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Dangerous Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Dog

Welsh corgi Pembroke dog waiting for food

Author Image Written by Brenda Woods Updated 03/28/2024

Your dog may beg for food while you’re eating a piece of chocolate or a handful of juicy grapes, but that doesn’t mean you should give in. Feeding your dog chocolate, grapes, and other tasty foods may even be toxic for your pet. We spoke to doctors of veterinary medicine (DVM) and experts to learn more about the foods that are dangerous when consumed by dogs.

A veterinary checkup can assess your pet’s safety and well-being after it ingests toxic food. Emergency visits are generally costly, but pet insurance can offset veterinary bills and give you peace of mind.

Human Foods That Are Dangerous for Dogs

Many of the foods we enjoy are toxic to dogs, including “dark chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic,” according to Joseph Wakshlag, DVM and professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Chocolate affects the heart and liver. Grapes and raisins can cause kidney issues. Onions and garlic cause damage to red blood cells,” Wakshlag says.

Tina Wismer, DVM, a senior medical director of toxicology at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, explains why dark chocolate is dangerous for dogs: “Chocolate, along with coffee and tea, all contain substances called methylxanthines … When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and even death in severe cases.”

Additional ingredients in chocolate can also harm your pet. “Be wary of other ingredients often found in chocolate, such as artificial sweeteners like xylitol, fruits, nuts, or coffee,” Pansy Suzuki, DVM and medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Group, says. She notes that these ingredients “can exacerbate the toxicity levels and potentially lead to serious health complications for your pet.”

The list below shares common foods and drinks you should avoid giving your dog. While some foods may only cause an upset stomach, others could lead to serious illness or death.

  • Alcohol and food containing alcohol: Alcohol causes numerous health problems for dogs. According to the ASPCA, alcoholic beverages and foods with alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death. Avoid feeding your dog yeast dough, which produces ethanol and can cause ethanol poisoning in dogs.
  • Avocados: While avocados are a healthy fat and fiber-rich food for humans, they’re unsafe for your dog. The fat content is too high for your pet. Avocados also contain persin, a toxin that causes dogs to vomit and have diarrhea. This fruit can put your dog at risk of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal.
  • Citrus fruits, seeds, stems, and leaves: These foods can become toxic when your dog eats large amounts of them. Small doses can cause your dog to have an upset stomach. Larger amounts could harm your dog’s central nervous system. Fruit pits can splinter and tear or cut internal organs.
  • Chocolate: Dark chocolate contains high levels of methylxanthines. While milk chocolate and white chocolate have lower levels, they’re also harmful to dogs. White chocolate has the lowest levels of methylxanthines, while unsweetened baker’s chocolate, used for baking cookies and other desserts, contains the highest amount.
  • Coconut and coconut oils: Coconut won’t cause serious harm in small amounts. Large quantities can cause upset stomachs, loose stools, or diarrhea in dogs. Coconut water, which is high in potassium, may harm your dog’s kidneys.
  • Grapes and raisins: Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. Information as to why is unknown, but the ASPCA notes that they’re toxic to dogs.
  • Macadamia nuts and other nuts: Many nuts can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors, and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs that something is wrong generally occur about 12 hours after ingestion and can last for one or two days. Nuts such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts are rich in oils and fats which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis in dogs.
  • Milk and dairy products: Dairy products cause diarrhea and upset stomachs in dogs. Lactose-intolerant dogs don’t have lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk and other dairy products.
  • Onions, garlic, and chives: As noted by Wakshlag, these vegetables damage red blood cells. Foods in the onion family can cause gastrointestinal irritation and anemia.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, eggs, and bones: Raw meat and eggs can contain salmonella and E. coli. Raw eggs are loaded with an enzyme called avidin, which decreases the body’s absorption of biotin, a B vitamin. This can cause skin and coat irritation in dogs. Bones are often dangerous for dogs since they can break and splinter, causing internal injuries and choking.
  • Salt and salty foods: Salt produces excessive thirst and urination in dogs. Pets can get sodium ion poisoning by eating too much salt. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, high body temperature, seizures, and death.
  • Xylitol: This ingredient sweetens gum, candy, and baked goods. Foods with this sweetener can cause liver failure, hypoglycemia, vomiting, lethargy, and loss of coordination in dogs.

Size and Quantity Matters

Your dog’s size is a big determining factor in how sick it could get after ingesting toxic food. A Chihuahua is a small dog that typically weighs no more than 6 pounds. Great Danes standing on their hind legs are taller than most people. According to the American Kennel Club, full-grown male Great Danes can weigh up to 175 pounds.

“The type and amount of chocolate ingested are crucial factors to assess and communicate to your veterinarian for appropriate guidance,” Suzuki says. “Small quantities may lead to mild gastrointestinal upset while larger amounts pose more severe risks, depending on the type of chocolate and your dog’s size, age, and health condition.”

When To Call Your Dog’s Veterinarian

Stop your dog if you catch it in the act of stealing food. “Try to determine how much they actually consumed,” says Jo Myers, DVM and veterinarian at Vetster. She recommends contacting your closest veterinary clinic or emergency center immediately if the dog eats large quantities of dangerous substances such as antifreeze. “It’s common for the vet or emergency center to ask you to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center while you’re on your way, so keep their number in your phone,” she says. The number is 1-888-426-4435.

Determining what or how much your dog ate may be difficult if you didn’t witness it. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog has eaten something dangerous.

Symptoms of Dog Food Poisoning

Symptoms depend on the type and amount of toxic food your dog ate and your pet’s size. Common symptoms of distress include the following:

  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessively watery eyes
  • Staggering movements and incoordination
  • Tremors and/or seizures
  • Unusual hyperactivity and the inability to settle down
  • Vomiting

“Any time you see symptoms like these, talk to a veterinarian right away,” Myers says.

