Toxic foods for pets

What’s Sauce for the Goose but not for the Gander: Everyday Foods that can Harm Your Pet

by Deep, Radi, and Mithu on October 17, 2009

in Holistic Pet Care and Nutrition

In our later posts on holistic pet care and nutrition we will be discussing several valuable natural foods, herbs, and nutritional supplements that can significantly improve the health, vitality, and well being of your pet. However, we feel that it is important to begin with some negatives relating to food toxicity and pets. This is therefore a cautionary article that describes common (human) foods, which are known to be toxic for pets and to be associated with serious health risks and even death in some cases.

While the harmful effects of some of these foods on pets may be fairly obvious to our readers, others, associated with health benefits for humans, may come as a surprise. The information that we present below is based on a common consensus among experienced veterinarians and animal care providers on tried and tested foods and beverages that have toxic effects on dogs and cats.

Intoxicants and Stimulants:

It is hopefully self-evident that foods and drinks that are intoxicants and/or stimulants are definitely a no-no for our pets. Here we elaborate on the toxic effects of some of the more common substances in this category on pets.

Alcohol and Pets:

Certain kinds of alcohol, particularly the sweeter varieties, can be attractive not just to humans but also to dogs and cats. To recount an amusing story, Mishkah, our Tibetan Mastiff who sadly passed on some years ago, had a definite fondness for spirits. We suspect that he may have sampled some of the beer and liquor made from rice and cereals by the high altitude pastoralist communities in Bhutan with whom he lived before shifting residence to our home in Thimphu.  On one occasion, he even slipped past one of us (Radi) at a party and proceeded to delicately lap up wine from a guest’s glass while her back was turned. Fortunately, he escaped notice by other guests before being hurriedly removed from the vicinity, along with the glass!

While the above story is amusing, we are fortunate that Mishkah, perhaps due to his impressive size and weight, did not suffer from any harmful effects after his occasional bouts of wine tasting. It is a well known fact that excessive consumption of alcohol can be toxic for humans due to the toxic effects of its component ethanol. Since our pets are generally much smaller than us (Mishkah was an exception), they are highly affected even by small amounts of alcohol and exhibit certain tell tale signs of intoxication. These include: uncoordinated movements and staggering; behavioral changes and excitement; depression; excessive urination; a slowing down of their breathing rate; and even cardiac arrest and death. So the moral of the story is to make sure your pets are and remain teetotalers!

Yeast dough:

Yeast dough is another forbidden food for pets. In addition to rising in your pet’s stomach and causing severe gastrointestinal distress and bloating, it produces alcohol toxicity.

Coffee and Tea:

Pets that consume coffee grounds and beans or tea can suffer from caffeine toxicity which can be a serious health concern. Xanthines, a component of coffee, can damage the nervous and urinary systems and can cause dangerous levels of heart muscle stimulation.

Chocolate Toxicity:

Chocolate is one of the human treats that is definitely not good for our pets. In addition to containing caffeine, chocolate also contains theobromine, a chemical stimulant that cannot be metabolized by dogs and cats. Theobromine is most concentrated in dark chocolate; moderately present in milk chocolate, and found in negligible quantities in white chocolate (the safest form).

When ingested by pets, it remains in their blood stream for almost a full day and is highly toxic, causing a range of progressively dangerous symptoms from initial excitement, increased drinking and urinating, and severe vomiting and diarrhea, to increased heart rate and arrhythmia, hallucinations, epileptic seizures, heart attack, and possible death.

Should an animal accidently ingest chocolate, particularly the darker varieties such as baker’s and high cocoa content chocolate, veterinarians recommend inducing vomiting, giving the pet activated charcoal to bind the toxins in the stomach or intestinal tract, and taking it promptly to the vet if depression and seizures begin. They may require 24 to 48 hours of IV fluids and medication in the hospital to bring down their dangerously high heart rates.

Our readers should also be aware that some reputable pet treat manufacturers actually make chocolate treats for dogs. These are, however, produced in ways that are not harmful for your pet. They may also contain carob instead of chocolate which is safe for pets’ consumption. Still, it is best to check that the product is totally safe before treating your pet with it!

Fruit and Vegetables:

With the increased popularity of raw food diets for dogs, more owners are now including fruits and vegetables in their pets’ diet. These are an effective way of keeping them healthy since they provide them with good doses of natural minerals and vitamins. However, dogs like kids can be very fussy when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Some love them while others may hate them and refuse to touch them. Our dog Muffin unfortunately belongs to this category and has to be tricked into eating her veggies!

