Things Your Dog Shouldn't Eat

I originally wrote up this list for my mom to print out and put on the refrigerator since she hadn't had a dog in so long and wanted to be super safe with Summer, so I figured I'd clean it up and post it as a corollary to the Thanksgiving safety article. It includes common foods that are fine for people but toxic to dogs, common toxins found around the house, and some other common ingestion issues that cause trips to the veterinary ER.

  • Chocolate. Theobromine is a chemical found in chocolate, and it's toxic to dogs. Its toxicity is relative to the dose, and the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it has, so small amounts of milk chocolate are generally harmless to dogs. However, in dark chocolate or in baking chocolate, the concentrations are much higher and a smaller amount of chocolate can be harmful.
  • Grapes and raisins. The mechanism of toxicity isn't known, and not all dogs seem to be susceptible, but it has been confirmed repeatedly that some dogs can experience acute renal failure after just a few grapes or raisins.
  • Macadamia nuts. As with grapes, the mechanism for this toxicity isn't known, and it appears to vary greatly from dog to dog, but it's a confirmed problem. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and shaking. Most dogs survive macadamia poisoning, but it's obviously best not to gamble.
  • Antifreeze. Obviously, antifreeze is poisonous, but what's not obvious is that it's sweet tasting. Many dogs will lick it up spilled antifreeze if, for example, it leaks out of your car onto the driveway. Very small amounts of antifreeze can be fatal.
  • Some household plants. I don't have space for the whole list, but you can look up your plants on the ASPCA's list of toxic household plants to be sure you don't have anything dangerous in reach of your dog.
  • Onions. Onions contain a chemical (thiosulfate) that can cause anemia in dogs. As with theobromine in chocolate, the danger is dosage-dependent, so a little bit of onion shouldn't cause a problem. However, you do want to keep your dog from eating large amounts of onions.
  • Garlic. Garlic also contains thiosulfate, but many dogs happily eat garlic, and many dog foods contain it, so it's not something I worry about. Nonetheless, it may technically be toxic.
  • Avocado. There is some debate surrounding the toxicity of avocados. The pits are definitely toxic to many mammals, as are the leaves of the plant, and the meat of at least some varieties are toxic to dogs. If you want to do your research on what varieties of avocado are safe, go for it, but don't just give avocado willy-nilly to your pup.
  • Salt. Dogs' kidneys are generally more sensitive to damage than ours, so be careful that your dog doesn't get a chance to ingest large amounts of salt. Play-doh contains quite a bit of salt, so keep an eye on your dog if he eats a bunch of it.
  • Caffeine. Dogs can be very sensitive to caffeine, so be sure your dog doesn't get a chance to ingest anything with a significant quantity of caffeine in it.
  • Alcohol. It's obvious that alcohol isn't for dogs, but what's not obvious is that many dogs like the taste of beer and of some sweet liquors and will drink them if they're spilled or if glasses are left within reach. A relatively small amount of alcohol can be dangerous for dogs, so don't play around. And no, it's not funny when a dog drinks beer and staggers around.
  • Xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in some human foods and is frequently the sweetener in sugar-free chewing gums. It is very poisonous to dogs, so a dog who ingests a pack of chewing gum needs to go straight to the vet ER.
  • Corn cobs. Corn is sweet, and the cobs frequently still have some butter and salt on them when we finish with them and throw them away. A dog can easily break off big chunks and swallow them, and they are a common cause of intestinal obstructions in dogs.
  • Human pharmaceuticals. Human and canine physiology are quite similar, and many medicines that work for us are also used for dogs—typically in smaller doses since their bodies are smaller. But even medicines that might be safe for a dog in the right dosage are almost certainly an overdose if he swallows even one or two human pills. Also, some human meds have sweet buffered coatings that may tempt a dog if the pills are left in his reach. Lastly, there are some human medicines that are toxic to dogs even in tiny quantities. The lesson here is to keep all human meds out of the reach of your dog and never to give a dog human medicine unless it is specifically cleared by your dog's vet.
  • Fat. Fat is, obviously, an important part of a dog's diet. Dogs need lots of good fats. However, a large quantity of fat ingested quickly can cause diarrhea or vomiting, and if a dog gets too much fat in a short period of time, he can develop a condition called pancreatitis. Acute, severe pancreatitis can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include vomiting, diarrhea, distended abdomen, hunching up, lethargy, and fever. If your dog eats a large amount of fat and seems to be feeling ill afterwards, call your vet sooner rather than later.
  • Cooked bone. We don't feed our dogs a raw diet, but many people who do give their dogs raw bones as part of the feeding protocol. Dogs seem to be able to break up and properly digest raw bones—though there are some precautions raw feeders take that you'll want to read about if you go in that direction with your dogs. However, cooked bones are another matter entirely. A bone that's been heated will splinter when it's chewed, and those splinters can perforate a dog's gastrointestinal tract if they're swallowed. They also can cause obstructions. Both of those problems can be fatal, so keep cooked bones away from your dog, and call the vet right away if your dog gets into any cooked bones.

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