Animal Tales

All Human Foods Are Not Safe For Your Furry Companions!

By Adrienne Hergen, DVM

With the holidays fast approaching, we should review some foods and other items that you shouldn’t give to your pets.  Additionally, we will discuss what problems you can see when these toxins are ingested.  Some of the main culprits are listed below.

Animal Tales--ChocolateChocolate – The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pets.  Baker’s chocolate is the most dangerous.  All chocolate though contains theobromine that can be highly toxic to dogs.  Clinical signs develop within 6 to 12 hours of ingestion.  Small amounts of chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea but in larger quantities hyperactivity, seizures, and heart-rhythm abnormalities can be seen.  If enough chocolate is eaten coma and death can result.  Be very careful as Halloween approaches because candy is readily available. 

Animal Tales--white-grapesGrapes and raisins – Most affected dogs develop vomiting and/or diarrhea within 6 to 12 hrs of ingestion of grapes or raisins.  Other signs include lethargy, anorexia, abdominal pain, weakness, dehydration, increased water consumption, and tremors.  While the mechanism of toxicity is unknown, in some dogs, even one grape or raisin can cause acute kidney failure.

Sweeteners – Many sugarless gums, candies, multivitamins, and baked goods contain xylitol (a natural sweetener) that is extremely toxic to dogs.  Ingestion can cause vomiting, weakness, a life-threatening drop in blood sugar, loss of muscle control, seizures, and even liver failure.

Animal Tales--GarlicOnionsOnions and garlic – Onions and garlic in any form can be dangerous for your pets.  Eating small amounts can result in mild stomach upset but ingesting larger amounts can cause severe anemia.

Alcohol – In animals, alcohol is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.  It can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature.  Intoxicated animals can even experience seizures and respiratory failure.

Fatty foods – Foods high in fat can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis.  Certain breeds such as miniature Schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs, and Yorkshire terriers are predisposed to pancreatitis.  At holiday meals, don’t feed table scraps and give an appropriate pet treat instead.

Caffeine – Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and diet pills all contain caffeine and can be dangerous if eaten.  It causes hyperactivity, elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.  If ingested in higher doses caffeine may cause seizures and death.

Macadamia nuts – These are popular in many cookies and candies.  The mechanism of toxicity is unknown.  Dogs are the only species in which clinical signs have been reported.  Within 12 hrs of ingestion, dogs develop weakness, depression, vomiting, hind limb incoordination, tremors, and/or elevated body temperature.  Signs generally resolve within 12 to 48 hours.

Yeast dough – Dough that is unbaked and contains yeast can expand in your pet’s stomach or intestinal tract.  As the yeast ferments, gas is released that can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even life-threatening bloat.  When the dough ferments into alcohol, signs of lethargy and alcohol toxicity can develop as well.

Bones – Bones, of any kind, run the risk of causing choking or intestinal obstructions.  Additionally, bones that easily splinter can cause irritation in the gastrointestinal tract leading to vomiting, diarrhea, or, most significantly, intestinal perforation that can be a life-threatening situation.

Avocados – Ingesting avocados can cause heart muscle (myocardial) necrosis in mammals and birds and sterile mammary inflammation in lactating mammals.  Caged birds tend to be more sensitive to the effects of avocado and dogs appear to be relatively resistant compared with other species.  Just to be on the safe side, it is best to avoid feeding foods containing avocados.

If your pet accidentally ingests any of these foods, or if you have a question about something your pet has eaten, please contact your veterinarian.  Also, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for any animal poison-related emergency.  Their contact number is 1-888-426-4435.

Animal Tails--Adrienne Hergen HeadshotAdrienne Hergen, DVM practices at Shirlington Animal Hospital, 2770 S. Arlington Mill Dr., Arlington, VA 22206, (703) 570-6600,

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