Many foods that are perfectly safe for us to eat can cause problems in dogs, and some treats that are supposed to be made for dogs can actually be harmful to certain individuals.
Below is a list of the most common treats that are likely to be troublesome, followed by a more detailed description of each one individually. Some of these cause only minor problems; others can be hazardous.
It may seem odd to include these in our list of treats. Still, you would be surprised to know the number of dogs who manage to drink these beverages, either because some well-meaning owner thinks it is “cute” to offer a holiday drink to their dog or because some thieving little canine has stolen a few laps from a drink left on the coffee table!
Although alcohol itself is not particularly toxic to dogs (except in really excessive amounts), their tolerance to its effects is very low. Pound for pound, a dog gets “drunk” on far less alcohol than a human of the same weight. It is wise to exercise caution when consuming alcoholic beverages around pets.
Alcohol has the same effect on a dog’s liver and brain that it has on people. But it takes a lot less to hurt your dog. Just a little beer, liquor, wine, or food with alcohol can be bad. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, coordination problems, breathing problems, coma, even death. And the smaller your dog, the worse it can be.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the birthday parties where the dog accidentally gets into some of the spilled keg beer and then gets all silly to the amusement of the crowd. While it may be funny to you, it’s not funny to your dog. Alcohol can cause intoxication, lack of coordination, poor breathing, and abnormal acidity, but potentially even coma and/or death.
The casing of apple seeds is toxic to dogs as they contain a natural chemical (amygdalin) that releases cyanide when digested. This is really only an issue if your dog ate a large amount and the dog chewed up the seed, causing it to enter its bloodstream. But to play it safe, be sure to core and seed apples before you feed them to your dog.
Is a treat from the table OK for your dog? That depends on what it is. Avocados, for example, have something called persin. It’s fine for people who aren’t allergic to it. But too much might cause vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. If you grow avocados at home, keep your dog away from the plants. Avocados contain Persin, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and heart congestion. Persin is in the leaves, seed, and bark, as well as the fruit. Also, the avocado seed can become stuck in the intestines or stomach, and obstruction could be fatal.
Baby food by itself isn’t terrible. Just make sure it doesn’t contain any onion powder. Baby food also doesn’t contain all the nutrients a dog relies on for a healthy, well-maintained diet.
Even though it seems natural to give a dog a bone, she can choke on it.
When it comes to bones, the danger is that cooked bones can easily splinter when chewed by your dog and block or cause cuts in your dog’s digestive system. However, raw (uncooked) bones are appropriate and good for both your dog’s nutrition and teeth.
Most bones are dangerous treats to give to dogs. Turkey, chicken, pork, and beef rib or steak bones are the worst. These bones are all easily chewed into sharp splinters that can lodge in the GI tract and may cause esophageal or intestinal lacerations, partial or complete obstructions, or even perforations with subsequent life threatening peritonitis. The only type of bone that is safe for dogs to chew on is a beef shin bone, preferably the type that is commercially processed. These have been sterilized, and the marrow has been removed. The shin bone is the long, tubular bone without the rounded ends, softer than the cylindrical part, and can easily be chewed off and swallowed. If you decide to purchase shin bones yourself from a meat market, buy the ones at least 8 inches long. Then boil them long enough to remove the marrow (which can cause diarrhea because of its high-fat content), let the bones dry thoroughly, and store them in the freezer, not the refrigerator. Refrigerated bones can become soft enough for a dog to chew off pieces that your dog can swallow. One more word of warning: if your dog has swallowed any bones that can splinter, do NOT induce vomiting because they could cause an esophageal laceration on the way out.
Not only does candy contain sugar, but it often contains Xylitol (sometimes called Birch Sugar), which can lead to the over-release of insulin, kidney failure, and worse.
Not that they would want this anyway, but cat food contains proteins and fats targeted at a cat’s diet, not a dog. The protein and fat levels in cat food are too high for your dog and not healthy.
Most people know that chocolate is bad for dogs. The problem in chocolate is theobromine. It’s in all kinds of chocolate, even white chocolate. The most dangerous types are dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate. Chocolate can cause a dog to vomit and have diarrhea. It can also cause heart problems, tremors, seizures, and death.
You’ve probably heard this before, but chocolate is a definite no-no for your pup. And it’s not just about caffeine, which is enough to harm your dog by itself, but theobromine and theophylline, which can be toxic, cause panting, vomiting, and diarrhea, and damage your dog’s heart and nervous systems.
