Pets are family. When your dog is staring up at you with those big, innocent eyes, the temptation to give them table food is real. You love them, why can’t they have some of your food?
Dogs can eat human food if you want them to. Freshly made dog foods are some of the best foods available for pets. Home cooking for pets is another option to consider. However, creating a complete and balanced food for your pet isn’t easy without a general practice veterinarian who loves nutrition or a veterinary nutritionist to help. The last thing you want is to feed a homemade food and inadvertently cause a medical condition in your pet.
Before you feed people food to your pet, you should know which dangerous foods for dogs to avoid and how to protect your dog from harmful foods.
Dangerous Foods for Dogs
There are many dangerous foods for dogs that can be toxic, harmful, or even cause death. Here is a relatively exhaustive list of foods that can cause your pet harm.
Avocados are a welcome sight at the grocery store. Dogs and cats may also enjoy the taste of these delicious fruits. However, avocados can cause some significant health concerns in pets, including intestinal blockage, intestinal upset, or pancreatitis.
Avocados are higher in fat that many other produce section foods. These natural fats can create problems in dogs and cats sensitive to them. Higher fat foods have the ability to pull water from the body into the intestines, resulting in softer stools or diarrhea. This type of diarrhea should be self-limiting, but it may cause more significant concern in pets who are already dehydrated or prone to easily becoming dehydrated, such as puppies and kittens.
When dogs eat higher-fat foods, they have the potential to develop a condition called pancreatitis. The pancreas is a very important organ in the body that produces enzymes to break down foods as they move through the intestines. When a high fat meal is fed, there is a chance that the enzymes used to break down food become activated before entering the intestines, and they start to break down the pancreas itself. This condition is painful, requires hospitalization, and is potentially life threatening.
Lastly, the avocado pit needs to be composted or otherwise made inaccessible to dogs who like to eat such things. Avocado pits are the perfect size to get stuck in the intestines, creating a life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery. If you are an avocado lover, keep track of your avocado pits, for the sake of your dog.
Alcohol of any kind should never be given to pets. Dogs and cats exposed to alcoholic beverages can experience GI upset (e.g., throwing up, diarrhea), low appetite, and can become less alert or uncoordinated when walking. Pets exposed to larger quantities of alcohol or who are more sensitive to its effects may experience difficulty breathing, tremors (involuntary and rhythmic shaking), blood chemical abnormalities, coma or even death.
Some pet parents may like to round out the day with a nice glass of wine. Because wine has alcohol, it is dangerous for pets to consume. It is unknown whether the toxic principle that causes grape toxicity in dogs (more on this to come) is present in wine and if it poses additional risk. Bottom line: Drink wine to your health, but maintain your pet’s health by keeping wine away from them.
For the craft beer fans out there, if you are making your own beer at home, keep your pets away from your new or already-used hops in all forms—flowers, plugs, or pellets. When consumed by your dog or cat, hops can cause a significant increase in their body temperature called malignant hyperthermia. The normal body temperature for dogs and cats can be upward of 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Eating hops can cause body temperatures of 105 degrees or higher. In addition to the elevated body temperature, your pet will likely experience a fast heart beat, a fast breathing rate (you will see their chest move up and down faster than normal), anxiety (not able to settle), throwing up, clotting abnormalities, or even death.
If you notice that your pet has eaten hops, they need immediate veterinary care. Deaths have been reported within six hours of hops consumption.
Chocolate can make dogs extremely sick, and in some cases, chocolate poisoning can even be deadly. It contains chemicals called Methylxanthines including caffeine and theobromine.
Similar to caffeine products (see next section), theobromine can cause mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea to more moderate symptoms including tremors, hyperactivity, and abnormal heart rhythm. In the most severe cases of chocolate poisoning, dogs can experience seizures and even death.
Different types of chocolate have different levels of caffeine and theobromine. The symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs are dependent on the type of chocolate and the amount consumed.
Baking chocolate contains the most theobromine, and is the most lethal. Baking chocolate contains about 390mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate.
Semisweet and dark chocolate contain about 150mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate.
Milk chocolate contains about 44mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate consumed. The development of toxicity depends on the size of your dog and how much was consumed.
White chocolate contains very little theobromine and poses more risk of pancreatitis than chocolate toxicity.
If your pet has consumed only a small amount of chocolate and is showing mild signs, keep a close eye on your pet and take him to the veterinarian if symptoms worsen.
If however, your pet has eaten chocolate and is showing moderate or severe signs of toxicity, bring your pet to your veterinarian or the emergency clinic right away. Getting your pet treatment for chocolate poisoning quickly will impact your dog’s overall prognosis.
The problem with coffee, tea, and anything that contains caffeine is a chemical called methylxanthines. When ingested by humans, methylxanthines cause the body to “wake up and go” whereas in dogs and cats, this effect is taken to the extreme. Pets can experience throwing up, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, more than normal urination, hyperactivity, anxiety, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures and, in some cases, even death.
