Dog owners often treat their pets like family, and sometimes this includes giving them a seat at the dining room table. It can be downright impossible to say no to the puppy dog’s eyes begging for that last piece of chicken bone, but vets say you should resist the urge.
It’s crucial that owners be aware of foods that are harmful or toxic to dogs. Veterinarians often see dogs with avoidable health emergencies related to their diet.
Dr. Sarah Hoggan, medical director of the California-based VCA Animal Hospitals, and Dr. Nicki Cohen, associate veterinarian at the Dupont Veterinary Clinic in Washington, D.C., shared their absolute no-gos when it comes to dog food. Here’s their best advice about foods to avoid if you love your pooch.
“The number one thing I would not feed my dog would be a raw food diet,” Cohen said.
Studies on raw food diets show that many contain harmful bacteria, and some are multi-drug resistant. The Food and Drug Administration said that a two-year study “showed that compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.”
Not only are dogs at risk of contracting illness from raw food, but it may pose a threat to humans as well. “Children and immunocompromised adults can contract infections if they handle raw food or their dog’s [raw food diet] waste,” Cohen said.
As an alternative, she recommends brands like Royal Canin or Hills Science Diet because “these companies invest heavily in research and development and employ veterinarians to develop their foods. They follow the [Association of American Feed Control Officials] standards, invest in feeding trials, and also create all our prescription diets for our patients.”
Cohen said she often prescribes these kinds of special diets for her canine patients battling different diseases.
Any Human Food, Actually
Hoggan said the No. 1 culprit to watch out for is human food. “If there’s a meat and cheese tray out or hors d’oeuvres, dogs can certainly get into those and eat things that are far too rich for them to be able to digest,” she said.
In fact, meat fat can cause pancreatitis in dogs, and cheese and other dairy products can lead to digestive problems. In both cases, the immediate effect is likely diarrhea.
Chocolate is another human food to avoid. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, chemicals that dogs can’t metabolize, according to an article by veterinarians Dr. Renee Schmid and Dr. Ahna Brutlag. “While rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion can result in significant illness,” they wrote. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, excessive urination and increased thirst. Dark and bitter chocolate has a high concentration of theobromine, and the severity of the symptoms varies based on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. But the size and health of your dog can also affect their reaction.
It’s best to avoid foods that may have xylitol sweeteners, according to Cohen. Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly found in sugar-free gum, candy and baked goods. “Some specialty peanut butters have this added,” she noted. “Xylitol can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and also liver damage.” Symptoms can include vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures and even liver failure.
Grapes and raisins can lead to kidney failure in dogs, Cohen explained on her blog. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and decreased appetite. Even small amounts can be dangerous, so avoid these treats at all costs.
Onions and garlic can damage dogs’ red blood cells. In high amounts, these foods can cause hemolytic anemia, Cohen said. Symptoms may not appear right away, but watch out for weakness, vomiting and breathing difficulties that may develop over time.
Avocados can also create adverse effects. The fungicidal toxin inside avocados, called persin, has caused health problems and death in animals, according to the American Kennel Club. Although dogs are more resistant to persin than some other animals, it can cause dogs to experience vomiting and diarrhea. Plus, an avocado pit is a choking hazard, and dogs can easily harm their teeth or ingest it.
Avocados are also very high in fat, Cohen noted. “Foods high in fat and grease can trigger painful pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis) or just lead to diarrhea,” she warned.
The last one may be hard to believe, but bones, especially chicken bones, should be avoided. “Foods like uncooked bones can cause tooth fractures,” Cohen noted. Dogs can choke on them, and bones can also splinter and cause intestinal blockages or tears.
Drinks That Aren’t Water
You’ll want to avoid sharing any drink except water with your dog.
Dogs shouldn’t have alcohol, including alcohol-rich cocktails or spirits that may have a sweet and milky component that overpowers the smell of alcohol, Hoggan said. Dogs might be attracted to the scent, but “alcohol is still a poison,” she explained.
Even in small amounts, alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, a coma or worse.
A well-fed dog is a happy, healthy dog. If your dog accidentally eats any of the above, time is of the essence to seek veterinary care. The sooner treatment is administered, the better the chances of a full recovery.
It’s best to adhere to a balanced and complete dog food diet. Avoid human foods and drinks. Stick to dog-friendly treats or snacks. And when in doubt, consult your vet for their best advice.