Take the safe-unsafe food test for pets

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By Randall W. Haveman, DVM, MS
Sunnyside Veterinary Hospital

Some foods are acceptable as treats and some are harmful to your dog or cat.  Guess which of these six foods are safe for your pet:

1.) Raisins
2.) Carrots
3.)Tea
4.) Chocolate
5.) Apples
6.)Sugar free candy or gum

The answers are listed below.  Look for more to come.


1.) Grapes: Raw grapes, raisins, and currants are more toxic than their cooked counter parts.  Don’t forget raisins in cereals, trail mixes, and snacks. We used to recommend these fruits as treats for dogs and I personally never saw a problem, but an epidemiological correlation has proven an infrequent association with kidney failure in dogs and also cats and ferrets.

Not all pets will develop kidney failure or get sick.  We still don’t know the toxic ingredient that causes illness. But, just a few raisins or grapes in a small dog, cat, or ferret can cause kidney failure. Signs are vomiting within a few hours of ingestion and increased thirst and urination, lethargy, and inappetance within one to four days of ingestion.

Treatment is to induce vomiting within a few hours of eating fruit and decontaminating the gut with activated charcoal.  The follow up are anti-vomiting drugs and flushing kidneys with IV fluids.
Laboratory tests monitor the kidneys during this treatment time and after.  Prognosis is related to how close to ingestion treatment is started.  It is best to prevent ingestion of grapes, raisins, or currants.

2.)  Caffeine: Caffeine is commonly found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, diet pills, No-Doze pills, and the grounds of coffee and bags of tea.

Pets are very sensitive to the effects of caffeine.  A small amount of coffee or tea in the average pet won’t result in poisoning, but eating coffee grounds, tea bags, or consuming one or two diet pills or No-Doze pills can result in signs or even be fatal in a small pet.

Signs occur within hours of caffeine exposure and are mild to severe hyperactivity, agitation, vomiting, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, irregular heart beat, tremors, elevated temperature, seizures, or collapse.

Treatment is to induce vomiting early and use activated charcoal to adsorb and remove the caffeine.  IV fluids to help flush out the toxin, sedatives to calm the pet, heart medications if necessary, stomach protectants, and frequent walks or a urinary catheter to get rid of the caffeine in the bladder.

Prognosis is excellent in mildly affected pets and poor in those with severe signs like seizures and coma.

3.) Chocolate and Cocoa: Dark chocolate is the most dangerous.  The darker the chocolate the larger the amount of theobromine, the toxic principle, which is a relative of caffeine.  Baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and cocoa mulch are all sources.  Milk chocolate and white chocolate and most candy bars have very little theobromine will not cause poisoning in pets at any reasonable amount.  Some Cocoa Mulchs for the garden have caused chocolate intoxication.

The danger to the pet is directly proportionate to the amount and darkness of the chocolate.  Ingestion of more than ½ ounce milk chocolate or .13 ounces of dark chocolate per pound of body weight may cause poisoning.  All ingestions of baker’s chocolate should be considered dangerous.
The very young, old, and infirm are at greater risk of chocolate toxicity.  Chocolate often contains high levels of fat and can cause digestive disturbance or pancreatitis, too.  Signs vary from vomiting and diarrhea in mild amounts to trembling, seizures, and collapse in higher levels of ingestion.

Treatment and prognosis are identical to caffeine toxicosis.

4.) Xylitol: is an alcohol that is a common replacement for sugar in sugar-free gum, mints, candies, and baked goods.  It is also found in some nicotine gum, in bulk for cooking, and in some natural pet or human dental products.

Xylitol may cause a life threatening drop in blood sugar and may cause liver damage in some dogs.  Cats and humans don’t have a problem with the product.  A 10 pound dog would only have to eat one piece of gum to get a toxic dose.

Within 10 to 15 minutes of ingestion, the dog’s blood sugar drops and they lose coordination and alertness and may vomit.  Collapse and seizures may quickly follow.  Sometimes these signs are delayed as much as several hours after ingestion.

Treatment is early induction of vomiting and supplementing IV blood sugar to keep levels normal.  The liver is evaluated with blood tests.  Prognosis is excellent if toxicity is caught early and poor if liver disease results.