Although it is becoming more and more well known that our dogs should not eat chocolate, doubt is often cast on this toxin (and others) because of the stories people have about their dogs or cats who ate chocolate and “They were totally fine!”
The same can be said about grapes, onions and garlic, which is why you’ll find us veterinary folks yammering on about them! I’d like to take this opportunity to list off some common household foods that you should not give to your dogs, but also the WHY so that it doesn’t seem like such an arbitrary suggestion!
The reason sometimes dogs are “getting away” with consuming chocolate even though it can be very dangerous for them is because there are a few variables that the danger depends upon. These things are: the size of your dog; the amount of chocolate they consumed; and the type of chocolate they consumed. It is my professional opinion, however, that these are not variables that we should be toying with.
The more cacao in the chocolate, the more dangerous it is; meaning that darker chocolate, and bakers chocolate are the biggest danger to our dogs. At lower amounts, gastrointestinal toxicity and/or pancreatitis is very possible (ie: vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain), but when we get into higher amounts, this can cause tremors and seizures, and cardiac disturbances, and even death.
These more life threatening signs are caused by a component of chocolate called “theobromine”, and also the caffeine in chocolate (which dogs are much more sensitive to than we are!). It is relatively easy for a very small dog to ingest a fatal amount of chocolate, and definitely possible for a larger dog to do so as well, so with consequences this dire, is it worth the risk even if your dog has been fine in the past?
You should contact a veterinarian if your dog has ingested chocolate, and they can calculate the likelihood of danger and act accordingly. This calculation is based on the weight of your dog, and how much and what type of chocolate was consumed, so do your best to find this information if possible.
What about cats?! (Chocolate)
Cats DO have the same potential to be poisoned by chocolate; they are just less likely to ingest it in the first place than our dogs! However, if your cat is one of the special ones who takes interest in chocolate, it should be taken just as seriously as if your dog does so!
This is another one that many people aren’t aware of, and will feed to their dogs without realizing the possible consequences. It is indeed true that some dogs may have no issue having a grape here and there, but in those that are affected, the end results are severe kidney failure and death without treatment.
Grapes are more difficult than chocolate in ways because there is not a specific calculation that can be done to determine how much danger your pet may be in. It is a somewhat mystical danger because no one has yet been able to identify exactly what component of the grape causes the toxicity, nor have they discerned what amount needs to be ingested to cause illness! That being said, far too many dogs have died from grape and raisin ingestion, so once again – it is not worth the risk! And don’t forget, raisins are grapes too!
What about cats?! (Grapes)
It is not as well known if cats can experience renal failure in response to grape ingestion. There have been cases, however, of cats going into renal failure after exposure to raisins and grapes, so I would still recommend staying away from them with your kitties!
Garlic and Onions!
Not only is this one sometimes a little bit under the radar, there are also people who give garlic as a natural remedy for their pets sometimes, and this should not be done.
Garlic and Onion are both members of the same “genus” scientifically, called “Allium”, which is why the issues they cause are the same. It also includes chives and leeks. The compounds in these substances that are the culprit for toxicity are called organo-sulfoxides, and their mode of attack is destruction of red blood cells. That sounds pretty scary, and that’s because it is!
Anaemia is the term for having too few red blood cells, and can show up as lethargy, weakness, and loss of appetite, among other things. Sometimes urine will become discoloured as well as a result of the red blood cell destruction. Because the damage can come on a bit more slowly with ingestion of small amounts over time, long term ingestion of these foods can seem like it is not causing a problem, but over time it can be doing damage. This can make your pet more vulnerable to illness in general. Your pet can be assessed for red blood cell destruction with a blood test.
Please don’t feed your pets garlic and onions, even if they seem to be tolerating it well! It is not worth the damage it could be doing to them.
What about cats?! (Garlic and Onions)
Cats are also very sensitive to red blood cell destruction from ingestion of garlic and onions, so please try to prevent them from ingesting these foods even if it seems harmless!
Sugar Free Anything sweetened with XYLITOL
This one is really scary. The most common product where this artificial sweetener is found is sugar free gum. Not many people would intentionally feed this to their pets, but it is not unheard of for a dog to get into someone’s bag to snatch some yummy smelling gum sweetened with artificial sweetener. Some other products that sometimes contain this compound are protein bars and powders, cake mixes, and various condiments – even peanut butter! Check your labels!
The issue with this artificial sweetener, which is tolerated well by humans, is a dog’s body does not recognize that it is not actual sugar. Therefore, the body responds as it would to normal sugar and begins releasing insulin to deal with it. This causes the dog’s blood sugar to plummet, leading to all of the signs of hypoglycaemia, and in many cases, ultimately death. Xylitol can also cause destruction of the liver in dogs, but its hypoglycaemia causing effects are seen at much lower doses.
What about cats?! (Xylitol)
It is not yet known if this same issue is prevalent in cats, so once again it is best to be on the safe side and prevent ingestion of anything containing Xylitol as an artificial sweetener.
Bonus: What do Rising Bread Dough and Alcohol Have in Common?
This definitely seems like a strange one, but both the direct consumption of alcohol by your pet, and the consumption of rising bread dough can lead to what we commonly recognize as “alcohol poisoning”.
If your pet consumes bread dough when there is still fermentation of yeast going on (rising bread), alcohol is being produced in their stomach, and this can lead to alcohol poisoning. Obviously, actually drinking alcohol can also result in alcohol poisoning. This needs to be taken very seriously when it occurs, as even though the symptoms they have at first may resemble a regular person/human who has had a few too many drinks, this can progress to the point of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest (ie: death). Dogs are very sensitive to the effects of alcohol and ingestion should be taken very seriously.
What about cats?! (Alcohol/Rising Bread Dough)
Cats are also very sensitive to the effects of alcohol, and ingestion of either of these things should be taken very seriously.
In summary: yes, your pet may have been lucky the time that they consumed any of these things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worth the risk that they may not do so well the next time around.
In the event that your pet has already consumed one of these things, please contact your veterinarian. They can assist you in planning the best approach for your pet for dealing with ingestion of these toxic substances.