Beware of human foods toxic to pets

By Trisha Gedon

STILLWATER, Okla. – When Rover begs for a bite of food at the table, it can be hard for pet owners to resist sharing their plates. It’s important to know that some of the foods perfectly safe for human consumption are deadly to animals.

“Some human favorite foods can be quite toxic for pets, so despite those loving eyes looking at you, it’s best to avoid table treats,” Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian and director of continuing education for the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

What foods are toxic to pets? Here is a list of foods to avoid:

  • Avocado: Avocados contain persin and can cause vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. Persin can be found in the plant leaves, bark, skin, seed and the fruit. Those who grow avocados at home should keep dogs away from the plants.
  • Alcohol: A dog’s brain and liver are affected by alcohol, just as it affects humans, but in smaller quantities. Ingesting beverages and food containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, depression of the central nervous system, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. Yeast dough can cause these same issues, along with causing the animal’s stomach to bloat and potentially twist, which is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Chocolate, coffee and caffeine: These foods and beverages contain ingredients called methylxanthines that are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. If ingested, animals may experience abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and even death.
  • Citrus: A great source of vitamin C for people, the stems, leaves, peels, fruit and seeds of citrus plants contain varying amounts of citric acid and essential oils that, if eaten in significant amounts, can possibly cause central nervous system depression. A small amount can cause minor upset stomach.
  • Coconut and coconut oil: The milk and flesh of fresh coconut contains oils that can cause an upset stomach but no other serious health effects. However, coconut water is high in potassium and shouldn’t be given to a pet.
  • Grapes/raisins: The toxic substance in grapes and raisins is unknown but can cause kidney failure.
  • Macadamia nuts: Ingesting these nuts can cause weakness, tremors, depression, vomiting and hyperthermia in dogs. Symptoms typically appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last up to 48 hours.
  • Milk/dairy: Milk and other dairy foods can cause diarrhea and digestive upset due to low levels of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk.
  • Nuts: Several varieties of nuts contain high amounts of oils and fats that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Onions/garlic/chives: These foods can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage and anemia. Cats are more susceptible, but dogs are at risk if large amounts are consumed.
  • Raw/undercooked meats, eggs and bones: Salmonella and E. coli can be found in raw meat and eggs and is dangerous to both humans and animals. Avidin is an enzyme found in raw eggs that decreases the absorption of biotin, which can lead to skin and coat issues. Raw bones, while it seems natural to let a dog gnaw on them, can be dangerous due to choking possibilities. Also, bones can splinter and become lodged in a dog’s throat or puncture the digestive tract.
  • Salt/salty snack foods: Too much salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, and possibly sodium ion poisoning. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death.
  • Sugary food/drinks: Excessive intake of sugar can cause the same problems in pets as it does in humans and can lead to diabetes. It can also cause weight gain and dental issues.
  • Xylitol: This is used as a sweetener in many products such as gum, candy, baked goods and even toothpaste. Xylitol can increase insulin levels to hypoglycemia. Along with vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and loss of coordination, it can elevate liver enzymes and cause liver failure within a few days.

“If you suspect your pet has ingested any of these foods, contact your veterinarian immediately,” Biggs said. “It’s helpful to let the veterinarian know how much of a particular food has been ingested.”


She also suggested talking with a veterinarian to develop a pet’s healthy eating plan that provides needed nutrients for proper growth.


OSU Extension offers additional pet care information.

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