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Food: 10 items pets must never eat

« Food: 10 items pets must never eat » | This article presents pet owners with a list of 10 items of foods and ingredients pets must never eat because they are known to be poisonous.  

 

Disclaimer: 

  • Please, if you are worried because your pet is currently struggling, don’t read this blog and contact your closest veterinary surgery immediately.
  • This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
Food: 10 items pets must never eat
Food: 10 items pets must never eat

Why are some foods and ingredients poisonous to pets?

Certain foods and ingredients are poisonous to cats and dogs because they contain chemical substances leading to a wealth of negative effects for major organs of the body.  

 

Some of those substances may have an antidote, however some do not. Besides, being able to provide timely emergency treatment is key meanwhile pet owners may remain unaware of their pets’ intoxication, until symptoms start to show. This may impact on quality of recovery and vital prognosis. 

 

Thus, it is very important for pet owners to be aware of the risks certain foods and ingredients might pose to their pet’s health . 

 

When in doubt, pet owners should never hesitate to speak to a qualified vet to obtain further advice and information on what is the best course of action to help their pets. Most of all, in the majority of the situations listed below, prevention remains one of the best cure. 

 

So, this article introduces 10 items of foods and ingredients poisonous to pets and which can be found in their direct living environment.

Number 1: Bread dough

Bread dough is toxic in its uncooked version, such as people would be preparing a pizza or baking any other type of bread dough containing yeast and their dogs would swiftly get hold of it behind their back and eat it. 

 

Pet owners might not realise about the dog’s involvement until they start showing symptoms: vomiting, retching, abdominal bloat potentially leading to a gastric-dilatation volvulus, aka the life-threatening GDV. 

 

Other signs will include: cardiovascular problems as well as change in behaviour, neurological and respiratory issues. The dog may also become hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar levels).

bread dough
Bread dough

Bread dough contains yeast. When it settles in a dog’s stomach, yeast is able to ferment and to produce ethanol gas. The ethanol is absorbed and broken down into other chemicals (acids) which can further impact on the dog’s general wellbeing. 

 

Depending on the amount of dough ingested, the gas produced could trigger a GDV. This is a condition where the stomach ends up twisted. This is life-threatening because of the associated cardiovascular shock it triggers. 

 

The treatment will aim to decontaminate the stomach and to provide supportive care depending on the severity of the situation. If there is a GDV, an emergency surgical procedure with further in-hospital intensive care becomes necessary to save the dog’s life.

Number 2: Calcium supplements

Although not highly toxic as such in healthy pets, calcium supplements often contain Vitamin D to facilitate the absorption of calcium through the digestive system. 

 

Nonetheless, in some preparation, if Vitamin D is present in sufficient quantity, it might cause calcium to deposit on organs such as the kidneys, blood vessels or along the digestive tract.

 

Besides, higher levels of calcium in the blood stream (hypercalcemia), lead to several complications: 

 

  • muscle weakness and lethargy
  • perturbation of calcium levels
  • disturbances of certain hormones
  • constipation, gastric irritation
  • increase in urination
  • renal failure by mineralisation
The levels of concerns will depend on the presence of hypercalcemia, which depends on the quantity of Vitamin D present in the supplements. 
 

Mild cases of toxicity will be limited to vomiting, bearing a good prognosis. More severe cases will be accompanied with potential calcification of blood vessels, kidneys and gut lining.

 

Literature advises that ingestion of amounts of Vitamin D > 0.1g/kg of Body Weight (BW) may result in hypercalcemia.

Calcium supplements
Calcium supplements

Number 3: Chocolate and caffeine

Pet owners are certainly familiar with chocolate and its associated products being toxic to pets. Here the toxicity is down to molecules called methylxanthines such as caffeine and theobromine.

 

Those molecules act through a mechanism which involves releasing calcium to the heart and the muscles, among other things. Both are metabolised by the liver, although it takes longer for theobromine to be absorbed than it does  for caffeine. 

 

Caffeine is found in: caffeine tablets, tea, chocolate, coffee beans, coffee (all sorts) and colas

Theobromine is found in: cacao beans, baking chocolate, dark, white and milk chocolate, cocoa powder and cacao bean mulch

Chocolate and caffeine
Chocolate and caffeine

Dogs are more affected than cats because of their behaviour towards food. Pets suffering from pre-existing liver of heart conditions, will also be at increased risk of complications.

