When soulful puppy eyes stare up at you, beseeching for a treat, it’s tough not to hand your pet a taste of whatever you’re munching on. But as it turns out, many seemingly harmless human foods pose potential health hazards for our furry friends.
According to the Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, its Animal Poison Center handles about 900 cases of pets poisoned by human food a year. Additionally, the center receives about 8500 calls from pet owners worried about pets overdosing on chocolate.
“We see so many problems with chocolate because people have it and it’s delicious to dogs, so they go after it,” says Keith de la Cruz, associate veterinarian for AtlasVet in Washington, DC, and treasurer/secretary for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association in Richmond, Virginia. “Dogs are much more likely than other animals to eat things they’re not supposed to.”
To be prepared, de la Cruz suggests that you keep hydrogen peroxide on hand so that –with your vet’s counsel—you can make your dog throw up if he eats something toxic. The formula is about one teaspoon hydrogen peroxide for every ten pounds of weight. “Most foods begin to be absorbed within one to two hours so making your dog throw up is a time-sensitive thing,” says de la Cruz. “Contact your vet right away because the sooner the dog throws up the better.” It’s preferable, if there’s time, to let your vet make the dog vomit: he has safer ways to do it, says de la Cruz.
For mild upset stomachs, do for the pup what your mom did for you: Switch to a bland diet of boiled white rice and boiled chicken breast.
Below is a list of five top food no-nos for your dogs and other pets—although cats aren’t nearly as likely to get into these foods as your dog is–as well as signs to watch for and steps to take if you think your pooch has nibbled the wrong buffet.
Chocolate. “This is the big one,” says de la Cruz. “It’s basically a huge caffeine overdose that causes vomiting and diarrhea.” The darker the chocolate, the more toxic : dark chocolate contains more methylxanthines, stimulants found in cacao seeds. At higher doses, chocolate can cause a racing heart, panting, and restlessness. It can even affect the brain, causing seizures, tremors, and a heart arrhythmia.
Steps to take: You’ll see symptoms within six to 12 hours after your dog has ingested chocolate. “Call your vet right away: the goal is to get your pet to throw up and then manage the symptoms,” says de la Cruz.
Grapes. Grapes can cause kidney failure, says de la Cruz: “But a big problem is that we don’t know why they are toxic. And some dogs can eat a bunch and be fine. Another dog can eat three and be horribly sick.” Symptoms include vomiting, drinking or peeing more, and not eating. “But the kidney toxicity may not show up for a day,” says de la Cruz.
Steps to take: Take the dog to the vet, who will hospitalize him and put him on intravenous fluids.
Bread Dough. The danger from eating bread dough arises because your pup’s stomach becomes bloated and distended, which can cause pain and discomfort. “If the distention is bad enough, it can interfere with blood flow to the heart,” says de la Cruz. Within several hours, your dog will react by vomiting, refusing food, pacing, and crying.
Steps to take: Get your dog to the vet so that he can take X-rays: the dough can become stuck in the intestine.
Bones. “Dogs are not wolves,” says de la Cruz. “Thousands of years of evolution separate them. And wolves are eating freshly caught prey, not a bone that’s been treated, frozen, and cooked. If a bone shatters, it can create sharp edges that can cut the dog’s esophagus and intestines, causing serious damage. And they can chip their teeth on bones.”
Steps to take. If you see signs of constipation or of inflammation of the abdomen such as fever, vomiting, or signs of pain like whining or lying in a “praying” position with your dog’s rear in the air, contact your vet.
Xylitol. Xylitol is the artificial sweetener in many gums and candies. “It can cause very low blood sugar, leading to weakness, collapse, and seizures,” says de la Cruz. “It’s also a liver toxin that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and a yellow discoloration of the dog’s skin, eyes, and gums.” It can even cause death.
Steps to take. As soon as you see symptoms, call your vet. It may take several days to see signs of liver failure.