WCVH header

Pets Best Insurance

Home Again

What Foods are Harmful to your Pet?


Most pet owners know that chocolate is not good for dogs and cats. Chocolate contains two central nervous system stimulants; caffeine and theobromine. Dogs and cats are more sensitive than humans to the effects of these substances, which can cause excitation, agitation, and, in higher doses, high heart rates and abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and even death. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is. If your pet consumes more than ½ ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight, you should seek veterinary advice for your pet. If your pet consumes dark, semi-sweet or unsweetened chocolate, seek veterinary care right away.

Treatment for chocolate toxicosis includes decontamination (inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal), intravenous fluid therapy, control of seizures and cardiac arrhythmias with medication, and other supportive care as needed.

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins can cause acute renal (kidney) failure in dogs and cats. It is not known what substance in the grapes or raisins causes renal failure; currently researchers speculate that it is a toxin produced by mold present in some batches. Dogs seem to be particularly sensitive, but the toxic dose has not beendetermined yet. Therefore, veterinary toxicologists recommend that you not feed your pet any grapes or raisins.

Treatment for grape or raisin ingestion includes decontamination and intravenous fluids for 48 hours or more.


Dogs and cats are susceptible to alcohol poisoning. Just like binging college students, pets can ingest enough alcohol to cause severe symptoms and death. Do not allow your pet to drink any alcoholic beverages. If your pet accidentally consumes alcohol it may cause vomiting, ataxia (wobbly gait), depression, coma and, in some cases, death. Treatment includes intravenous fluids and hospitalization

Bread Dough

Rising bread dough may seem innocent enough, but if a dog ingests it, it can continue to rise in the warm moist stomach. The effects are two-fold:

1. The rising dough can cause distension severe enough to cause extreme discomfort, compression of major blood vessels and shock.

2. The rising dough can release enough ethanol (alcohol) to cause alcohol toxicosis.

Treatment includes inducing vomiting, intravenous fluids, gastric lavage (rinsing the stomach with cool water while the animal is under general anesthesia), and supportive care. If the mass of dough is large enough, surgical removal may be necessary.

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. The substance that causes the symptoms is not known, and as far as we know, dogs are the only animals affected. The toxic dose is unknown, but the lowest dose reported to have caused symptoms is about 11 grams (less than ½ ounce) in a 10 pound dog. Symptoms include vomiting, depression, ataxia, and even an inability to walk at all. The symptoms usually resolve with supportive care.

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic and other members of the plant species Allum contain a substance which causes hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and potentially life-threatening anemia. Raw or cooked onions, onion powder, shallots, garlic or garlic powder can cause toxicity. Cats fed commercial baby food containing onion powder have become ill. The toxic dose of onions is anything greater than 0.5% of the pet’s body weight (e.g. less than 1 ounce in a 10 pound dog).

Treatment includes decontamination (if the ingestion was recent) and intravenous fluids. Other supportive measures such as blood transfusions may be required if the anemia becomes severe.

Moldy Food

Moldy food can contain substances called tremorgenic mycotoxins. These substances are neurotoxins that can cause ataxia, muscle tremors and convulsions that can last for several days. Treatment includes decontamination (inducing vomiting, activated charcoal) and supportive care that can be quite intensive depending on how severe the convulsions are.

Xylitol Artificial Sweetener

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is found in some sugar-free chewing gums and candies. It can cause a significantly low blood sugar in dogs in as little as thirty minutes after ingestion. The symptoms of this in the dog are weakness and even seizures. There have been reports of liver failure in dogs as well. Treatment is aimed at minimizing absorption by inducing vomiting as soon as possible after ingestion. Once symptoms appear, treatment is supportive and can be intensive, particularly if liver failure occurs.


Caffeine toxicity is seen mostly when dogs accidentally ingest over-the-counter stimulant medications, or ingest coffee grounds from the garbage. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can cause high heart rates and abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and even death. Similar to chocolate toxicosis, treatment is aimed at early decontamination if possible, control of heart rate and rhythm, and control of seizures and hyperactivity, as well as general supportive care.


Salt toxicity most commonly occurs when dogs ingest homemade play-dough and paintballs. These substances contain enough salt to cause a potentially fatal sodium level in the blood. Salt toxicity can also be caused by giving salt to a pet to induce vomiting; salt is not recommended to induce vomiting in your pet for any reason. The increased sodium content in the blood causes the brain cells to swell (cerebral edema). Symptoms of salt intoxication are a rapid onset of a wobbly gait, falling over, disorientation, coma, seizures and death. Rapid and aggressive treatment is required once symptoms develop.

As with all toxins, call your veterinarian if you think your pet ate any of these ‘dangerous foods.’