 

The symptoms are usually dose-dependent. Hence, the type and amount of ingredient ingested will lead to different scenario. Although, pet owners could expect the following:

 

  • hyperactivity and vomiting within 1 to 4h, depending on the molecule involved
  • accelerated heart rate, weakness, lack of coordination, diarrhea, seizure (rare)
  • increased temperature
  • death induced by respiratory failure, cardiac arrhythmias or severe seizures

With non complicated cases, the treatment often consists in decontamination of the stomach up to 6h post-ingestion and the provision of relevant supportive care, which involves treatment with activated charcoal. 

 

Severe cases will require emergency critical care with close in-hospital monitoring, due to the life-threatening nature of the situation.

Number 4: Grapes, raisins (and currants)

Grapes and raisins
Grapes and raisins

Pet owners are increasingly becoming aware that grapes, raisins and currants are toxic to some dogs and not to others. Although the issue started to be reported circa the end of the 90’s, the exact mechanism by which those fruits lead to intoxication, and are potentially fatal to some dogs, is still mostly unknown. Scientific research on the phenomenon is ongoing.

 

In 2008, a review of cases concerning 43 dogs, established the major signs of poisoning as listed below:

 

  • vomiting, lethargy, anorexia and diarrhea
  • increased levels of blood urea nitrogen, creatinine and calcium
  • lack of coordination, decreased in urination and weakness, associated with negative outcome
Additionally, when histopathology examination was considered, findings established the presence of a condition called proximal renal tubular necrosis (see picture A below). Out of the 43 dogs reviewed, only 53% had survived to intoxication with grapes, indicating the seriousness of such situations. 
 

Several reasons have been cited as per why grapes, raisins and currants are toxic to dogs. It could be due to:

 

  • presence of mycotoxins, pesticides or heavy metals on the fruits
  • intolerance to tannins or to high levels of monosaccharides 
  • hypovolaemic shock, renal ischemia (i.e.: compromised blood circulation)
  • other causes

The toxicity does not appear to be dose-dependent, so there is no established toxic dose for this type of food. This means that dogs should avoid eating grapes, raisins and currants as a matter of strict prevention. To provide a tangible idea, literature reports that estimated quantities of 19.6g/kg BW (grapes) and 2.8g/kg of BW (raisins) have led to acute kidney injury (AKI) in dogs (based on clinical records).

 

A study published last year (2020), describes the relevance and significance of reported neurological signs in the early stage of the poisoning, before the development of renal issues. This led researchers to question whether grape toxicity, in its initial stage, could be confused with other types of toxicity, such as what is observed with ethylene glycol toxicity (scroll down to category 10).

 

If a dog is known to have ingested grapes, raisins or currants, vets will recommend decontamination of the stomach, blood test monitoring and such other in-hospital care to support the kidney function. They will want to make sure the situation will not deteriorate. As a consequence, dogs are likely to stay hospitalised for a few days. 

 

Severely affected dogs might have to be referred for dialysis, in an attempt to save their lives. There is no antidote for intoxication with grapes, raisins and currants.

Renal proximal tubular necrosis in dogs with grape toxicity
"Histopathology of the kidney (3A) and lung (3B) of a dog with acute kidney injury (AKI) from grape or raisin toxicosis. A, Kidney: lumina of tubules contain eosinophilic proteinaceous material admixed with sloughed and necrotic epithelial cells (stars). HE stain, ×400. B, Lung: alveolar walls are mineralized (arrows), free erythrocytes, and many macrophages can be seen in the alveolar space"

Number 5: Macadamia nuts

It is not known exactly why macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. Although, literature reports that as little as 0.7g/kg of body weight can cause clinical signs which are:

 

  • weakness
  • depression
  • vomiting
  • ataxia
  • tremoring
  • pain (joints and abdomen)
  • lameness
  • hind limb weakness
  • elevated body temperature
 
Macadamia nuts
Macadamia nuts

Signs of macadamia nuts toxicity may be seen up to 12h following ingestion by the dog. Stomach decontamination might be recommended if the ingestion is recent and the quantity of nuts ingested accounts for more than 1g/kg of BW. 