Dogs can generally eat a range of different fruits and vegetables, depending of course on their tastes and preferences. Regarding vegetables, they do well on carrots, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, cucumber, beets, zucchini, and broccoli to mention some examples. They also often enjoy fruits such as bananas, pears, mangoes, pineapples, apricots, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and others. However, they should avoid certain fruits and vegetables which can be harmful for them, as discussed below.

Raisins and Grapes:

The dangers of toxicity of grapes and raisins in dogs was first reported by the National Animal Poison Center (in the USA) in 2001. There were ten reported cases of acute kidney failure at the time resulting from the ingestion of quantities that ranged from 0.2 ounces per pound to 4.4 ounces per pound. A second retrospective study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine focused on 43 further cases of which 20 died or had to be euthanized.

It is still not clear why some though not all dogs develop acute kidney failure from eating even very small quantities of these particular foods (even as few as six grapes and raisins). Pesticides, fungus, and heavy metal concentration have been ruled out as causative factors and it appears that the toxic principle is in the flesh and not the seed. In severe cases, even aggressive treatment does not seem to help. However, vets recommend induced vomiting, the use of activated charcoal, and IV fluid diuresis for up to eight hours after ingestion.

Apples, Pears, and Cherries (the Seeds, Stems, and Leaves) and Peaches, Plums, and Apricots (the Pits)

The flesh of these fruits is healthy and is often enjoyed by pets (one of our dogs, Tramp, used to share apples with us, biting our ankles if we did not give him his due share!) However, ingesting large amounts of their stems, seeds, and leaves can be toxic since they contain a type of cyanide compound. Signs of toxicity include anxiety, dilated pupils, difficult breathing, hyperventilation, and shock.

Citrus fruits:

Citrus fruits such as oranges may upset your dog’s stomach. However, we have found that a few drops of fresh lemon juice squeezed in water can help to get our dog’s elimination processes going when she is suffering from decreased urination and constipation. This needs, however, to be given in moderation and in consultation with your vet.

Onions and Garlic:

Onions and related members of the Allium family, including shallot, green onions, and garlic, contain thiosulphate, a toxic ingredient which causes hemolytic anemia, a condition in which the red blood cells break down and their hemoglobin content spills into the urine.

Symptoms of onion poisoning include gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) with cats being even more susceptible to red blood cell damage than dogs. Ingestion of 5 grams per kilogram of onion in cats or 15 to 30 grams per kilogram in dogs can lead to clinical hemolysis.

However, the good news is that anemia caused by onion toxicity is treatable and dogs do recover after onions are removed from their diet. Also, garlic is less harmful than onion. Even though it also contains thiosulphate, it is much less toxic and would need to be eaten in large amounts to cause illness.

Potatoes and Tomatoes (Leaves, Skin and Green Parts):

The peelings and green parts of potatoes and the stems and leaves of tomatoes contain solanine and other toxic alkaloids which can cause serious symptoms in pets when consumed in large amounts. Cats are especially sensitive with tomatoes of all kinds as well as the parts of the plant being severely toxic to them.

The symptoms of solanine toxicity include: drooling; severe gastrointestinal disturbance, including diarrhea and vomiting; appetite loss; depression of the nervous system; confusion and changes in behavior; weakness; dilated pupils; and slowed heart rate. It should be remembered that both of these Solanum species are members of the nightshade family of plants.


The leaves, fruit, seeds, and bark of avocado contain Persin, a substance that can be harmful for dogs. It may cause tissue damage to organs, including the lungs and heart, as well as gastrointestinal distress – vomiting, diarrhea, and even pancreatitis. The Guatemalan variety of avocado is particularly toxic for dogs.


A number of mushroom species are toxic for dogs and may cause shock and even death depending on what type is ingested. It is therefore best to avoid feeding them any types of mushrooms, including “backyard mushrooms” that are known to be toxic for dogs.


Several kinds of nuts are toxic to dogs.

Macadamia Nuts:

These soft, light-colored nuts, often used in cookie recipes, are known to be toxic for dogs, even in small amounts, though the cause of their toxicity had not been identified. The main effects of their toxicity are difficulties in moving as the affected dogs develop muscle tremors and weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters. Some dogs have swollen limbs and experience pain when their limbs are manipulated, and they may also suffer from digestive and nervous symptoms. The digestive system of cats too may be affected by the toxins in macadamia nuts.

Other kinds of nuts that feature in the toxic list for pets are almonds, pecans, and walnuts though they are not as dangerous as macadamia. It is best, however, to avoid giving nuts to your pets since the jury is still out on which nuts are safe for your pets and which are not.


Amongst the spices, nutmeg is known to be toxic and even fatal for pets when consumed in large quantities. The toxic effects of this spice are mainly focused on the nervous system and include tremors, seizures, and even death.

