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Dangerous foods you should not feed your pet

Approx. 9 minutes read

For the average person, it’s impossible to imagine life without chocolate, coffee, nuts and – for those with less of a sweet tooth – salty snacks like chips and pretzels. Naturally, while you’re enjoying your snacks, your furry friend will inch closer to you and give you those irresistible puppy-dog eyes that let you know they’re available to share your snacks with.

Do. Not. Do. It.

Sharing is caring, but some of the ingredients in your human snacks can land your pup in need of a visit to the dogtor! Here is a list (and explanation) of the common foods that are toxic to dogs. Your dog thinks he will enjoy eating these foods… but they are actually very bad for him!

1. Xylitol

What is xylitol? Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is increasingly being used as a substitute for sugar. It contains almost half the calories of normal sugar, but it has the added benefit of not raising blood sugar levels when it’s consumed, which makes it ideal for diabetics and those with insulin resistance. Xylitol is typically found in sugar-free chewing gum and in baked goods and snacks that are marketed as sugar-free.

Why is xylitol bad for dogs? Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs because their bodies quickly go to work on it, reacting to xylitol as if it were sugar. Their pancreas produces insulin to counter the effects of blood glucose, except that since there is no real glucose to absorb, their blood sugar levels plummet and they become hypoglycaemic. With enough xylitol in their system, they can experience shock, liver failure, even coma and death.

How much xylitol can affect a dog? The toxicity of xylitol to dogs is 0.1g of xylitol per kg of body weight. For a 10kg dog, it will only take 1g of xylitol (the equivalent in one piece of chewing gum) to make them very, very sick.

2. Chocolate and caffeine

What is chocolate? Just kidding!

Why is chocolate harmful to dogs? Chocolate contains methylxanthines – stimulants that include theobromine and caffeine. Dogs cannot digest and metabolise theobromine and caffeine in the same way that humans can, so the toxicity builds up in their bodies and causes stomach upset like vomiting and diarrhoea, or it can lead to negative effects on the dog’s heartrate; and neurological effects like seizures or tremors. Given enough chocolate, the theobromine poisoning can lead to internal bleeding. There are many complications that can arise from chocolate poisoning, so if your dog has mistakenly eaten chocolate, get them to the vet as soon as possible!

How much chocolate is toxic to a dog? This depends on the type of chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. White chocolate has very low levels of theobromine, but this doesn’t mean it’s okay for your dog to eat. Rather avoid chocolate for your dog at all costs. But what about chocolate icing seen on dog treats? This typically contains carob, which is a natural substitute for chocolate. It looks and smells like chocolate, but is made by powdering the pods from a carob tree.

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3. Onions and garlic

Plants from the Allium family include onions, chives, garlic and leeks – all of which are toxic to dogs. Never feed your dog anything that contains even a little bit of these foods.

What makes onions bad for dogs? There’s a compound in the onion family called N-propyl disulfide, which occurs in all parts of the Allium plant. This compound destroys red blood cells (haemolysis), which then causes haemolytic anaemia if the dog consumes enough onion to do so. So, aside from the gastrointestinal upset caused by eating onion, the poor pup can also suffer from rapid heartrate, pale gums (typically seen in anaemic dogs), weakness and even collapse. Red or brown urine is another sign of haemolysis. The symptoms may only appear a few hours to a few days later, so if you suspect your dog has eaten onion or anything containing onion, call your vet immediately!

How much onion is toxic to dogs? It takes more than a little bit of onion to be poisonous to dogs, but even a little is too much! Just 10% of a medium-sized onion or one third of a teaspoon of onion powder can be dangerous to small dogs (5kg), while 30% of an onion may be dangerous to medium sized dogs. Large dogs would need to consume 75% of an onion to be susceptible.

4. Raw or undercooked meat & eggs

The raw dog diet is punted as very healthy for dogs – as close to their ancestral wolf diet as you can get. However, your dog’s long-lost wolf ancestors were better equipped to eat, process and digest raw meat than your average modern dog.

Why are vets against the raw diet? There is a big risk to your dog – and by extension, you and everyone in your household – contracting illnesses caused by pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria in raw meat. (The presence of these pathogens was confirmed in a study in 2011/2012, which screened commercially available dry, cured and raw pet foods.) Dogs with weak immune systems, pancreatitis, as well as young puppies and geriatric dogs can become extremely sick from eating compromised raw meat, so it is generally not recommended to feed your dog raw or undercooked meat, including eggs.

5. Bones

Bones are technically not ‘toxic’ to dogs, but they should never eat bones! Many pet owners still erroneously believe that bones are good for dogs, but they are really so dangerous. If bones are so dangerous, why do dogs love them? Well, bones smell and taste of meat, so dogs will naturally want to dig right in. Bones are bad for dogs for a few reasons: most dogs’ teeth are strong enough to chew and splinter bones. Splintered shards of bone pose a real danger from one end of the dog to the other. They can:

  • injure his soft oral tissue and gums
  • get stuck in his mouth
  • get stuck in and/or injure his oesophagus
  • get stuck in his trachea
  • get lodged anywhere along the journey through his gastrointestinal tract
  • cause injury to his stomach wall or intestine lining

Bone shards do not get dissolved and digested, so when the time comes for your dog to excrete those chewed bones, he can experience a real pain in the behind! (If dogs could speak, they would tell owners that rectal bleeding ain’t fun…) For dogs whose teeth aren’t strong enough to chew bones, the bones can crack and break their teeth, which poses the additional problem of pain, tooth decay and dental disease.