 

It is worth noting that macadamia nuts covered with chocolate may add another layer of complexity to the situation. This will be assessed depending on individual cases.

 

Generally, symptoms disappear within 24 – 48 hours. Thus, the patient can be sent home to be monitored by his owners.

 

There is no antidote for macadamia nuts toxicity. However, if the dog is otherwise healthy, no further complications should be expected.

Number 6: Aflatoxins (Aspergillus sp)

Aflatoxins are toxic substances produced by species of fungus belonging to the Aspergillus genera: 

 

  • Aspergillus flavus
  • Aspergillus paraciticus
  • Aspergillus nomius
Poisoning occurs via the ingestion of some foods contaminated with the toxins, in other words, foods where the fungus has managed to develop. For example, grains and nuts can be contaminated before harvest or if they were not properly stored afterwards.
 
Aflatoxins are toxic because they impact liver cells, causing them to die. In turn, the liver is less able to perform its job in the body, leading to a lot of complications which can be fatal to the animal.
 
Quantities of 60 ppb (particles per billion) of aflatoxins in contaminated dog food and up to 15 ppm in moldy bread have been reported to induce aflatoxicosis in dogs. The toxicity is understood to affect dogs and cases have seldom been reported in cats.
Aflatoxins are found in moldy grains
Aflatoxins are found in moldy grains

The major reason why dogs get poisoned is through pet food, when it has been contaminated during its processing. So, generally, it would lead to several pets being affected in a given household/area, provided they received the same food. The symptoms might not show straight away and could be delayed for several weeks after initial ingestion.

 

Signs will be split in 2 categories:

 

  • Acute:
    • anorexia, depression
    • vomiting, diarrhea (often with blood)
    • fever, seizure
    • clotting problems, nose bleed
    • jaundice
    • death
  • Chronic (liver failure):
    • weight loss, rough haircoat
    • anemia, jaundice
    • low blood sugar and cholesterol levels
    • clotting problems
    • anorexia
    • depression
    • increased in urination and in drinking
    • fluid in abdomen

The treatment will attempt to limit the damages to the liver and to other organs. Decontamination of the stomach is recommended, especially if the ingestion is known and recent. However, there is no antidote against aflatoxins. The treatment will be supportive and dependent on the symptoms, as well as the evolution of the situation.

 

Some dogs manage to survive and should be expected to do well or show evidence of cirrhosis. However, those who exhibit clinical signs are less likely to survive, even with treatment. In such cases, the prognosis is understood to be guarded to poor.

Number 7: Mycotoxins (Penicillum sp)

These types of toxins involve the toxin penitrem A which is produced by a fungus called Penicillum crustosum and the roquefortine toxin which is produced by Penicillum roqueforti

 

Such toxins are found in moldy dairy foods, moldy nuts, other types of moldy grains and in compost or other decaying material. Their exact mode of action is not fully known but it is understood they act by a mechanism impairing the nervous system. The effect will be commensurate with the dose ingested.

 

This type of poisoning tends to affect dogs more than cats, due to behavioural differences. The symptoms can show within minutes to hours after ingestion:

 

  • salivation (« drooling »), vomiting brown material (i.e.: compost)
  • agitation and sensitivity to external stimulation (i.e.: noise, light, touch ect…)
  • panting, increased temperature and heart rate
  • lack of coordination and muscle tremors
  • seizures
Mycotoxins are found in moldy foods and compost
Mycotoxins are found in moldy foods and compost

Symptoms could last up to 48h in most cases, however, since the severity is dose-dependent, some patients can exhibit signs of mycotoxin toxicity up to 5 days.

 

Treatment involves decontamination of the stomach followed by hospitalisation to provide supportive care and monitoring relevant to the situation and the severity of signs. There is no antidote available to specifically treat this type of poisoning. 

 

The prognosis is very good, with a complete resolution within 48h, when treatment is provided very early in the process and clinical signs are controlled. However, in some instances, the poisoning can lead to death if the amount of toxin ingested is important and stomach decontamination delayed.