The toxicity of chocolate is dose-dependent; in other words, a large dog eating a small amount of chocolate is not likely to have any trouble. However, a small dog eating a large amount of chocolate may become seriously ill or even die. Baker’s chocolate (pure, unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder) is the most dangerous. Chocolate to which milk or other ingredients have been added is less toxic. The toxic substance which chocolate contains is called theobromine, a compound that is very similar to caffeine. Smaller quantities of chocolate may cause only a little hyperactivity, similar to what we might experience if we drank a bit too much coffee. Chocolate causes vomiting, rapid and sometimes irregular heartbeats, muscle tremors, and even death in toxic quantities. The toxic amounts of chocolate are as follows: (1) for milk chocolate, approximately 1 oz. Per pound bodyweight is toxic; (2) for baker’s chocolate, only 1/10 oz. Per pound is toxic. There are also individual variations among dogs. In addition to the toxicity of the theobromine in chocolate, the foods in which chocolate is found tend to be rich in fat. Excessively fatty foods are prone to cause pancreatitis, a serious, sometimes life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas, which is the organ that produces digestive enzymes and also contains the cells that produce insulin. Even if a dog survives an attack of pancreatitis, long-term sequellae may include digestive enzyme deficiency and/or diabetes (a lack of insulin causes high blood sugar). If your dog eats chocolate-containing foods or candy, first find out the kind of chocolate your dog consumed (i.e., pure dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or chocolate-flavored baked goods).
If you feel comfortable estimating the toxic amount for your particular dog and believe that the dog consumed significantly less than a toxic amount, you may not need to do anything other than monitor for minor GI upsets common with any abrupt change of diet. However, if there is any doubt about the content of the chocolate in the food, or you are unsure of your calculations, consult your vet, an emergency hospital, or the Animal Poison Center as soon as possible. If your dog consumed the chocolate within the past hour, it might help to induce vomiting. But consult your vet first. Earlier consumption might require intensive treatment at an emergency facility. If your dog shows signs of agitation, heavy panting, muscle tremors, vomiting, hyperactivity, or even marked lethargy, consult a veterinarian right away.
It can cause vomiting.
Coffee, Tea, and Other Caffeine
Give your dog toys if you want him to be perky. Caffeine can be fatal. Watch out for coffee and tea, even the beans and the grounds. Keep your dog away from cocoa, chocolate, colas, and energy drinks. Caffeine is also in some cold medicines and pain killers. Think your dog had caffeine? Get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Not sure why you would give your dog coffee, but pretty much the same applies here to chocolate. This is essentially poison for your dog if ingested.
Corn on the Cob
This is a sure way to get your dog’s intestine blocked. The corn is digested, but the cob gets lodged in the small intestine, and if it’s not removed surgically, it can prove fatal to your dog. Additionally, too much corn kernels can upset the digestive tract, so be cautious not to feed too much.
Rich, fatty foods, such as turkey skin, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, fruit cake, plum pudding, or deep-fried foods, can be dangerous to dogs susceptible to pancreatitis attacks. It is best to avoid these foods altogether. Often you may not know that your dog is susceptible until he is very sick with his first attack. As breed predispositions go, smaller, more energetic breeds like miniature or toy poodles, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, and other small terrier-type dogs seem particularly prone. However, any dog may have a problem. Signs of pancreatitis generally include an acute onset of vomiting (sometimes with diarrhea) and abdominal pain, which may be evidenced as a hunched posture or “splinting” of the abdomen when picked up. The dog may become very sick quickly and often needs intensive fluid and antibiotic therapy.
Fat trimmed from meat, both cooked and uncooked, can cause pancreatitis in dogs.
The primary fish that you need to be careful about are salmon and trout. Raw salmon can be fatal to dogs if the fish is infected with a certain parasite, Nanophyetus salmincola. The parasite itself isn’t dangerous to dogs but is often infected with a bacteria called Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which in many cases is fatal to dogs if not treated properly. If diagnosis occurs early on, the dog has a great chance of recovering. Cooked salmon is fine as it kills the parasite.
Keep onions and garlic — powdered, raw, cooked, or dehydrated — away from your dog. They can kill his red blood cells, causing anemia. That’s even the onion powder in some baby food. A rare small dose is probably OK. But eating a lot just once can cause poisoning. Look for signs like weakness, vomiting, and breathing problems.
While garlic can be okay for dogs in tiny amounts (and even beneficial for flea treatment), larger amounts can be risky. Garlic is related to onions that are toxic for dogs, so it may be best to avoid it.
There are better treats to give your dog. Grapes and raisins contain a toxin that can cause severe liver damage and kidney failure. And just a small amount can make a dog sick. Vomiting over and over is an early sign. Within a day, your dog will get sluggish and depressed. This is one that lots of dog owners are unaware of. We’ve heard stories of dogs dying from only a handful of grapes, so do not feed your pup this toxic food.
An ingredient in beer that can be toxic to your dog. The consumption of hops by your dog can cause panting, an increased heart rate, fever, seizures, and even death.
