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Biology, Uncategorized

Tasty to humans; toxic to dogs and cats

I love trying to find new ways to stimulate my cats. From putting food in different containers that they have to solve to get their food to introducing them to different smells that stimulate their interests, I think that providing different types of enrichments is key to keeping my girls happy and healthy for many years to come. Part of this plan however, depends on me never using things, food or otherwise, that could harm them. In this post, I’m going to focus on the foods that we think are tasty but are quite toxic to our feline and canine friends. Of course, my cats would want me to point out that dogs are typically at higher risk because they have less refined tastes and are therefore more likely to sample human food. However, the reality is that your dogs and cats can both be put at risk if they can access these toxic foods.

Allium species are plants like onion, garlic, leek, and chives. In fairly low quantities these plants can basically destroy the animal’s red blood cells–red blood cells carry oxygen around our bodies and remove carbon dioxide from body cells and carry it to the lungs where it can expelled. The responsible components are organosulfoxides and, unfortunately, none of our usual treatments like cooking, drying, and processing do not eliminate the toxic effects. Symptoms may not appear for several days, but would include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and depression. Other symptoms will follow. Death is a very real possibility, so seek professional help immediately.

Ethanol, whether its from uncooked bread, alcohol, rotting fruit, or antifreeze is another toxic substance for pets. I was once cat sitting a cat who went into complete kidney failure. With treatment she did recover, and the vets suspected it had been caused by ethanol exposure but we never figured out what she might have consumed that would have exposed her. Ethanol can be absorbed through the stomach lining and quickly makes it across the blood-brain barrier so symptoms can progress within an hour of ingestion. The mechanism of action is not completely understood but is thought to inhibit a particular typed receptor in the brain that is involved in the production of a chemical that is vital to heart function. Dialysis to rapidly remove the ethanol from the blood maybe helpful in severe cases. There are also some potential drug treatments which counter the depressant effects of the ethanol.

Grapes, and the dried equivalents like raisins have caused renal (kidney) failure in dogs; however, the mechanism of action is unclear. There is significant variation in how susceptible a dog is, with some showing life threatening responses and even death after eating only a handful, while others remain healthy after significant quantities. Avoidance is the best strategy here.

Hops, used in brewing beer, can cause malignant hyperthermia in dogs. This is a genetic disorder, so it is passed down family lines. As a result, while any dog may be at risk, certain breeds like greyhounds, Labrador retrievers, border collies, Saint Bernards, pointers, dobermans, and English Springer Spaniels are more likely to be affected. Basically, with exposure body temperature rises, heart rate increases, panting and vomiting may occur, and the dog may have seizures. Even with aggressive treatment, the risk of death is very high.

Chocolate and caffeine contain related compounds that result in stimulating the central nervous system — brain and spinal cord–and relax smooth muscles — typically the muscles associated with your organs. If the animal receives treatment within a few hours of ingestion the prognosis is usually positive but it really is not work the risk or the trauma so keep your treats away from your pets.

gumXylitol is an artificial sweetener used in things like sugar free gum, candy, bread, and baked goods. You can also buy it as a powder to use in your own baking. When dogs consume xylitol, their body responds by releasing large amounts of insulin. Insulin acts kind of like a key that opens the door for cells to take in glucose–a type of sugar. But, when the cell take in too much sugar it causes a massive drop in blood glucose levels. There have been cases where xylitol has been added to products to maintain cat or dog dental health so be sure to check ingredients.

Macadamia nuts have also been reported as being toxic to dogs although many questions still remain.

Admittedly, this was a pretty tough post to write, thinking about all the different ingredients that are in my house that are dangerous to my two cats. At the same time, it makes me wonder what makes humans different. Why can we find so much joy in a piece of chocolate that could kill our furry companions? Perhaps that’s a question for a future post.


Cortinovis, C. & Caloni, F. (2016). Household food items toxic to dogs and cats. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 22. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffvets.2016.00026

Please note: that none of the brands I have included here have been included because they are bad or targeting animals. On the contrary, my point in using these images has been to show that these are items that humans consume daily but present a very significant risk to our four legged family members. Therefore, they are included to help raise awareness of the attention we must pay to keeping our animals safe from things that we often enjoy.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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