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Preventing Toxicity in Dogs | Toxic Food & Ingredients

While it may often seem tempting to feed your dog a little of what you’re enjoying at dinner time, certain foods should be avoided at all costs as they can cause stomach pain, digestive problems and – in extreme cases – may even prove fatal to your pet.

Our pets really do have a habit themselves of eating potentially dangerous objects and substances, both at home and outside. Young pets in particular, who are naturally more inquisitive and like to explore items with their mouths, are most at risk. Puppies and young adult dogs are often presented to the vet with vomiting caused by swallowing foreign materials – toys, wood, corn cobs, peach stones and bones are fairly common, but anything is possible! Quite often these items can pass through the digestive tract with supportive care provided by the vet, others will require surgical removal if they are causing an obstruction.

Poisonings are also common; fortunately the majority are accidental rather than malicious.  Poisonings in dogs include chocolate, slug baits, rat baits, human prescription medicines, car anti-freeze and, more recently, grapes or raisins. Chocolate poisoning is most frequently seen by vets around Easter time when families hide chocolate eggs in the garden for the children – please be sure that they recover them all!!!

Other common household and garden products are also poisonous to dogs and should be kept safely out of their reach at all times.

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Which food is poisonous for dogs?

You should never feed your dog:

  • Chocolate – contains theobromine, a stimulant that is poisonous to dogs. Similar to caffeine, theobromine mainly affects the digestive system, kidneys, heart and central nervous system. Your dog may display symptoms of restlessness and hyperactivity, plus diarrhoea and vomiting, within 24 hours of eating chocolate

  • Caffeine – similar to chocolate, caffeine acts as a stimulant for dogs and they cannot process it in the way humans do. Symptoms of caffeine poisoning are similar to those caused by chocolate poisoning. Caffeine is found in tea and energy drinks as well as coffee, so all should be avoided

  • Grapes and raisins – known to cause kidney failure in dogs, these should be avoided completely. Just one raisin can be toxic, so food containing grapes or raisins should also be kept away from your dog, including hot cross buns, fruit loaf and cakes

  • Alcohol – considerably more toxic to dogs than humans, even a small quantity of alcohol can cause sickness and diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, nervous system issues and impaired coordination, plus even coma and in extreme cases, death

  • Onions, garlic and chives – may cause irritation of the stomach and intestines, plus red blood cell damage and lasting anaemia in severe cases. Onions are the most toxic to dogs

  • Nuts –  may cause high temperature, dizziness, vomiting and seizures, lasting up to 48 hours. Macadamia nuts are particularly toxic for dogs and may cause issues with the nervous system, plus weakness, swollen limbs and panting

  • Dough – may cause intestinal blockages and stomach pain due to gas forming as the dough rises

  • Milk – your dog’s digestive system struggles to break down milk as it does not have a significant amount of lactase, leading to diarrhoea or an upset stomach

  • Blue cheese – as with milk, cheese contains enzymes that your dog’s digestive system will struggle to break down, leading to sickness and diarrhoea, so it should be avoided. Blue cheese is especially dangerous to dogs, as it contains an ingredient called roquefortine C, which dogs are especially sensitive to. This may cause sickness and diarrhoea, plus seizures, high temperature and tremors or seizures if ingested

  • Xylitol – highly toxic to dogs and found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets and some diet foods,  xylitol can cause vomiting, lethargy and seizures, plus liver disease and blood clotting issues

  • Salt – ingesting too much salt can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, a high temperature and seizures. In extreme cases, sodium ion poisoning may be fatal

  • Avocado – containing a substance called Persin in its flesh, avocado can cause vomiting and diarrhoea

  • Potatoes – raw or ‘green’ potatoes contain toxins such as solanine, which may cause symptoms similar to food poisoning in dogs. It may also lead to reduced function of the nervous system and organs

  • Fat – cooked or uncooked, fat trimmed from meat may cause pancreatitis in dogs, with symptoms including vomiting, stomach pain and loss of appetite

  • Raw eggs – while many believe a raw food diet may be beneficial to dogs, there is a risk of contracting salmonella and e-coli from raw eggs

Ensure you keep all of these foods and ingredients safely out of your dog’s reach. If you suspect they have ingested any of these toxic foods or ingredients – even just a small amount – you should seek medical advice from your vet immediately.

What other substances are poisonous to dogs?

Alongside food which is toxic to dogs, many other common household substances are also poisonous to your pet:

  • Household products – many domestic products which you may use around your home everyday can be poisonous to your dog, including cleaning products, gardening products and – most hazardous – antifreeze. The sweet taste of antifreeze makes it particularly appealing to both dogs and cats, but it can be fatal

  • Plants – domestic flowers and plants such as daffodils, tulips, azaleas and rhododendrons can all prove poisonous to your dog if ingested. If possible, try to avoid planting these in your garden or having them on display in your home

  • Pesticides and insecticides – chemicals used to remove ants, slugs and other pests can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Ensure all substances are safely stored out of your dog’s reach and use them with extreme care in your home and garden

  • Human medication – over the counter and prescription medication can be extremely harmful to your dog,  particularly ibuprofen, paracetamol and supplements such as fish oil. Anti-depressants and blood pressure medication are also poisonous for dogs. Ensure you keep all medication out of reach of your dog, ideally in a locked cabinet

What are the symptoms of poisoning in dogs?

Different poisonous substances will affect your dog in different ways, due to a number of factors including their breed, age and weight.

You should keep a close eye on symptoms which may indicate they have ingested a toxic or poisonous substance, including:

  • Abnormal behaviour

  • Collapse

  • Coughing

  • Decreased urination

  • Diarrhea

  • Discolouration of the gums

  • Drooling

  • Excessive thirst

  • Excessive urination

  • Nausea

  • Poor appetite

  • Tarry or black stools

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

What should you do if you suspect your dog has been poisoned?

While it’s essential to act quickly, do not panic. Always try to remain calm if you suspect your dog has been poisoned, as your pet is likely to become more distressed if they sense you are agitated.

  1. If possible, try to collect any of the suspected substance involved, plus any stools or vomit, as this may help your vet to identify the cause of the problem

  1. You can call Animal PoisonLine  which is the only 24-hour specialised emergency telephone service in the UK dedicated to helping pet owners who are worried their pet may have been exposed to something harmful

  1. Do not induce vomiting, or give your dog any home antidotes

  1. Your vet will need to know the age, breed, gender and weight of your dog, plus any symptoms and information you can provide around the incident. They will then advise you on the necessary steps to treat your dog

  2. If your dog has a seizure, loses consciousness or is struggling to breathe, take them to your vet or emergency animal clinic immediately. A delay could prove fatal, so the sooner your dog is treated, the more likely they are to recover fully.

Treatment of poisoning by vets often includes induction of vomiting to remove toxin from the body, binding of remaining toxins with activated charcoal, and supportive care.  In certain cases, a specific antidote can be administered.  The best advice we can give to owners is to avoid having in the home or garden, any substances, which could be a potential risk to their pet.  If that is not possible then safe and secure storage is mandatory!

Download a useful guide produced by the British Veterinary Association on pet poisons (opens as a PDF).