Miscellaneous Foods:

Moldy or Spoiled Foods:

Alfatoxin, a type of toxin contained in moldy foods and a common cause of “compost toxicity” is definitely harmful for your pets. Some of the common symptoms of this toxicity are: gastrointestinal upsets (vomiting and diarrhea), loss of coordination and muscle tremors; temperature rise; excessive salivation, and liver damage. As with humans, pets should therefore be fed fresh and uncontaminated food or food that has been safely stored before being eaten.

High Fat Meals:

Feeding your pet high fat meals which include substances like bacon or gravy can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and in some cases pancreatitis.

Gum and Candy (Xylitol and Pets):

Although most pet owners would not intentionally feed gum and candy to their charges, these could be accidentally ingested and lead to serious consequences. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in products such as gum (e.g. Trident and Orbit) and candy can result in highly dangerous symptoms within half an hour of being consumed: a sudden drop in glucose levels, loss of coordination, collapse, and seizures. As little as three grams (five sticks of gum) can kill a large dog (65 pounds) while smaller dogs can die after consuming just one or two sticks. Xylitol can cause permanent brain damage, liver failure, and death within 24 hours.

A Special Caution for Cats:

While the foods described above are largely common to dogs and cats in their toxic effects, we want to emphasize that cats are especially sensitive to foods and toxins and have specific dietary needs. For example, though cats eat raw meat in the wild, feeding them raw meats, especially pork, can be dangerous because of the high levels of bacteria that they can contain.

A common misconception among pet owners resulting from a lack of knowledge on the differences between dog diets and cat diets is that dog food can be fed to cats. However, the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats are very different. For example, cats require higher levels of protein and specific nutrients such as taurine, an amino acid, which they are unable to synthesize, unlike dogs. They also require a different form of Vitamin A from dogs as well as other essential supplements in their diet such as arachidonic acid, a fatty acid which is essential for cats though not for dogs. Since dog food and cat food are differently formulated according to these needs, a cat fed on dog food on a sustained basis would suffer from nutritional deficiencies and associated symptoms.

Emergency First Aid Measures for Pets Which Have Eaten Toxic Foods:

Dr. Andrew Jones, a Canadian holistic veterinarian whose newsletter we regularly follow, suggests the following steps for treating a pet that has consumed toxic substances.

Take Your Pet to the Vet!

If your pet is showing signs of poisoning, it is important that it receives the appropriate treatment as soon as possible since the effects of some toxins are progressive and can result in conditions such as severe seizures and irreversible kidney damage.

Purge the Poison:

In most cases of poisoning, getting your pet to vomit is the most important first aid measure. However, vomiting must not be induced if it has consumed a caustic substance such as bleach. In other cases, vomiting can be induced by giving it one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per ten pounds of body weight. The treatment can be repeated after ten minutes if vomiting does not begin, but more than two treatments should never be given. One teaspoon of salt diluted in a tablespoon of water per ten pounds of body weight can also be tried in order to induce vomiting (perhaps a safer option).

Neutralize the Poison:

In the case of a caustic substance where vomiting must not be induced, the pet can be given a neutralizing substance. An alkaline toxin such as drain cleaner is neutralized by acidic substances such as vinegar (one teaspoon per ten pounds of body weight) while an acidic poison such as battery acid can be neutralized with an alkaline substance like Milk of Magnesia (1 teaspoon per ten pounds of body weight). We have also found that medicinal green clay powder (e.g. French clay) mixed in a little water and given to your pet is very effective in drawing out toxins, neutralizing, and expelling them. We will be talking a lot more about healing clay in subsequent posts.

Delay Absorption of the Poison:

Activated charcoal, available in most pharmacies in the US and Canada, binds itself to toxic compounds in the stomach, thereby delaying its absorption. It can be given to your pet in capsule form.

We hope that the information contained in this article will help to keep your pet safe and healthy!

Key Reference Sources:

  • Bellows, Jan. What Human Foods are Toxic to Cats. (
  • Davidow, Beth. ACCES for Pet Health: Toxic Foods for Pets. The Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services (ACCES) Blog
  • Eckstein, Warren. Toxic Food for Pets. (
  • Foster and Smith. Why Cats Should Not Eat Dog Food. (
  • Gabaldon, Andrea. How to Avoid Giving Toxic Food for Your Pet. (
  • Jones, Andrew. April 22, 2009. Foods HAZARDOUS to your Pets. Veterinary Secrets. (
  • Page, Ashley. The Best Fruits and Vegetables to Feed Your Dog. (
  • WiseGeek. Which Foods are Toxic to Cats and Dogs? (

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is only intended to educate and inform our readers. It is in no way intended to provide medical advice or to diagnose or treat any disease. If you have a health problem, you should consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any substances for medicinal purposes.

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