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Although it is tempting to share a tasty treat with our pet, many foods that are safe for humans can be toxic for our dogs and cats.

As concerned pet parents, it’s important to know which ones are especially problematic.

  • Chocolate ingestion, especially dark chocolate and cocoa, remains one of the most common food-related reasons people call pet poison control centers and emergency hospitals. Dogs have a sweet tooth just like many of us and are drawn to sugary, high-fat treats. If your pet ingests chocolate, it is important to note how much chocolate might have been consumed, the type of chocolate, the time since ingestion, and the weight of your pet. This information will be used to determine the best treatment for your pet.
  • Xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in many products including chewing gum, candy, bread, dental care products and cookies, is a danger to dogs. Xylitol causes an increase in insulin levels, which in turn drops blood glucose to potentially life-threatening levels in as short as 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion. Xylitol also is associated with liver failure in some dogs.
  • Caffeine is one of the toxic agents in chocolate that contributes to toxicity. Although most pets pass on a morning cup of coffee, exposure to any type of coffee or tea, whether brewed or dry, can be toxic to our pets. Chocolate-covered espresso beans are especially toxic.
  • Onions, garlic, scallions and leeks are toxic to pets. Cats are particularly sensitive, as are some breeds of dogs, including Akita, Shiba Inu, and breeds with inherited red blood cell problems. The toxic effects are cumulative, so clinical signs don’t manifest themselves for hours or days after ingestion.
  •  Although alcohol (ethanol) is an obvious potential poison, many people don’t realize that raw bread dough also can result in ethanol toxicosis. As the yeast grow, they produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. Eating rising dough can lead to both alcohol toxicosis and stomach distention.
  • Hops, used in beer making, are highly toxic to dogs. Hops contain a variety of substances that cause a dog’s body temperature to rise to dangerous levels (hyperthermia). Dogs that ingest hops require immediate and aggressive therapy.
  • Grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, and there is some evidence they also may be toxic to cats. Even a small amount of material can be toxic to pets, so owners need to be vigilant about exposure to any type of raisin or grape, either raw or cooked.

If your pet indulges in something potentially toxic, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your veterinary clinic is not open, contact a pet emergency clinic, or a national pet poison control center (most call-in centers charge a consultation fee). All are equipped to deal with potential problems and answer questions.

Morris Animal Foundation is involved in work to help understand toxic foods and treatments for our pets. The Foundation funded its first toxicologic study in 1959, focused on lead poisoning in dogs. Since then, the Foundation has funded numerous other toxicologic studies not only in dogs, but in cats and wildlife as well. The Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study also is collecting data on possible toxin exposure, looking for links to disease outcomes and leading to preventive measures for a variety of diseases.

It’s easy to be tempted to give a treat to our beloved furry companions or ignore food dropped on the floor. Knowing which foods are safe for our pets can keep them out of the emergency room and potentially save their life.