Although a food may be safe and even healthy for you, the same is not always true for your pets and may even be toxic to them. Many foods we eat daily pose the risk for serious illness and even death in dogs and cats. Our pets are curious by nature and will almost always eat something that smells good to them!
Toxicities and accidental ingestions of these toxic foods and medications account for the majority of emergency clinic visits, especially near the holidays. Be aware of areas where toxic food may be within reach. Do not discount the possibility of your pet jumping up onto a table or counter to have a snack. Both dogs and cats will do this! Additionally, keep an eye on any purses, backpacks or lunchboxes, especially where kids may leave their belongings on the floor after school. Frequently this is where a dog and cat may become exposed to toxic foods like sugar-free gum, candy and granola containing nuts and candy. Some pets will also knock over trashcans to get to food.
What to Do If Your Cat or Dog has Ingested Toxic Food?
If you suspect your cat or dog has ingested a toxic food, you can first start by calling the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 888/426-4435. This hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by veterinarians and toxicologists. The staff can tell you if the food ingestion is toxic, whether an antidote is available and also if your cat or dog should be seen by a veterinarian. The ASPCA Poison Control Hotline will also provide you with a case number that your Texas veterinarian may use if he or she has any questions about treatment. Be aware there is a fee for this service, but the information supplied will be extremely useful during the treatment of your cat or dog. If you have not already contacted the ASPCA Poison Control, your veterinarian may also make this call; however, making the phone call prior to arrival at the ER may allow treatment to happen faster. If the toxic food has caused your cat or dog to vomit, stagger, go unconscious or have seizures, do not take the time to make this phone call—transport your pet safely to your nearest Texas veterinary clinic without delay.
After ingesting toxic food, dogs and cats can show a wide range of symptoms that may vary depending on how long ago the food was ingested and how much was eaten. Some toxic foods do not produce immediate symptoms, so even if your cat or dog seem to be fine, it is always wise to seek veterinary care if your dog or cat eats anything on the list below. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, tremors, seizures, excitability or extreme weakness.
If your cat or dog is conscious and not having a seizure, your veterinarian will likely start by removing the food from its stomach. This is typically done by injecting a medication called apomorphine, which induces vomiting within a few minutes. If your cat or dog is not conscious, induction of vomiting is not advised because an unconscious patient may choke while vomiting.
For some foods, making a cat or dog swallow activated charcoal can prevent absorption of anything that was not vomited. Activated charcoal is administered in a small meal, with a stomach tube or orally via syringe. If your pet is not conscious and activated charcoal is needed, it can also be given as an enema. Many times intravenous fluids are also started to help flush out toxins through the kidneys.
If an antidote is available, it will be administered. Surgery is usually not recommended unless your pet has eaten a fruit containing a pit that could become lodged in the intestinal tract, causing an obstruction. Depending on the severity of their symptoms, your pet may stay in the hospital anywhere from overnight to several days. Usually bloodwork is monitored while in the hospital, but the specific tests monitored are dictated by which toxin has been ingested. When raisins, grapes, garlic or onions are ingested, bloodwork monitoring may continue beyond discharge for two to four weeks.
Toxic Foods for Cats and Dogs
Below is a list of toxic foods and signs that your dog or cat may exhibit after consuming the food.
- Macadamia nuts: Elevated heart rate and body temperature, weakness, depression, muscle stiffness, tremors, vomiting
- Raisins and grapes: Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, abdominal pain, lack of urination
- Onions and garlic: Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, abnormal red blood cells, anemia, liver damage
- Chocolate, coffee, tea (caffeine): Vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, hyperactivity, urination, tremors, arrhythmias, walking abnormally, death
- Sugar-free gum: Weakness, depression, tremors, incoordination, collapse, seizures up to one hour after ingestion (due to low blood sugar), vomiting, diarrhea, yellowing of the skin and gums, blood in the feces, pinpoint bleeding in the gums or skin. Bleeding can occur up to 72 hours after ingestion due to liver dysfunction.
- Moldy foods: Elevated body temperature, uncoordinated walking, generalized muscle tremors
- Mushrooms: Vomiting, diarrhea, excitability, hallucinations, liver dysfunction, coma, death
- Fruits containing pits (e.g., peaches, cherries, plums): Vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, collapse. A portion of the pit also contains a toxin similar to cyanide.
- Almonds: Vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, seizure, urinary incontinence, coma
- Apple (only the stem, leaves and seeds): Dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, bright-red gum color, panting, shock
- Avocado: Vomiting, diarrhea. The pit can cause an intestinal obstruction. Avocados are especially poisonous for birds and should never be fed to a bird!
- Grapefruit: Vomiting, diarrhea, depression, sensitivity to light
- Uncooked bread dough: Stumbling, weakness, retching, bloat
Keep in mind that pets are not always as selective as humans when choosing foods to snack on, and they lack the knowledge of what can make them sick. Keep the foods listed above far out of reach of pets and avoid feeding them “human food.” If you have any questions about which foods are safe in small quantities for your dog or cat, ask your Texas veterinarian. If you suspect that your pet has ingested any amount of a toxic food, call the Poison Control Hotline or your veterinarian immediately.