Toxic Food for Dogs - How to Determine Fact From Fiction
• 7 min read
By: Dr. Lindsay Butzer, DVM and Veterinary Advisor for Zesty Paws
When it comes to feeding our dogs, there are a number of sources, blogs, and opinions about what is best for your pup. To avoid the information getting lost in translation, I will debunk a few food myths while helping you steer away from foods that are toxic for dogs.
First and foremost, "toxic" foods do not necessarily mean that those foods will be lethal to your dog, but the symptoms can range anywhere from mild discomfort to severe poisoning. The amount that your dog ingests is also a huge factor contributing to the toxic effects it will have on your dog.
Three Red flag foods
Let’s focus first on the human food that dogs should avoid to prevent the deadliest consequences. Chocolate and Xylitol are the two of the most important foods to avoid, but certain fruits can also be dangerous.
1. Chocolate has an ingredient called theobromine in it that affects the heart, leads to increased heart rates and arrhythmias, and can result in cardiac arrest and/or a fatality.
2. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that, in very small doses, causes deadly low blood sugar in dogs and liver failure.
3. Grapes (and dried grapes or raisins) are another big no-no to avoid with dogs, since ingestion of the fruit can cause sudden kidney failure and lead to the dog’s death.
High-fat Foods = Tummy Troubles Ahead
You may crave those delicious high-fat foods, but they can make your dog pretty sick! Before letting fido finish your fries, you should be aware of the consequences that can range from serious gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea and vomiting, to death.
This includes fat trimmings off meat, fried food from any sort of fast-food restaurant, or heavy creams such as ice cream or butters – (so Brutus might need to lay off on the Puppachinos). These foods can easily upset the pancreas, which works to digest fat. When it is forced to work too hard, it can become inflamed and affect the digestive system and surrounding organs such as the liver, stomach, and the small intestine. This can also cause your dog to vomit as well as have diarrhea episodes.
Even worse, these episodes can be deadly for some small dog breeds that are very sensitive to pancreatitis flare-ups. When they develop pancreatitis due to fatty food ingestion, they need to be hospitalized and given IV fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication to get them through their episodes. In this case, I would consider fatty food as a toxin to feed your dog.
Other specific food questions
Greek Yogurt: What about trendy human foods? People have asked if Greek yogurt is safe for dogs? Yes, I’ve seen many dog parents that put 2-3 spoonfuls of Greek yogurt on their dog’s food. Greek yogurt is full of good probiotics and is healthy for dogs to eat. But if your dog has issues with any lactose products, Greek yogurt may upset their stomach. But in most cases, dogs can eat a small amount of Greek yogurt mixed into their dog food.
Potatoes: I get asked about feeding potatoes to pups and if raw potatoes are toxic for dogs. In short, raw potatoes are not good for dogs. Why not?
Raw potatoes contain toxins such as solanine and chaconine which are compounds that are toxic to dogs. Solanine is a cholinesterase inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. Chaconine is a compound that causes irritation to the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. These two toxins also affect the way the body’s organs metabolize things and lead to a buildup of even more toxins in the dog’s body.
When raw potatoes are ingested by dogs it can lead to neurological issues, tremors, kidney function disorders, nausea, inappetence, diarrhea, and vomiting. The list can be very long for what raw potatoes can do to your dog and it’s best to just avoid them all together. Of course, the size of the dog and the amount that they eat is a big factor for how sick they will get.
On the flip side, cooked potatoes are healthy for dogs and are packed with vitamins and minerals for your dog. The skin, when cooked, is a good source of fiber and the potato is a great source of starch for energy, so don’t be worried if you see potato as an ingredient in your dog’s food. Sweet potatoes are also a tasty and healthy treat for your bestie!
Apple Cider Vinegar: People ask me, “Is apple cider vinegar safe for dogs?” Apple cider vinegar is safe for dogs to ingest but, like everything else we have discussed, it can have harsh side effects in large amounts.
Apple cider vinegar is often used as a holistic pet aid for external skin diseases (like ear infections, itchy paws, and skin allergies) and internal gastrointestinal issues (such as diarrhea, indigestion, constipation, and more), and can most often be found in both liquid and powder form.
Apple cider vinegar has also been claimed to help alkalinize the body to help aid in better organ function and improve metabolism and digestion.
Some of the most common benefits of apple cider vinegar that I’ve seen are for dogs who suffer from severe skin yeast infections and ear infections, especially with breeds such as bulldogs, boxers, cocker spaniels, poodles, and pugs who are prone to them. To treat a dog suffering from either of these conditions, I recommend first bathing them with a medicated antifungal shampoo, and then rinsing them with a 50/50 dilution of apple cider vinegar and water. This will leave them smelling clean and lead to a longer prevention time of another full body yeast, which is a smelly skin infection for these dogs. For ear infections in dogs, pet parents can use the diluted apple cider vinegar as a cleaning flush agent for daily ear cleanings.
Since apple cider vinegar is used mostly in pet holistic medicine, there are not yet scientific studies done on this ingredient. But for safety reasons, apple cider vinegar for dogs must always be diluted with 50% water to 50% apple cider vinegar to prevent any caustic burns to the skin or gastrointestinal tract, because it is very strong. When it’s ingested daily at a non-diluted concentration, this can destroy a dog’s enamel and cause esophageal burns. For these reasons, I suggest always using apple cider vinegar that’s diluted or comes in powders, which are both safe options. Pet parents: be very careful when using this product in liquid form topically or internally, and always dilute it before you use it!
Other advice on people foods for pups
You might be thinking of some other foods that tend to make their way under the table to your pets. It’s true – there are some foods that dog parents can get away with sharing in small amounts once in a while such as garlic, onions, chives, leeks, mushrooms, avocado, and nuts. But large amounts of these ingredients may have hematological or toxic effects on the dog’s blood. However, in small amounts they should not harm the dog and there is no need to panic.
Just remember that any time you introduce new foods into a dog’s diet, all pups react differently. Be sure to introduce them slowly, and only after consulting your vet, just like you do for any major changes.
I know this just scratches the surface on the questions surrounding dogs and food that may toxic for dogs, so I hope you found this helpful.
Dr. Lindsay Butzer
P.S. A reminder about Easter candy this season
Don't forget to put away those colorful baskets filled with sweets and chocolate when you're not around! The treats we love to get from the bunny can be harmful for our four-legged Besties!
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