"Magoo was a big, playful Labrador retriever who often got himself into sticky situations..."
So begins a story in the latest report from the ASPCA on foods that may be toxic to dogs. It turns out that Magoo got into the pantry and snagged himself about a pound of raisins. He ate the whole thing, of course.
The ASPCA never mentions Magoo's fate. But they do tell us that as little as a handful of raisins can impair a dogs health and has been fatal for some. Ditto for the grape.
Growing up, I regarded our family dogs as "the first cycle of the dishwasher". They were good about waiting their turn for whatever we left on our plates, and we weren't too concerned about offering them "people food". It never crossed our minds that our dogs health could be affected by a few measly table scraps. What was safe for us, we figured, was safe for our pets.
What's more, whenever I ate grapes, I liked to give one or two to our German Shepherd "Tiffany". The grapes always popped out of her mouth when she tried to bite into them and Tiffany, ever the good sport, refused to give up until she'd squashed each one into submission. It guaranteed at least 60 seconds of harmless fun.
Tiffany was also fond of chewing gum (she chewed it -- wrapper and all -- but didn't swallow it!) We had the sugarless kind, which is often sweetened these days with xylitol.
Little did I know that I might have been poisoning our family pet! (More on xylitol below).
Why are grapes harmful?
As far as grapes and raisins go, no one is sure why they're harmful. It's been confirmed that even grapes grown without fertilizers or pesticides can be toxic to dogs. But not to every dog, and not every time. It's also not known whether small amounts eaten over a long time period could have a cumulative effect.
What we do know is that the end result in nearly all reported cases of grape or raisin toxicity is acute kidney failure. (The term "acute" means that the condition is severe and comes on quickly.) The dog ultimately can't produce urine, which means they can't filter toxins out of their systems -- a process essential to life.
During the twelve-month period in which the effects of grapes were studied, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handled 140 cases involving one or more dogs. Over a third of the dogs developed symptoms ranging from vomiting to kidney failure, and seven dogs died. The ASPCA based their study on reported cases, so naturally there may be cases where a dogs health is entirely unaffected by eating grapes. But until they know all the facts, the Society advises against feeding pets grapes or raisins in any amount.
An ounce of prevention
So, your dog just scored himself a big box of raisins. What's a pet owner to do?
The first line of defense, if the grapes or raisins were eaten recently, is to induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal (it absorbs toxins in the GI tract). Vomiting is also the first sign that your dog is in trouble, so skip right to the activated charcoal if vomiting has already occurred. (In a pinch you can make your own activated charcoal by charring a piece of toast until it's blackened and crumbles easily.) Then call your vet right away.
Can't reach the vet? Call ASPCA Poison Control: 888-426-4435
The vet will keep your dog on intravenous fluids for at least 48 hours and monitor blood chemistry daily. Normal blood work after 3 days usually means your dog is in the clear.
Keeping a watchful eye out, of course, is the best way to keep your pet out of trouble. Like children, dogs (and other pets) have a knack for getting into mischief when we're not looking.
It's Not Just the Grapes...
There are other foods your dog should be kept away from, and some of them may surprise you.
Here are some other foods that can put a dogs health in harms way:
Who can resist chocolate? Like it your not, your dog.
Chocolate is made with cocoa beans and cocoa beans contain a chemical called Theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. Different types of chocolate have varying effects on dogs health. Dark chocolate has the largest theobromine, coming in at a whopping 450mg (compared to 1mg for white chocolate). So on Valentine's Day, you're actually being kind to your best buddy if you eat all the chocolates yourself!
Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production (which is how mulch made it into the "foods" category) and are popular as mulch for landscaping. Homeowners like the attractive color and scent, and the fact that the mulch breaks down into an organic fertilizer. However, some dogs like to eat it and it contains Theobromine.
Fatty foods are hard for a dog to digest and can can overtax the pancreas, leading to pancreatitis. This can threaten your dogs health and is potentially fatal.
Macadamia nuts should be avoided. In fact most nuts are not good for a dogs health since their high phosporus content is said to lead to bladder stones.
Mulch isn't food, but there's one type tempting enough for dogs to eat. Some dogs are attracted to cocoa mulch, and will eat it in varying quantities. The coca bean shells can contain from 0.2% to 3% theobromine (the toxin ) as compaired to 1-4% in unprocessed beans.
Onions, especially raw onions, have been shown to trigger hemolytic anemia in dogs. (Stephen J Ettinger, D.V.M and Edward C. Fieldman, D.V.M. 's book: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine vol. 2 pg 1884.) Stay away from onion powder too.
Potato poisonings among people and dogs are rare but have occurred. The toxin, solanine, is poorly absorbed and is only found in green sprouts (these occur in tubers exposed to sunlight) and green potato skins. This explains why incidents seldom occur. Note that cooked, mashed potatoes are fine for a dogs health, actually quite nutritious and digestible.
Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, especially sugarless gum and candies. Ingesting large amounts of products sweetened with xylitol may cause a sudden drop in blood sugar in dogs, resulting depression, loss of coordination, and seizures. According to Dr. Eric K. Dunayer, a consulting veterinarian in clinical toxicology for the poison control center, "These signs can develop quite rapidly, at times less than 30 minutes after ingestion of the product" states Dr. Dunayer, "...therefore, it is important that pet owners seek veterinary treatment immediately."
Turkey skin is currently thought to cause acute pancreatis in dogs, partly due to it's high fat content.
Other foods listed by the ASPCA as harmful:
Avocado (the only "fatty" member of the vegetable family)
Coffee (all forms of coffee)
Moldy or spoiled foods
The Bottom Line
Thanks to a more educated public, fewer fatalities from foods like chocolate are being reported these days. But it's important to keep up with what's currently known about foods and their effects on dogs health. Grapes and cocoa mulch, for example, were only discovered very recently to have harmful effects.
Check frequently with sources like the ASPCA, or sign up for the "Cold Noses News" and we'll keep you informed. (You'll also get a bunch of cool dog stuff along with your free registration).
Of course, being alert and getting your pet to the vet promptly will help assure a happy outcome if something unfortunate should happen.
Here's to your dogs health and good nutrition!