 

As a matter of prevention, pet owners are often advised to prevent their pets from picking up and eating things (i.e.: some dogs are known to champion the art of « garbage & rubbish digging », for example) and/or to make sure their compost areas are secured and « dog proofed », so they cannot gain access to it (often done behind their owners’ backs).

Number 8: Onions and garlic

Propyl disulfides are molecules known to cause a condition called Heinz body anaemia in pets who ingest them. Those molecules are found in plants of the Allium species such as garlic, onions, chives and leeks.

 

Toxicity happens through an oxidative mechanism damaging red blood cells. It is worth noting that cooking, drying or processing those plants won’t make them any safer. The toxic dose depends on parameters such as:

 

  • species of plants
  • mode of consumption (dry, cooked, juiced ect…)
  • time of year
  • species of pets
  • type of exposure (acute vs chronic)
Some pets might receive diet supplements such as onion powder and could fall in the category of chronic poisoning. As for cats, they will be more sensitive to such toxicity due to the specifics of their haemoglobin. Although, some dog breeds, such as Akita and Shiba, can equally be at increased risks, due to certain predispositions.
Onions and garlic
Onions and garlic

Symptoms are partly linked to the oxidative damages imposed on the haemoglobin and red blood cells. Other symptoms are linked with gastrointestinal tract such as irritation, pain, vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia.

 

There is no antidote and treatment consists in stomach decontamination if ingestion is less than ~2h. Supportive treatment and monitoring of the situation will be recommended, depending on the clinical signs and specific findings in a blood test. In some cases, a blood transfusion might be necessary.

Number 9: Salt

Salt poisoning occurs when an excessive amount of salt is ingested, resulting in hypernatremia (increase in sodium levels in the blood). This can happen through consumption of homemade play dough, table salt, rock salt, paintballs, sea water and such other salt-containing sources.

 

Symptoms will include:

 

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • depression, lethargy
  • tremors, seizures, coma
Salt toxicity
Salt toxicity

Salt acts as an irritant to the stomach and will trigger the gastrointestinal signs. The severity of neurological signs will depend on the quantity of salt ingested, as well as the availability of water, and potential pre-existing health issues.

 

When an excessive amount of salt (sodium) is rapidly absorbed, it has an effect on cells. In the brain, the ultimate consequences of salt poisoning are:

 

  • brain cells dehydration
  • secondary haemorrhage in fine blood vessels
  • cerebral oedema, due to the free drinking of water by the pet
In dogs, a dose of 4g/kg of sodium is considered fatal and doses of 2-3g/kg are understood to trigger toxicity. Signs would be visible within 30min to 4h, with vomiting and diarrhea being the most commonly observed symptoms, followed by neurological impairment.

 

Treatment will be provided in the vet hospital and will aim to slowly decrease the levels of sodium over a few days. Monitoring of the patient over the course of time is very important. The main complication would be the development of cerebral oedema. In some cases, the kidney and liver could also be affected.

 

As a matter of prevention, pet owners are advised to prevent their pets from accessing items containing large amounts of salt such as play dough, de-icing salts, paintballs ect… 

It is also wiser not to use salt in an attempt to make a dog vomit at home.

Number 10: Xylitol

Xylitol is a replacement for sugar. It is found in items such as toothpastes, chewing-gums, sweets and many other edible goods. It is also present in smaller quantities in fruits and vegetables. 

 

Unlike certain other sugar-free products, xylitol is toxic to dogs. It induces the release of insulin from the pancreas, resulting in hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) and triggers hepatic necrosis.

Xylitol is mostly found in chewing gums and sweets

 

A dose greater than 0.1g/kg could cause hypoglycaemia. The effect could be seen within 10 – 15 min after ingestion. With a dose greater than 0.5g/kg, hepatic necrosis could be seen up to 72h after consumption. However, literature reports that liver impairment might not necessarily be dose-dependent.

 

Signs initially observed:

 

  • vomiting, diarrhea
  • depression, weakness, ataxia
  • coagulation problems
  • seizure and potentially death
The situation might progress into much more severe signs, due to the induction of liver failure. There is no antidote against xylitol poisoning. The treatment will consist in decontamination of the stomach, followed by administration of relevant supportive care and medications known to protect the liver. The evolution of the patient will need to be monitored closely.

