In the past five years, the Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis, has received almost 1,000 calls about grape and raisin poisoning in pets. While humans have been eating grapes and raisins for thousands of years, veterinarians didn’t realize that this common fruit was poisonous to dogs until 2001. So you will be best educated on what kitchen foods pose a threat to your pets, learn about the top 10 foods that are poisonous to your dog or cat.
First of all, most of the pet poisonings we see in the kitchen are from dogs. In fact, the majority of the culprits are actually Labrador retrievers — after all, they are chowhounds! Cats, who have a discriminating palate (after all, cats rule, dogs drool), wouldn’t be caught eating what we humans do, so it’s rare to see them getting poisoned by kitchen foods.
Without further ado, the top 10 kitchen dangers to pets:
- Grapes, raisins, and certain types of currants
- Fatty table scraps
- Caffeine (e.g., coffee grounds)
- Onions, garlic, chives
- Moldy foods
- Macadamia nuts
- Unbaked bread dough
While most pet owners know about chocolate, they are often unaware of the range of poisoning when it comes to the different types of chocolates out there: white, milk, dark, Bakers chocolate, etc. Here is a video that explains the huge range of toxicity levels in chocolates. While one or two chocolate chips won’t be a concern at all, know that the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to your dog. White chocolate barely has any poisoning risk, as there’s very little methylxanthine (i.e., specifically theobromine and caffeine) in there. That said, all the fat and sugar can still pose a danger to your dog!
Grapes, raisins, and currants
In dogs, grapes, raisins, and currants can cause severe damage to the kidney. While the exact toxic agent hasn’t been identified, we know that all types of grapes and raisins are poisonous — seeded, seedless, red, green, organic (fertilizer/pesticide free), etc. Likewise, the dehydrated raisin poses an even bigger poisoning risk, likely since the toxin is more concentrated. When ingested, signs of poisoning may not be evident until severe acute kidney failure has already developed. Signs of lethargy, inappetence, abdominal pain/colic, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common initial signs seen in the first 24 hours. More severe signs of increased or decreased thirst and urination and underlying kidney damage may not be evident until 2-3 days later. By this point, damage may be severe. While only 50 percent of dogs that ingest grapes or raisins go into kidney failure, it’s not worth the risk of chancing a poisoning. If treated before signs of poisoning begin, the prognosis is excellent. Once kidney failure has already developed, the prognosis becomes much worse.
Xylitol is a common sugar-free, natural substance found in common brands of chewing gum, breath mints, candy, multivitamins, mouth washes, toothpastes, and baked goods. In non-primate species (like dogs), ingestion of xylitol results in an insulin spike, which then results in a life-threatening drop in blood sugar. When ingested in larger doses, xylitol can also result in liver failure in dogs. Signs of vomiting, weakness, collapse, lethargy, and staggering may initially be seen (secondary to a low blood sugar), and can rapidly progress to seizures if untreated. When in doubt, hang up your purse to prevent your dog from getting into your pack of dangerous gum!
Fatty table scraps
While these aren’t "poisonous" per se, feeding your dog scraps of bacon, grease, etc., can result in severe inflammation of the pancreas — pancreatitis — which can be deadly without treatment. Pancreatitis can range from mild signs of vomiting and diarrhea to more profound signs of organ failure. Keep in mind that certain breeds, such as miniature schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs, Yorkshire terriers, etc., are more predisposed to pancreatitis, and feeding fatty table snacks in these breeds is a particular no-no.
Caffeine (e.g., coffee grounds)
While you may be smart enough not to let your dog sip on your coffee, know that dogs can still be poisoned by caffeine. Caffeine is commonly found when dogs get into coffee, coffee grounds, chocolate-covered espresso beans (a double poisoning whammy!), tea bags, soda, diet pills, and energy drinks. The chemical in caffeine is similar to what’s found in chocolate, and signs of agitation, vomiting, diarrhea, an elevated heart rate, heart arrhythmias, tremors, and seizures may be seen.
Onions, garlic, chives
Pet owners are often calling me to inquire if the small amount of garlic or onion powder found in dog treats is a poisoning concern or not — thankfully, it’s typically used in such small quantities, it’s not likely to be a big deal. However, when ingested in larger amounts, or chronically — as when used as home remedies for flea infestations (this doesn’t work, btw!) — this food group can result in severe damage to the red blood cells. Cats and Japanese breeds of dogs (e.g., Shiba Inu, Akita, etc.) are even more sensitive, so keep out of reach of these species or breeds! Signs of anemia, weakness, pale gums, an elevated heart rate, exercise intolerance, etc., may be seen.
Kudos for composting — just make sure it’s fenced off and out of reach of pets! Composts contain decomposing and decaying matter, which can contain "tremorgenic mycotoxins." When ingested by dogs, they can result in vomiting, agitation, panting, and severe tremors and seizures.
If there’s something blue or green growing on your food, it’s likely to be dangerous for both you and your dog. Moldy food can contain dangerous mycotoxins, similar to those found in compost — specifically penitrem A and roquefortine — which can result in severe neurologic signs when ingested. Signs of walking drunk, tremors, and seizures can be seen. Keep your moldy garbage out of reach!
Just get back from Hawaii? Keep your macadamia nuts out of reach of your dog! When ingested even in small amounts, these nuts can result in temporary paralysis in your dog. An unknown toxin in these nuts affects the nerve transmission to the muscle, resulting in signs of weakness, vomiting, walking drunk, tremoring, lameness (especially in the rear legs), to a complete inability to walk. Thankfully, the signs go away after 24-48 hours.
Unbaked bread dough/alcohol
Most pet owners are smart enough to keep alcohol away from pets; however they often forget that dogs are poisoned by unique sources of alcohol: typically from unbaked yeast bread dough. Homemade and store bought unbaked dough that contains yeast (e.g., bread rolls) result in poisoning by two ways. First, the moist, warm environment of your dog’s stomach acts as an "oven," causing the dough to rapidly expand. This can actually be so severe it can actually result in a gastric dilatation-volvulus or gastric dilatation. Second, the yeast breaks down into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas (hence, the bloating), resulting in alcohol poisoning next. Signs of a distended stomach, unproductive retching, weakness, an elevated heart rate, collapse, walking drunk, and seizures can be seen. To be safe, keep your pets locked out of the kitchen while baking!
If you think your dog or cat has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) immediately for assistance. Time is of the essence to keep your pet safe!
To be on the safe side, just keep your pet out of the kitchen.
Dr. Justine Lee