Raw and cooked bones are both dangerous to dogs, so just avoid feeding them to your dog at all. If your dog wants a bone, there are so many safe, durable, synthetic alternatives that your pup will love!

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6. Grapes and raisins

Grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas – they are all highly toxic to dogs. What makes grapes poisonous to dogs? It’s not known exactly what it is in the grape that makes dogs sick, but these seemingly innocuous foods can cause kidney failure in dogs. Some dogs can eat grapes and be none the wiser, while others can get fatally ill from just three or four raisins. It’s better to keep raisins and grapes far away from your furry friend.

Remember that there are also many foods that we ‘forget’ have raisins in them, such as hot-X-buns, Christmas cake, breakfast cereals and rusks. What must you do if your dog eats raisins? This is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment.

7. Avocado

Ah, the green gold of the kitchen. While humans can reap all the benefits of eating avocados, they are not so healthy for dogs. Avocados contain persin, which is a fungicidal toxin. It’s present in the tree, leaves and pit of the avocado, from where it can leach into the fruit. Will one bite of avocado hurt my dog? Some dogs are more sensitive to persin than others, but when they are, it can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

Aside from the potential toxicity of persin, the other danger to dogs is that avocado is high in fat and could trigger pancreatitis. It should go without saying that the avocado pit is a dangerous choking hazard, so keep avocado away from your dog.

8. Cherries

While blueberries are a delicious treat that most dogs enjoy, cherries should not be. Some people think of cherries as berry fruits, but they are in fact stone fruits (also called ‘drupes’). The problem with cherries and dogs is that while the flesh of the cherry is pawfectly fine for dogs to consume, the stems, leaves and cherry pit all contain cyanide. Cyanide can be fatal if too much is consumed, so it’s safer to stick to blueberries if your pup wants to share your healthy fruit snack.

9. Dairy

Contrary to popular belief, many dogs (and especially cats) are actually lactose intolerant – unable to digest milk sugar (lactose) – and should not be fed milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products. For dogs who are able to digest dairy, there are some great benefits in yoghurt cultures as well as the proteins, vitamins, calcium and other nutrients in dairy products.

So can dogs drink milk? The simple answer is “Yes, but…” Just be aware that too much milk can have the same effect it has in humans: bloating, upset tummy, even vomiting. Only give dogs a small sampling of dairy – if any at all. While we love to think of ice cream as part of the dairy food group, it’s actually a dessert with high sugar and fat content that is not appropriate for dogs.

10. Macadamia nuts

While most other nuts can be dangerous to dogs only in high quantities (because of their high fat content and the risk of pancreatitis and weight gain), it’s best that dogs steer clear of macadamia nuts altogether.

What happens if your dog eats macadamia nuts? The symptoms of macadamia nut poisoning include stomach upset, diarrhoea and vomiting, lack of coordination (ataxia), muscle weakness, and overheating (hyperthermia). Hind leg weakness, tremors and fever are common, although veterinarians and biologists aren’t sure of the exact toxin in macadamia nuts that causes this in dogs but make the nuts perfectly okay for humans to eat.

11. Salty snacks

Dogs don’t like salt… or so the rumour goes. Most dogs will sit and beg for your Simba chips without realising how salty they are. Why is salt toxic to dogs? In all seriousness, the sodium in salt has a number of negative effects on a dog’s body. By ingesting just 2g of salt per kg of bodyweight, your dog risks becoming dangerously dehydrated. Not only does the salt irritate your dog’s tummy, causing vomiting and diarrhoea, but the resulting dehydration can cause an electrolyte imbalance, lead to confusion, lethargy and even swelling on the brain. If they aren’t given fresh water to flush their system or aren’t medically treated with IV fluids, dogs can die from a sodium overdose and dehydration.

If dogs don’t like salt, how would they get that much into their system? Unattended salty snacks are one risk. Another one is that a dog frolicking in the sea will often swallow a large amount of salt water, which can have detrimental effects.

12. Alcohol

Alcohol has its social merits, but it’s unhealthy at best and deadly at worst. It has the same effects on our pets as it has on people – just in much smaller quantities. It might seem funny that your dog wants a sip of your alcoholic beverage, but even just a small amount can depress your fluff’s central nervous system and cause all sorts of problems. Vomiting and upset tummy are on the mild end of the spectrum, while depression, a loss of coordination, breathing problems and even coma are some of the severe effects of alcohol on dogs.

What happens if a dog drinks alcohol? If you think there is even a small chance that your pet has ingested alcohol, contact your vet ASAP. If their central nervous system becomes too depressed, they can slip into a coma and die. Keep alcohol away from your dogs.

While we all love to treat our pets – and it’s SO easy to reach into the snack bag and give one to our begging Benjy – it’s better for their wellbeing and our vet bill to rather exercise caution and not feed them human foods. Instead, Pet Hero has a versatile range of delicious and healthy pet snacks that your pets will love! Your pets get to enjoy a treat and you can eat your chips and chocolate in peace!

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