 

Following timely emergency treatment:

 

  • If dogs are only affected with hypoglycaemia, their prognosis will be good. 
  • Dogs who show a progression into liver failure have a much more guarded prognosis. They are at increased risk of dying.
In 2015, a report was published, giving an account of the clinical management of a 9-year-old male Chihuahua who had eaten 224g of granulated xylitol. He exhibited hypoglycaemia, coagulopathy and liver failure and managed to pull through after several weeks of treatment and monitoring.
 

If you need further information or have further questions related to your pet’s health, don’t hesitate to reach out through our video appointment service. All the explanation on how the service operates can be found here

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  1. Our rights to make changes
    • We may update this site or any app in order to improve it, deal with security issues or alter the functionality. Where an app is updated, this may occur automatically, depending on your mobile device settings. If you do not agree to such updates, you may not be able to continue using the site or app.
    • It may be necessary for us to change these terms to reflect changes in the law or practice regulations. If we do change these terms, we will give you as much notice as possible before the changes take effect, either by email or through the site to let you know. If you do not wish to accept any updated terms, please do not use the site or our service.
  2. Our responsibility for loss or damage suffered by you
    • We provide this site, the content and the services on an as is basis and make no representations, warranties or guarantees, either express or implied that the site, content or services are accurate, complete or up to date. We are responsible for connecting you to a qualified vet but not for the advice that a vet may give to you. If you have concerns about the advice a vet has given you or believe the vet has committed malpractice, please contact the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (https://www.rcvs.org.uk/concerns/).
    • Medicines and Emergencies. Our service is not suitable for situations where an animal requires urgent or life-saving care. Please contact a suitable veterinary practice for emergencies.

We are not a pharmacy and do not issue or supply prescriptions or medicines. Please speak to a registered veterinary practice for pharmaceutical needs.

  • We are responsible to you for foreseeable loss and damage caused by us. If we fail to comply with these terms, we are responsible for loss or damage you suffer that is a foreseeable result of our breaking this contract or our failing to use reasonable care and skill, but we are not responsible for any loss or damage that is not foreseeable. Loss or damage is foreseeable if either it is obvious that it will happen or if, at the time the contract was made, both we and you knew it might happen.
  • We do not exclude or limit in any way our liability to you where it would be unlawful to do so. This includes liability for death or personal injury caused by our negligence or the negligence of our employees, agents or subcontractors; for fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation.
  • We will not be liable for damage which you could have avoided by following our advice to apply an update offered to you free of charge or for damage which was caused by you failing to correctly follow installation instructions or to have in place the minimum system requirements advised by us.
  1. How we may use your personal information
    • How we may use your personal information. We will only use your personal information as set out in our [insert PRIVACY POLICY].
  2. Other important terms
    • We may transfer this agreement to someone else. We may transfer our rights and obligations under these terms to another organisation. We will always tell you in writing if this happens and we will ensure that the transfer will not affect your rights under the contract.
    • Nobody else has any rights under this contract. This contract is between you and us. No other person shall have any rights to enforce any of its terms.
    • If a court finds part of this contract illegal, the rest will continue in force. Each of the paragraphs of these terms operates separately. If any court or relevant authority decides that any of them are unlawful, the remaining paragraphs will remain in full force and effect.
    • Even if we delay in enforcing this contract, we can still enforce it later. If we do not insist immediately that you do anything you are required to do under these terms, or if we delay in taking steps against you in respect of your breaking this contract, that will not mean that you do not have to do those things and it will not prevent us taking steps against you at a later date.
    • Which laws apply to this contract and where you may bring legal proceedings. These terms are governed by English law and you can bring legal proceedings in respect of the services in the English courts. If you live in Scotland you can bring legal proceedings in respect of the products in either the Scottish or the English courts. If you live in Northern Ireland you can bring legal proceedings in respect of the products in either the Northern Irish or the English courts.
    • Alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution is a process where an independent body considers the facts of a dispute and seeks to resolve it, without you having to go to court. If you are not happy with how we have handled any complaint, you may want to contact the alternative dispute resolution provider we use.