written by: Erin Simmonds, DVM, DACVECC
Common foods that are toxic to dogs
Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly found in gum, sugar-free sweets, and baked goods. Xylitol can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) results from a surge in insulin release stimulated by the xylitol. Signs of low blood sugar can be seen as early as 15 minutes after ingestion and can include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, and seizures. Signs of liver failure may not be apparent for a few days after ingestion. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance, bleeding, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and weakness.
Treatment for recent xylitol ingestion often involves inducing vomiting and monitoring blood sugar levels. If low blood sugar develops it is treated with intravenous sugar solutions and the prognosis is good for a full recovery. If severe liver toxicity develops hospitalized intensive treatment may be needed and the prognosis is much more uncertain.
2. Grapes and Raisins
Grapes and raisins can cause gastrointestinal upset and kidney failure in dogs. Early signs of toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea, which often contains whole grapes/raisins. Signs of kidney failure can start within a few days of ingestion and include excessive thirst and urination, inappetance, lethargy, drooling, and nausea.
Treatment for grape/raisin ingestion may include inducing vomiting, administering charcoal to help bind toxins, monitoring kidney values, and providing intravenous fluids. If kidney failure develops, treatment is more prolonged and intensive in hopes of supporting the body while the kidneys have time to heal.
3. Onions and Garlic
All forms including raw, cooked and powdered onions/garlic are toxic. Ingestion can cause gastrointestinal upset and anemia. Oxidative damage from the onion/garlic causes red blood cells to be destroyed and can result in severe anemia. Signs of anemia are often delayed a day or two after ingestion and include weakness, pale gums, difficulty breathing, and red/brown coloured urine.
Treatment for onion/garlic ingestion may include inducing vomiting and monitoring for anemia. If significant anemia occurs the dog may need a blood transfusion and in-hospital care until the toxicity has passed and the body has time to produce new red blood cells.
4. Bread Dough
Uncooked dough sitting on the counter is an enticing treat for a dog but can cause serious health problems when ingested. The dough continues to rise in the stomach and can cause abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, abdominal distention, and shock. The fermenting yeast also produces alcohol, which can lead to depression, difficulty walking, coma, seizures, and death.
Treatment may include supportive care, breathing support, intravenous fluids, pain medication, and in some cases emergency surgery to remove the bread dough.
5. Moldy Garbage
Moldy food/compost can contain toxins that result in gastrointestinal upset and muscle tremors. Tremors result in difficulty walking, severe shaking, high body temperatures, difficulty breathing, and can look like seizures.
If ingestion is caught early the veterinarian may decide to try to induce vomiting and administer charcoal to bind remaining toxin. Once signs develop, treatment may include intravenous fluids and supportive care in the hospital as well as medication to reduce the tremors.
Chocolate is one of the most common toxic ingestions we see in emergency practice. Chocolate contains methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine) that can result in gastrointestinal upset, pancreatitis, rapid heart rate, abnormal heart beats (arrhythmia), seizures, and even death. The toxic level of chocolate depends on the amount of chocolate eaten, the size of the dog, pre-existing health conditions, and most importantly, the kind of chocolate. Generally, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is. Dark chocolate, baker's chocolate and cocoa contain the most methylxanthines and are thus the most toxic. White chocolate contains very little and is less toxic.
Treatment depends on how recently the dog ate the chocolate, if they are showing signs already, and how much they ate. In some cases, treatment may include inducing vomiting in the hospital, administering oral charcoal, and having you monitor your pet closely at home for the next 12 - 24 hours. In cases where a more toxic amount was ingested or signs are present the veterinarian may recommend keeping your dog in the hospital for further treatment such as intravenous fluids, heart rate monitoring, treatment for arrhythmias, seizure control, etc. The prognosis is very good in most cases, especially if caught early.
All of these toxins can cause severe illness or even be fatal in some cases. The best chance for a good outcome is when treatment is started immediately after ingestion of the toxin, before any signs have developed.
If you think your pet might have eaten these toxic foods, or any other potential toxin, please contact Guardian Veterinary Centre or a pet poison control centre right away. If your pet is already showing signs of a possible toxin please have them evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.