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Pet Safety: Knowing What Food Can Kill

March 11th, 2010

pet-food-safety.jpgAlthough most people know that chocolate is bad for dogs, few realize the effects other foods can have on their animals. If you just can’t resist sliding over a few table scraps, then at the very least, you need to be aware of the top ten foods that need to be avoided.

1. Chocolate and caffeine – Chocolate contains theobromine, which can be dangerous to dogs and cats, as does anything derived from the cocoa plant. This includes cocoa beans, cocoa bean hulls (which are used in landscaping), and some teas.

Low dosages of theobromine or caffeine, about 9mg/lb, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, thirst, frequent urination, and excessive panting. At higher toxic levels, 20mg/lb, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, and death can occur. To put this in perspective, milk chocolate contains about 58mg/oz, while baker’s chocolate contains 390mg/oz.

If you’re cooking that special batch of brownies for your guests it would be best to keep your dog out of the kitchen. Just do the math. As little as one ounce of baker’s chocolate could kill a 20 pound dog.

2. Garlic and onions – These are probably the two most commonly used seasonings, and they can be devastating to your pets. Garlic and onions contain sulfoxides and disulfides, which can lead to Heinz body anemia. These chemical compounds break down red blood cells, resulting in the premature death of the cells. If too many red cells die off before the body has time to generate new ones, anemia can occur.

An exact fatal dose of sulfoxides and disulfides is difficult to determine, as it is dependent on many different factors. Since Heinz body anemia occurs as a consequence of weakened red blood cells dying off, a small amount of garlic or onions each day for several days can be just as bad or worse than a large amount digested at one time.

Cats are far more susceptible to Heinz body anemia than dogs, but it is probably best to avoid feeding either animal any foods with garlic or onions. Signs of toxic poisoning may include weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, discolored urine, liver failure, and asthmatic attacks.

3. Grapes and raisins – Little is known about exactly what it is in grapes and raisins that causes kidney failure, but it is recommended that dogs and cats eat them very sparingly or not at all. Approximately 1/3 an ounce of grapes or .05 ounces of raisins per pound can be toxic.

Doing the math for the same 20 pound dog who ate the chocolate (assuming, of course, that it lived through that experience) toxic levels would be reached at 60 ounces of grapes or 400 ounces of raisins. This is more than 266 times the recommended human serving size of a 1/4 cup of raisins. However, much like onions, grapes and raisins are thought to have a cumulative effect on the animal. So, a handful of raisins every day or even every few days may lead to lethargy, lack of appetite, trouble urinating, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, kidney failure, and even death.

4. Alcohol – As amusing as it may seem to slip Fluffy a shot of bourbon when no one is looking, alcohol can be fatal to dogs. Just like with people, alcohol can cause a lack of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, abnormal blood acidity, central nervous system depression, tremors, coma, and death.

Cats and dogs are much smaller than people, and it takes a lot less alcohol to get them drunk. Pet owners need to be extra careful at parties where there is alcohol. Even if you and your guests know better than to split a beer with the cat, the taste of some alcoholic beverages (mixed drinks, eggnog, and sweet wines in particular) can be appealing to animals. You should never leave glasses lying around where your pets can get to them. Most veterinarians even advise against giving the ice from an alcoholic drink to your pet. “Drunk ice”, as it is commonly called, can be enough to get a small dog tipsy.

5. Fat trimmings – We know that the fat on the ham and the skins on the turkey is bad for us, so often these are the first things we give to the dog. This is a really bad idea, especially for a dog that normally doesn’t eat table scraps, as high fat consumption can lead to pancreatitis in dogs. This painful condition occurs when the pancreas inflames suddenly. It is characterized by yellow, greasy stool, depression, lack of appetite, dehydration, abdominal pain and, at times, fever.

6. Xylitol – Although you may not recognize the name, Xylitol is a common alternative sweetener found in many different products. Sugar-free snacks should be kept far away from your pets. Xylitol can cause liver failure by creating an over-release of insulin in the pet’s body. As little as 0.1g to 0.2g/lb can cause hypoglycemia.

7. Macadamia Nuts – Macadamia nuts are used in many different dessert recipes and should never be fed to your dog. Like grapes, the exact cause of toxic effect is unknown, but macadamia nuts can cause extreme pain for dogs. This unknown toxic can cause muscle weakness, depression, vomiting, swollen limbs, tremors, panting, and an elevated temperature and heart rate. Toxic levels vary greatly from dog to dog, but can be as low as six nuts. It is best to avoid macadamia nuts altogether.

8. Fish – Smoked or raw salmon, trout, and whitefish can contain parasites. Some parasites which survive the smoking process are harmless to humans, but can affect dogs.

9. Avocado – Presin, a fungicidal toxin found in avocados, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and heart congestion in dogs and cats.

10. Milk – Cats love it; their digestive tracts don’t. Many dogs and cats are lactose intolerant, so milk and other diary products can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.

The best advice anyone can provide in the area of pet food safety is to give your pets only those foods made specifically for them, but we all know how hard it is to say “no” to those adorable eyes. If you must give them a small scrap of “people food” from time to time, be sure to avoid the items on this list.

This article on pet food safety was supplied to us by Christopher Gryniewicz from Constant Content.

2 Responses to “Pet Safety: Knowing What Food Can Kill”

  1. comment number 1 by: Nidhi Varma

    Great article. Very helpful. Thanks :)

  2. comment number 2 by: Gerald Blakely

    Do you think so good for my dog eat some pancake or french toast?

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