The degree of severity in the signs seen depends entirely on your pet’s weight, the amount of chocolate, coffee, or tea your pet consumed (grams or ounces), and details about the product consumed. This includes the brand and type of chocolate (e.g., white, milk, dark, or baking chocolate), roast of coffee, or type of tea.
If you find that your pet has consumed a caffeine product, you can either provide the above information and photos of any packaging material to your pet’s telehealth provider to determine if a trip to your veterinary hospital is needed, or bring the above information, any packaging and your pet to a veterinary hospital to be examined by a veterinarian.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener derived from birch trees that is added to a variety of foods. While gums, candies, cookies, baked goods and peanut butters are not poisonous to dogs on their own, they become dangerous for dogs when xylitol is added to them. Small amounts of xylitol can cause significant effects: A couple sticks of gum or a small dollop of xylitol peanut butter can cause a dog to show clinical signs. That’s why you should always carefully read food labels, especially if you plan on giving those foods to your dog.
If your dog consumes a food containing xylitol, they will have a large spike of insulin release from the pancreas. Insulin is what allows blood sugar to enter body cells to give them energy. The spike of insulin will cause a massive movement of blood sugar into the cells, leaving very little sugar in the blood. Low blood sugar is very dangerous and can result in throwing up, diarrhea, low energy, loss of appetite, incoordination, collapse, seizures, and death.
If your pet consumes xylitol, bring your pet to a veterinary hospital or ER to be seen right away.
Coconut water, coconut meat, and coconut oil can be dangerous for dogs. Although coconut water is incredibly hydrating for humans, it’s high in one particular electrolyte: potassium. Potassium needs to be kept at a certain level in the body. If your pet is given too much potassium, or if your pet’s body cannot handle high levels of potassium because of a medical condition, they can develop heart rhythm abnormalities that can result in death. Since you, the pet parent, cannot see your pet’s heart rhythms, you may see signs such as low energy, weakness, or collapse.
Coconut meat is not as high in potassium and individual pets may respond differently to being fed the coconut meat. Coconut meat has the potential to cause intestinal upset including throwing up, diarrhea, not wanting to eat, and resulting dehydration. If you are feeding your pet small amounts of coconut meat and they are tolerating it well (no adverse effects), then you should be able to give that small amount without significant concerns.
If you want to give coconut oil to your pet, it is not toxic in very small amounts, but it can cause some health concerns in pets sensitive to it, and when given in large amounts.
Grapes and Raisins
The toxicity of grapes and raisins for some dogs and cats has puzzled veterinarians for years. Some dogs and cats react and some do not. Even one grape or raisin has the potential to cause life-threatening kidney failure. To date, veterinarians have been unable to predict which dogs and cats will develop kidney failure and which pets are lucky enough to not react. If your pet has had a grape or raisin in the past and has not had a problem, it does not mean it is safe to give grapes or raisins again.
Sometimes grapes but often raisins are often added to other food items during manufacturing. Pre-packaged oatmeals, granola bars, cereals, trail mix, and so many other products could potentially contain grapes or raisins and should be thoroughly vetted before purchasing and bringing into your home. Once in your home, it’s easier to forget it contains potentially toxic ingredients, and increases the possibility of your pet consuming them.
Onions, Garlic, Chives and Leeks
Members of the allium family of plants, including onions, garlic, chives and leeks, are considered toxic foods for pets. If you cook a meal that has chunks of these vegetables in it, do not feed that to your pet.
Ingestion can damage the oxygen-carrying cells of the body and cause anemia or a low red blood cell count. Without an adequate number of red blood cells, the body will not be able to function normally, resulting in lethargy (lack of energy), pale gums (lift up your dog’s lip and take a look), elevated heart rate and breathing rate (the body is causing the heart and lungs to move faster to get more oxygen into the body), throwing up, and reduced appetite. If the toxicity is severe, your pet will need hospitalization and possibly a blood transfusion. If your pet has consumed one of these vegetables, bring them to a veterinary hospital right away for decontamination.
There are many processed and packaged products that contain onion powder or garlic powder, such as soups, broths, some dog treats, and any pre-prepared foods. The small amount of garlic or onion powder in these products should not be of significant concern unless your pet already has anemia or a medical condition concerning the blood.
There are home remedies that purport garlic as a means to rid the body of fleas. Garlic given in high enough quantities to kill fleas would also likely kill your pet. Instead, talk to your veterinarian about a prescription flea medication.
Macadamia Nuts (and Nuts in General)
Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. Currently, the cause of the toxicity in dogs is unknown, but it can affect the nerves and muscles of the body. Even eating small amounts can cause significant abnormalities. Dogs can develop clinical signs including severe lethargy, increased body temperature (above the normal upper range of 102.5 degrees), throwing up, tremors (involuntary but rhythmic muscle contractions), joint stiffness, significant hind limb weakness or even inability to walk on the hind limbs. If these clinical signs are seen, bring your dog to the veterinary hospital right away.
