible to get it out of their system. We give them a product called activated charcoal which binds up these products and doesn’t allow the body to absorb them. We also put them on fluids to flush out these ingredients out of the body.

    These are common decontamination procedures that your veterinarian will know about. So if this happens to happen to you, give your veterinarian a call and proceed to your nearest emergency clinic if they’re not available because what’s most important to us is your pet’s health here at healthcareforpets.com.

    Which Foods Are Toxic to My Dog or Cat?
    Which Foods Are Toxic to My Dog or Cat?

    Dr. Clayton Greenway discusses which foods are toxic to cats and dogs while clarifying misconceptions about what is poisonous and what isn't.

    Disclaimer: healthcareforpets.com and its team of veterinarians and clinicians do not endorse any products, services, or recommended advice. All advice presented by our veterinarians, clinicians, tools, resources, etc is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian or other clinicians. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

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