Some human vitamins are okay to use, but the key is comparing the ingredients (all of them – active and inactive) to the vitamins your vet subscribes for your dog (often, you can get the human equivalent for much less money). Ensure no iron – iron can damage the digestive system lining and prove poisonous for the liver and kidneys.
Kitchen Pantry: No Dogs Allowed
Many other things often found on kitchen shelves can hurt your dog. Baking powder and baking soda are both highly toxic. So are nutmeg and other spices. Keep food high enough to be out of your dog’s reach and keep pantry doors closed.
In small amounts, liver is great but avoid feeding too much liver to your dog. The liver contains quite a bit of Vitamin A, which can adversely affect your pup’s muscles and bones.
These contain a toxin that can inhibit locomotory activities, resulting in weakness, panting, swollen limbs, and tremors, as well as possible damage to your dog’s digestive, nervous, and muscle systems.
Not that you would pass the bong to your dog, but if you do, you should know that marijuana can adversely affect your pup’s nervous system and heart rate and induce vomiting. Read more about Dogs and Marijuana.
Milk and Dairy Products
On a hot day, it may be tempting to share your ice cream with your dog. Instead, give her some cold water. Milk and milk-based products can cause digestive problems for your pup. They can also trigger food allergies, which can cause her to itch.
While small doses aren’t going to kill your dog, you could get some smelly farts and some nasty cases of diarrhea. Why? Dogs are lactose intolerant (as are an increasing number of humans today) and don’t have enough lactase enzymes to digest dairy foods properly. If you really need to give them dairy, look into lactose-free dairy products.
Dairy products are not generally dangerous unless they contain a lot of fat, but they are usually digested poorly by dogs and cats, who have little or no enzymes required to digest the lactose in milk. Just like lactose-intolerant people, lactose-intolerant dogs can develop excessive intestinal gas (flatulence) and may have foul-smelling diarrhea. It is best to avoid most dairy products altogether, although most dogs tolerate small amounts of cheese or plain yogurt since these products have less lactose than most.
Just as the wrong mushroom can be fatal to humans, the same applies to dogs. Unless the mushroom is served plain, it is generally safer to avoid feeding dishes with mushrooms to dogs. Dogs do not need mushrooms in their diet, so play it safe.
No matter what form they’re in (dry, raw, cooked, powder, within other foods), onions are some of the absolute worst foods you could give your pup (it’s poisonous for dogs, and it is even worse for cats). They contain disulfides and sulfoxides (thiosulphate), which can cause anemia and damage red blood cells.
Most people do not realize that onions can actually be toxic to dogs and cats (especially cats) when consumed in large quantities. Several years ago, an article in a prominent veterinary journal about a cat that actually died from eating onion soup (which has a high concentration of onions in it)! Small amounts of onion are not a problem for most animals, but large quantities cause some changes in the red blood cells (the blood cells that carry oxygen) such that they cannot perform their usual function. The individual cells acquire a structural defect called Heinz bodies that make them think the cells are defective and remove them from circulation. The resulting anemia ( =deficiency in oxygen-carrying red blood cells) is called Heinz body anemia. Another reason not to give onions is that the foods containing them are often rich and fatty (e.g., fried onion rings, onion gravy, and turkey stuffing with onions). Rich foods may cause a pancreatitis attack.
The holiday “pig out” is not just confined to people. Many dogs do the same thing, either because some owners want their dogs to have their share of holiday goodies or because they have stolen some goodies of their own. As discussed above, some of these goodies are rich enough to cause pancreatitis in susceptible individuals. However, overeating, coupled with excitement, exercise, and/or excessive water drinking, can cause a life-threatening condition (primarily, but not exclusively in large breed dogs) called “gastric dilatation and volvulus” syndrome, known more commonly as “Bloat.”
This is a rapidly life-threatening emergency. Typical signs are (1) a distended abdomen, which, when thumped with a finger, sounds like a tight, air-filled drum; (2) intense abdominal discomfort (possibly seen initially as a very “preoccupied” look on the dog’s face; (3) non-productive retching or vomiting; and (4) rapid development of severe weakness and shock. You MUST contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic IMMEDIATELY.
Peas are at the top of Tufts University researchers’ list of potential culprits in dog food linked to unusual cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy. In a study published in Scientific Reports, veterinary nutritionist Lisa Freeman and her team examined 830 compounds in nine conventional dog foods and nine foods associated with DCM, but Dr. Freeman and Cornell University veterinary nutritionist Joseph Wakshlag both caution that the link between peas and compounds associated with heart problems is only one piece of a complicated puzzle.
Persimmons, Peaches, and Plums
Peach pits are not only a choking hazard. They contain amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when metabolized. Pear seeds also contain trace amounts of arsenic and are dangerous. So if you live in an area that is home to persimmon, peach, plum trees, lookout, Persimmon seeds and peach, and plum pits can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis. You’ll want to make sure there aren’t any wild persimmon or other fruit trees that produce seeds growing in your backyard. If you notice your dog pooping all over the place and see a bunch of seeds or pits in their waste, you’ll need to break out the saw and chop down some trees.
