Dangerous Foods for Dogs and Cats


January 2nd, 2014

Due to the curious nature of dogs and cats, they often show considerable interest in things in their environment that can in fact be dangerous to them if consumed. Their skilled abilities at begging for a taste when we are cooking or eating can also lead to them ingesting foods that could potentially be very harmful to their health. It is important, that as pet owners, we safe guard our pets from harm as best we can. To do so we need to recognise the possible toxins in and around our homes.

It's All About FOOD!

There are a number of foods that we consume ourselves that are in fact toxic to our pets. Below is a guide to just some of the foods that we should be on the lookout for:

  • Chocolate – Most dog and cat owners are already aware that chocolate is extremely toxic to our four legged friends. But it is not only the caffeine that is present in chocolate that poses a threat. It also contains levels of fat and the substance methylxanthines. In general, the darker and richer the chocolate the higher the risk of toxicity. Depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested it can be life threatening. It can be toxic, and cause panting, vomiting, and diarrhoea, and damage your pet’s heart and nervous systems.
  • Apple Seeds – Apples seeds contain a natural chemical that releases cyanide when digested. Whilst the flesh is perfectly safe and often seen in many holistic dog foods for their appetising taste, the seeds should never be fed.
  • Onion – Onion in any form, is extremely poisonous to dogs and even more so for cats. They contain disulphides and thiosulphate, both of which can cause anaemia and damage red blood cells. This includes chives, leeks and most other members of the Allium family. Onion powder is also dangerous – be sure to always check the labels for this ingredient, you will often find it in tomato sauces, pizza sauces, Chinese foods and even baby foods.
  • Grapes and Raisins – Grapes contain a toxin that can cause severe damage to your pet’s health, although the exact substance that causes such disastrous effects is still unknown.
  • Nuts – Often forgotten, nuts can prove dangerous to your pet’s health due to either toxicity or by causing intestinal obstructions. The key ones to most definitely steer clear of are: Almonds, black walnuts, English walnuts, hickory nuts, Japanese walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans and pistachios.
  • Avocado – This contains persin, which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and heart congestion. It is present in the pit of the fruit, the persin then seeps into the flesh, meaning that all parts are incredibly toxic to pets.
  • Milk and Dairy Products – While in small doses it may seem harmless but our dogs and cats should not be given cow’s milk because they can be intolerant of lactose, a sugar found in milk. Giving your pet cow’s milk, especially in large quantities, may cause diarrhoea and other symptoms as they don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme to properly digest dairy foods.
  • Cooked Bones – When it comes to bones, the danger is that cooked bones can easily splinter when chewed, potentially causing obstruction of the gut and airways. Raw (uncooked) bones, however, are appropriate and good for both your pet’s nutrition and teeth. Even cats like to have nibble on a raw bone as part of a healthy diet.
  • Mushrooms – Mushroom poisoning occurs as a result of ingesting toxic mushrooms, which is a common hazard for dogs because of the amount of time they spend outdoors or in wooded areas, particularly in the summer and autumn. Be sure to check your gardens for any wild growing mushrooms.
  • Rhubarb – Can be dangerous if ingested by your pets. The leaves contain soluble oxalate crystals, with less of the crystals being prevalent in the stalk. That’s why rhubarb stems are edible, but the leaves are not, although it is best not to let your pet have any parts of the rhubarb plant.
  • Tomato Plants – Tomatine is found in the leafy greens, the fruit blossoms, and in small green tomatoes; this concentration rapidly decreases as the tomato ripens. When stems, vines and green fruit are ingested, it can cause serious illness to our pets.
  • Sugar – Sugar can be harmful to most pets. Too much sugar can lead to diabetes, obesity and dental problems. Always check the label to ensure there is no ‘various sugars’ and avoid corn syrup at all costs. Corn syrup is a cheaper form of sugar and glucose, and is found is most food stuffs.
  • Xylitol – Xylitol is an artificial sugar substitute commonly used in toothpastes, mouthwash, sugarless gum, certain cough medicines and chewable multi-vitamins. It also used in many baked goods and sweet treats. And is potentially lethal if ingested by our furry friends, so be sure to keep anything labelled ‘sugar free’ out of reach.
  • Salt – Salt (Sodium Chloride) is found in a number of things both around the house and in the kitchen; table salt, stock cubes, gravy powders, dishwasher salt, play-dough, rock salt for road surfaces and bath salts to name but a few. Even in small quantities, salt can cause health debilitating symptoms so should always be kept from your pets reach.
  • Yeast – Yeast, be it on its own or in dough, can be potentially dangerous to pets. Just like yeast rises and expands in bread, it will do the same in our pets stomachs and intestines resulting in a potentially life threatening scenario. Some yeasts can also ferment in the gut to produce alcohol, which can lead to alcohol toxicity.
  • Persimmons, plums and peaches – These fruits are similar to the feeding guides for apples. Although often found in many dog and cats foods for their nutritional and taste qualities, the pits and seeds can in fact be dangerous if consumed by our pets. Not only do they pose a risk of causing intestinal obstruction, but there is also a risk of cyanide toxicity.
  • Caffeine – Coffee, tea, energy drinks, dietary pills or anything containing caffeine should never be given to your pet. The detrimental effect of caffeine products can be extensive as they can affect the heart, stomach, intestines and nervous system. So resist the temptation to share that cup of tea.
  • Rotten/Mouldy Foods – Bacteria in spoiled foods cause stomach upsets and illnesses to our pets, just as they would to us.
  • Crisps – Many human foods contain onion powders that as mentioned earlier can be dangerous to pets. Never share your ‘human’ snacks with your furry friends, they weren’t designed with pets in mind.