Macadamia nuts, along with all other nuts, have an elevated fat content. If given in large quantities, nuts can cause pancreatitis in dogs, a painful and potentially life-threatening medical condition. In most dogs, an occasional nut (save for macadamia nuts) should not cause significant concerns, but getting into a bag or can of nuts can cause significant stomach pain, loss of appetite, throwing up, fever, and lethargy (low energy). Dogs with pancreatitis often need hospitalization with IV fluids, pain medications, and medications to support the intestinal tract before they can feel better.
Your dog does not need a piece of your fried food. If they get into fried food, they are at risk for developing pancreatitis. Similar to nuts causing pancreatitis, dogs who eat fried food can develop a painful abdomen, a hunched posture, loss of appetite, throwing up, fever, and low energy. They can also be irritable depending on their individual personality and pain level.
Milk and Other Dairy Products
Milk and dairy products are tolerated by some pets and not tolerated by others. If your pet develops diarrhea after consuming milk or a milk product, then they are intolerant and additional milk will also cause diarrhea. If—after consuming milk—your pet does not develop diarrhea, and maintains a normal appetite, then milk in small quantities may be a treat you can give to your pet.
Be aware, however, that the fat content of milk has the potential to cause pancreatitis in dogs. As with nuts and fried food, pancreatitis can cause stomach pain, hunched posture, loss of appetite, throwing up, fever, low energy and irritability, depending on your individual pet and how they handle pain.
If you like to make your own baked goods at home, keep them away from your dog. Yeast dough is potentially very harmful to dogs. When consumed, yeast dough settles in your pet’s stomach and will start to rise there. The dough can potentially fill your pet’s entire stomach, causing a bloated or distended stomach or a condition called GDV (gastric dilatation-volvulus), where the stomach flips over. A bloated stomach is painful, and will likely cause a decrease in appetite and energy. GDV is life-threatening because the flipped tissues of the intestines get cut off from their blood supply and start to rot. Signs of GDV at home are lack of appetite, unproductive retching (looks like they are trying to throw up but can’t get anything up), a distended stomach, a higher than normal heart rate, generalized weakness, collapse, and death.
To add insult to injury, the rising yeast dough produces carbon dioxide while in the stomach. Carbon dioxide absorbs into the bloodstream and can cause alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning in dogs can cause significant decreases in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature and can result in seizures and death.
Edibles refer to edible products that contain THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis. Edibles are becoming more commonplace. If your pet ingests an edible, bring your pet to an ER right away.
Bring the packaging of the edible and an approximation of how much of the edible was consumed OR the brand and type of edible and the concentration of cannabis within the product.
In pets, THC can cause abnormal walking (looks like they are walking around drunk), a lower than normal body temperature, heightened sensitivity to movement, light and sound, and urinary incontinence (they start to dribble urine while laying down or walking around). Depending on the concentration of THC consumed, your pet can become stuporous—they fall asleep and it is difficult to wake them up. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs may need breathing support while the THC is in their body.
Another consideration is the edible itself. Was it a brownie? A cookie? A candy? If there is chocolate in the edible, then you should also be concerned about chocolate toxicity, and candies may contain artificial sweeteners. If your pet ate your edible, please be open with your veterinarian and tell them. If your veterinarian knows what they are treating, they can help your pet easier.
Mushrooms are a potentially deadly food for dogs. Culinary mushrooms that you find in the grocery store should not cause a problem in your dog or cat, but beware of any wild mushrooms your dog decides to harvest from your yard or during your outdoor adventures.
Mushroom identification is incredibly complex and identifying and harvesting edible wild mushrooms is something experts practice for years. Wild mushrooms have varying levels of toxicity from “nothing to worry about” to rapid disorientation and death.
If you know your pet has ingested a wild or unidentified mushroom, try to have the mushroom in question identified before any clinical signs develop to determine if medical treatment is warranted. If clinical signs have already developed, bring your pet and the same species of mushroom to the veterinary emergency hospital right away.
Protecting Dogs From Harmful Foods
As evidenced above, there are many potentially harmful foods to keep away from your pets. Some strategies for keeping your pet safe include:
Keep toxic foods secured away from dogs. If there are toxic foods for dogs in your home, make sure to put them away as soon as you get home and keep them stored in a secure place. Counter-surfing dogs are talented and motivated and can find anything left on counters.
Make sure friends and family know not to feed your dog. Ask any friends or family members visiting your home not to feed your dog.
Stop feeding table scraps. Don’t feed your dog table scraps. Sometimes foods have hidden ingredients, and even if your meal is not toxic, it could lead to gastrointestinal upset or dangerous health conditions such as pancreatitis.
What Foods Can Dogs Eat?
The best human foods you can feed your pet are vegetables—except for the ones mentioned above. Each dog will have a different palate and different vegetables they will eat.
Vegetables as a treat will help your pet feel full while keeping them from gaining weight from too many commercial pet treats. Some favorite options include:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Green beans
It is also safe for dogs to eat the following fruits. Only allow your dog fruit in moderation to limit calories and excess sugar consumption.
- Apple slices
- Seedless watermelon
Remember that treats should account for less than 10 percent of your dog’s daily calorie intake.