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7 Human Foods That Are Toxic and Potentially Fatal for Pets

Foods such as coffee, chocolate, onions, garlic, leeks and macadamia nuts may be safe for human consumption but they can be harmful to our pets. Some common symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and lethargy. If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet or you suspect they may have ingested any of these foods, take them to the vet immediately.

If you have dogs or cats as pets, you know how difficult it can be to eat in peace around them. They’re constantly looking at your food longingly with those adorable eyes that you can’t say no to. You might even be tempted to give them a tiny morsel of your food.

However, vets strongly suggest that you stick to prescribed, commercial food that is developed specifically for your pet. Why? Because there are certain foods that are perfectly safe for us to consume but can have serious consequences for your pet. They may even cause fatalities. Here are some common foods which can cause poisoning in dogs and cats.1

1. Chocolate, Coffee, And Caffeine

These foods contain theobromine and methylxanthines which are poisonous

The toxic ingredients here are theobromine in chocolate and methylxanthines in chocolate, coffee, and foods containing caffeine. The darker the chocolate, the larger the concentrations of methylxanthines. Therefore, cocoa powder is most harmful to dogs and cats. Theobromine is another substance that can cause harm. The substance is actually toxic to humans as well but only in extremely large quantities. The amounts seen in chocolate are small enough to pass through our system safely. Dogs and cats, however, metabolize it much more slowly. It can remain in their system for a longer time period.

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Your pet may exhibit the following symptoms 6–12 hours after ingestion:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • labored breathing
  • thirst
  • increased urination

2. Grapes, Currants, Raisins, And Sultanas

These foods may cause an adverse reaction in dogs

Research is still not clear as to why these fruits cause poisoning in dogs. While some dogs have eaten entire cases with no effect, others have died from eating a handful. Some theorize that it may be cryolite, a pesticide used in grapes which can cause vomiting and lesions in the kidneys.2 To be on the safer side, avoid feeding your pets any sort of vine fruits in any form. Ingestion of these fruits can cause renal failure in dogs.3 4 One needs to be prompt with the treatment of poisoning from vine fruits. Once the symptoms of renal failure are seen, the dogs are not likely to survive.

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Your pet may show the following symptoms within 6–12 hours of ingestion:

  • vomiting (in almost all cases)
  • diarrhea
  • anorexia,
  • abdominal pain
  • weakness
  • tremors
  • lethargy

3. Onions, Garlic, Leek, And Chives

These plants of the Allium genus are toxic to dogs and cats

These vegetables are all from the genus Allium and contain toxic compounds that trigger anemia in dogs and cats. In cats, just 5 grams per kilogram of the body weight can cause poisoning. These components can be harmful in raw or cooked form. The concern arises with cats that may be more susceptible. This is because of a popular practice where baby food is used to feed sick cats and encourage appetite. Many baby food manufacturers use onion powder in their recipes to improve the taste. This can trigger poisoning in the cats that consume them.5 Treatment of Allium poisoning is done through blood transfusions and supportive treatment for the anemia.

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Your pet may suffer from gastroenteritis in the form of the following symptoms as a result of ingesting the above vegetables:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite
  • depression
  • dehydration.

4. Avocado

Any part of the avocado tree can have adverse effects on pets

The avocado fruit, plant, and leaves can all be toxic to most animals. It causes fluid accumulation in the pancreas, abdomen, lungs, and chest. The animals may die of oxygen deprivation as a result. The high fat content of the fruit has been associated with pancreatitis.6

Symptoms Of Poisoning

These are the symptoms of poisoning that occur with ingestion of avocado:

  • gastrointestinal irritation
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory distress
  • congestion

5. Macadamia Nuts

These nuts can pose serious health problems for pets

It is not clear what causes the toxicity, but it may be due to a combination of the substances in the nuts, the processing chemicals, or the presence of toxin-producing fungi. These nuts have only been observed to show toxicity in dogs. They are a popular addition to cookies and baked goods so owners must be careful about what they feed their canine friends.

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Here some symptoms that suggest macadamia nut poisoning:7

  • weakness (more pronounced in hind limbs)
  • depression
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of full control over bodily movements
  • muscle tremors,
  • swollen and painful limbs
  • paralysis of the hind limbs
  • hyperthermia (with temperatures up to 40.5 °C)
  • elevated heart rate
  • lameness
  • stiffness

6. Xylitol

This sweetener causes hypoglycemia in dogs

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in place of sugar. It may be in sugar-free gum, toothpaste and baked goods. It can even be in some brands of peanut butter which explains the incidence of poisoning in dogs. While it does not have much of an effect in humans, in dogs, xylitol causes a significant release of insulin leading to sudden drops in blood sugar.8 It may even cause liver damage and death.9

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Your pet may exhibit the following symptoms after ingesting foods containing xylitol:

  • vomiting
  • weakness
  • ataxia
  • depression
  • difficulty breathing
  • increased thirst and urination
  • seizures

7. Alcohol

Alcohol toxicity causes serious problems in pets.

The ethanol in alcohol can cause depression of the central nervous system of the animal. Dogs and cats metabolize alcohol differently than us, which results in the production of acetone in their bodies. Alcohol can also adversely affect their blood sugar and body temperature. Beer is especially poisonous to dogs because of the hops used in its production. Make sure your pet doesn’t ingest any raw yeasted doughs or batters either since they also contain alcohol.

Symptoms Of Poisoning

Your pet may display the following symptoms after ingesting any form of alcohol:

  • lethargy
  • sedation
  • hypothermia
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • poor breathing

Take every precaution to ensure that these foods or foods containing these substances are kept out of your pet’s reach. Even with caution, it is possible that your pets may accidentally ingest these foods on the sly. For this reason, it’s important to keep a watchful eye over your pets and their behavior. If you notice any unusual symptoms or suspect that they may have ingested any of the above foods, take them to the vet immediately.

References   [ + ]

1, 6. Kovalkovičová, Natália, Irena Šutiaková, Juraj Pistl, and Václav Šutiak. “Some food toxic for pets.” Interdisciplinary toxicology 2, no. 3 (2009): 169-176.
2. Cryolite: Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED). United States Environmental Protection Agency.
3. Gwaltney-Brant, S., J. K. Holding, C. W. Donaldson, P. A. Eubig, and S. A. Khan. “Renal failure associated with ingestion of grapes or raisins in dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218, no. 10 (2001): 1555-1556.
4. Eubig, Paul A., Melinda S. Brady, Sharon M. Gwaltney‐Brant, Safdar A. Khan, Elisa M. Mazzaferro, and Carla MK Morrow. “Acute renal failure in dogs after the ingestion of grapes or raisins: a retrospective evaluation of 43 dogs (1992–2002).” Journal of veterinary internal medicine 19, no. 5 (2005): 663-674.
5. Robertson, Jane E., Mary M. Christopher, and Quinton R. Rogers. “Heinz body formation in cats fed baby food containing onion powder.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 212, no. 8 (1998): 1260-1266.
7. Hansen, S. R., W. B. Buck, G. Meerdink, and S. A. Khan. “Weakness, tremors, and depression associated with macadamia nuts in dogs.” Veterinary and human toxicology 42, no. 1 (2000): 18-21.
8. Dunayer, Eric K. “Hypoglycemia following canine ingestion of xylitol-containing gum.” Veterinary and human toxicology 46, no. 2 (2004): 87-88.
9. Dunayer, Eric K., and Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant. “Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 229, no. 7 (2006): 1113-1117.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.