While there are many human foods that are safe to feed and some even beneficial to be given to ours pets, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Always research into the foods you are thinking of feeding.

It is a much better idea to find a high quality good dog or cat food for pets that give them all the nutritional qualities and quantities that they need to live a healthy lifestyle. For more advice and guidance on identifying a good food check out the Truth about Cat and Dog Food for more information.

Inside and Out

As well as foods in the home being potentially dangerous to our pets, there are also many things around the home, both inside and outside that can also health problems.

Below is a guide to some of the things we as pet owner should be aware of:

  • Anti-Freeze – Anti-freeze that contains ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that attracts animals but is deadly if consumed in even small quantities. Often found in the colder seasons on footpaths and roads, in car cooling systems and screen wash, and surprisingly up to 3% in snow globes. It is best to always watch your pet, keep potential antifreeze products out of reach and to wash and dry their paws when coming in from outdoors in the winter.
  • Acorns – Exposure to acorns in dogs in particular is common in the autumn and winter months. The toxic ingredient is thought to be tannic acid which can cause significant damage to the liver and kidneys.
  • Batteries – If the batteries are chewed and pierced it can cause chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning.
  • Human Medications – Medications such as aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, cold medicines, anti-depressants, vitamins and diet pills can all be toxic to animals. Medicines should always be kept out of reach from pets and should never given to them unless specifically direct by a veterinary surgeon. Be sure to also keep tubes of cream out of reach as well.
  • Poisonous Plants (Inside and Outside) – There are almost 700 different plants that can prove toxic to our pets. When keeping plants indoors or out, always do your research to ensure you are not growing anything that could be harmful. A special mention of lilies should be made – these are incredibly toxic to cats. All parts including the pollen are harmful, just by rubbing against them and grooming themselves can cause severe illness.
  • Plant Chemicals and Plants Foods – Plant foods such as fertilizer can be toxic if ingested by our furry friends. Always ensure your pets are supervised if you have used any of these products.
  • Ant Bait, Powders and Gels – Although not common, if ingested in large quantities this can cause severe reactions. Always ensure pets cannot access them.
  • Rodent Baits – Repeated exposure to rodent baits that contain anti-coagulant compounds can have a detrimental effect on our furry friends.
  • Toad Toxicity – Exposure to toads is most common at the time of spawning, between June and August. Most toad-related incidents occur in the evening when cats or dogs lick or eat them. Be sure to supervise your pets to reduce the risk of interaction with toads.
  • Glow Sticks/Glow Jewellery – These contain dibutyl phthalate (DBP) inside, which is the clear to yellow, oily liquid that has a very bitter taste. This is incredibly toxic to pets, it important to keep them out of reach and out chewing range.
  • Slug and snail pellets – Slug and snail pellets are one of the most common poisons we see affecting dogs. They contain Metaldehyde which even in small amounts can have horrifying effects. Never use these in areas that your pets can reach.
  • Animal Medications – Animal medications are now flavoured to improve palatability for our pets. This however, means that if they were to find them they would be likely to eat and chew them causing a potential overdose. Ensure any medications are kept in a safe place, out of reach.

Cats and Flea Treatments

A special mention should be made with regards to cats and flea treatments. Permethrin is an insecticide commonly found in many over the counter ‘spot-on’ flea treatments for dogs, and occasionally in dog flea shampoos. Permethrin is extremely toxic to cats and can be life threatening. Poisoning often occurs by accident when owners use a flea treatment intended for small dogs in their cats. It can also occur by the cat being in close proximity of a dog that has been treated with permethrin based treatments. They lick it off the dogs, or lick off of themselves whilst grooming after coming into contact with the dog.

Never use a dog specific treatment on your cat unless specifically advised to by a veterinary surgeon.

If You Suspect Potential Poisoning

If you suspect that your pet may have been exposed to any of the toxins mentioned above, is acting strangely, or experiencing even minor symptoms including weakness, lack of coordination, vomiting or diarrhoea you must seek veterinary assistance immediately. Your veterinary surgeon will instruct you in how to proceed before going in to see them. When you go to the vets with your pet, if possible take with you the toxin that may be the cause to help with diagnosis and treatment.

If the poison has been swallowed, DO NOT induce vomiting unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinary surgeon.

The above lists and descriptions are to be used as a guide only and is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a veterinary surgeon. Please contact your veterinary surgeon for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health.