Rhubarb and Tomato Leaves
These contain oxalates, which can adversely affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems.
Rawhides, Cow Hooves, Pigs’ Ears
These well-liked dog treats are purchased in large numbers, especially around holidays, by well-meaning dog owners hoping to give their pets something special. These toys are favorites for many dogs and are popular with owners because they keep their pets occupied and supposedly out of trouble during holiday activities.
There are definite risks associated with these treats, however. All three types are supposedly made of digestible animal products. However, they are digested quite slowly and, if consumed rapidly, can cause vomiting or diarrhea from the many pieces still sitting undigested in the GI tract. If the treats are swallowed whole or in large chunks, there are additional dangers. Rawhide chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down. Once in the stomach or intestinal tract, a large piece of rawhide can also create a physical obstruction. An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys. We recommend that, if you do purchase these products, stick to brands processed in the U.S. There has also been a recent FDA alert about the risk of Salmonella associated with dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials: refer to the FDA advisory or call 1-888- INFO-FDA.
Cow hooves are even more dangerous than rawhides. They are hard enough that a dog can actually break a tooth on one. They can also be chewed up into sharp fragments, which may cause a partial intestinal obstruction. Partial obstructions are often difficult to diagnose until the fragment is ready to perforate the bowel wall from pressure against the sharp edges. If perforation has occurred, the infection that ensues from leakage of intestinal contents can be fatal.
Pigs’ ears can cause GI upset if overeaten, similar to rawhides, although obstructions are less common because the ears are not usually shaped into solid chunks. There is, however, a less widely known danger associated with pig ears: A recent FDA advisory published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services stated that there is “a nationwide public health warning alerting consumers about several recent cases in Canada of human illnesses apparently related to contact with dog chew products made from pork or beef derived materials (e.g., pigs ears, beef jerky treats, smoked hooves, pigs skins, etc.)… FDA is urging pet owners… to handle them carefully. Anyone who comes in contact with these treats should wash their hands with hot water and soap. Initial reports of illnesses came from Canada and involved Canadian products. Still, subsequent examination of similar products produced in the U.S. indicates that all pet chew products of this type may pose a risk.”
Another vitamin B (Thiamine) deficiency can result from the regular consumption of raw fish. Loss of appetite will be common, followed by seizures, and in rare instances, death.
It’s not a good idea to share salty foods like chips or pretzels with your dog. Eating too much salt can make your dog seriously thirsty. That means many trips to the fire hydrant, and it could lead to sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms of too much salt include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, high temperature, and seizures. It may even cause death.
Just like salt isn’t the healthiest thing for humans, it’s even less healthy for dogs. Too much of it can lead to an imbalance in electrolyte levels, dehydration, and potentially diarrhea.
Spices containing Capsaicin
Capsaicin, found in chili powder, paprika, and just about any other pepper (bell, chili, etc.), irritates mammals of all shapes and sizes.
While not a food itself, foods can often contain or be similar to string (i.e., the meat you’ve wrapped for the oven). If your dog were to eat a string, it could get stuck in their digestive tract and cause complications.
Sugary Foods and Drinks
Too much sugar can do the same thing to dogs that it does to people. It can make your dog overweight and cause problems with her teeth. It can even lead to diabetes.
This applies to any food containing sugar. Make sure you check the ingredient label for human foods – corn syrup (a less expensive form of sugar or glucose) is found in just about everything these days. Too much sugar for your pup can lead to dental issues, obesity, and even diabetes.
Last but not least, do NOT leave candy dishes on the coffee table! Even small dogs are very creative in figuring out ways to get on a low table and decimate the candy supply. If some of this candy is chocolate, this can be dangerous (see above). Even nuts, although not toxic, can cause a pretty severe (or at least messy) GI upset from the change in the dog’s regular diet. Use common sense when leaving out dishes and trays of food. Never underestimate your dog’s ability to ferret out food when given half a chance!!
A major toxic hazard for dogs (and humans). The effects nicotine has on dogs are far worse than on humans. Nicotine can damage your pup’s digestive and nervous systems, increase their heart rate, make them pass out, and ultimately result in death.
Also called Birch Sugar. It is a sugar alcohol found in gum, candies, baked goods, and other sugar-substituted items, Xylitol, while causing no apparent harm to humans, is extremely toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, even death for your pup.
Yeast (on its own or in dough)
Just like yeast rises in bread, it will also expand and rise within your pup’s tummy. Make sure they don’t get any. While mild cases will cause gas, lots of farting, and discomfort – too much of it could rupture their stomach and intestines.