Preparing Financially for an Emergency Vet Visit

Emergency care costs more than a routine visit to your dog’s veterinarian, and costs vary based on location, type of pet, and type of emergency. Emergency veterinarians and their staff work nights, weekends, and holidays, resulting in higher costs for emergency visits. Other reasons for higher emergency costs include having more advanced veterinary training, trickier treatments, and specialists on hand such as neurologists and cardiologists.

Treatment costs range from $40 to more than $5,000 depending on the severity of your dog’s illness. “I think this is why there is a movement toward pet insurance,” Wakshlag says. Mistakes can happen, “particularly during parties and events” when your dog can get into food more easily. In the event of a toxic exposure, pet insurance provides a safety net that allows you to “get the right treatment without worrying as much about the cost,” Wakshlag adds.

Cost of Emergency Veterinary Visits

If you suspect that your dog has ingested a toxic substance, call the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center or your local emergency vet hospital immediately. You’ll be asked to describe your dog’s symptoms. Dr. Erin Perry, a professor in the animal science department at Southern Illinois University, recommends preparing to take your dog to the emergency veterinary hospital right after you hang up with the emergency vet.

“Owners that suspect accidental ingestion of a potentially toxic foodstuff should contact their veterinarian immediately. Severe cases of accidental poisoning may result in death or require euthanasia.” —Dr. Erin Perry

Treatment costs depend on where you live and the severity of your dog’s illness. The table below outlines the expected costs of treatment without pet insurance.

TreatmentPotential Cost Without Pet Insurance
Urine tests$40–$70
IV catheter$60–$75
Blood work$80–$200
Upset stomach$385
Oxygen therapy$500–$3,000
Hospitalization with monitoring$600–$,3500
Treating and repairing wounds$800–$2,500
Emergency surgery$1,500–$5,000
Foreign object in stomach$2,900–$3,265
Cost data in this article was sourced via CareCredit.

Pet Insurance Considerations

The cost of emergency vet visits ranges from $600 to more than $5,000, but pet insurance can lower the amount you pay out of pocket. Pet insurance covers many of the tests and emergency services listed above if you have accident and illness coverage. Having pet insurance may give you peace of mind in the event of an emergency.

Consider your pet’s age when shopping for a pet health insurance policy. Coverage for an older dog costs more than pet insurance policies for healthy, young dogs. Puppies don’t typically have preexisting conditions, making pet insurance policies cheaper and generally easier to find. Some pet insurance companies have an upper age limit. For example, you may not be able to get coverage if your dog is over the age of 14.

Pet insurance for specific breeds may cost more than for mixed or other breeds. French bulldogs, for example, have a genetically predisposed health condition called brachycephalic which affects their breathing. Keep your dog’s breed in mind when buying pet health insurance.

Knowing which policy to choose can be overwhelming. Carefully read through pet coverage policies and know that each pet insurance company offers various options.

Perry mentions that your veterinarian can be a good source for information about insurance plans. “Owners are encouraged to explore options for insurance or care credit plans. There are many companies with varying levels of coverage and plans available,” Perry says. “Talk with your veterinarian about the plan that suits your dog’s needs.”

Our Conclusion

You want your dog to stay healthy, and an easy way to do so is by not sharing the foods we love. Though emergency pet care can be expensive, there are ways to keep prices affordable while making sure that your dog gets its needed care. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian about a payment plan and consider investing in an extensive pet insurance policy.

Our Experts

Joseph Wakshlag: Joseph Wakshlag is a professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. He is board-certified in both veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation and veterinary nutrition and holds a doctorate in pharmacology. Wakshlag has been on the faculty at Cornell University since 2006.

Erin Perry: Perry is an award-winning scientist and author with more than a decade of research experience investigating working canine health and performance. She has been a canine search specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for more than 20 years and an evaluator and instructor for 10 years. Perry is a tenured professor at Southern Illinois University and an invited speaker on working canine health and performance. Dr. Perry has served on the U.S. Department of Defense Military Working Canine Research Forum Steering Committee, the U.S. Joint Forces Northern Command Canine Decontamination Working Group, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation Review panel, and as a consultant for various law enforcement and emergency response agencies. Perry’s research program focuses on challenges faced by working dogs in operational conditions.

Tina Wismer: A toxicologist, Wismer is the medical director of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). Wismer is responsible for overseeing medical recommendations made by the veterinary staff. She is highly involved in lecturing, making media appearances, and writing, and she coordinates the APCC’s extern program. Wismer received her DVM from Purdue University in 1994 and joined the APCC in 1998. In 2003, Wismer became a diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology.

Pansy Suzuki: After graduating in 2007, Suzuki started her vet med career in general practice and urgent care, working in cities around the U.S. and abroad. Her first experience with emergency veterinary medicine was in London and it changed her life. Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) was a natural fit for her to pursue a career in emergency. She joined VEG in 2020 and believes in treating customers with care and respect for the best emergency experience.

Jo Myers: Myers is a graduate of the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary field. She enjoys helping people take the best possible care of their pets and is dedicated to improving access to pet health care information and services. Her favorite aspects of pet telehealth include helping clients determine if or how quickly they need to get their pet to the clinic or emergency center, providing compassionate and nonjudgmental support through difficult end-of-life decisions, and connecting with people looking for information about their pet’s health. She also enjoys sharing evidence-based information on current diagnostic and treatment plans for complex medical cases. In addition to seeing appointments on Vetster, Myers is a veterinary consultant, providing Vetster with industry insight and guidance as it continues building and improving its veterinary telehealth marketplace to better meet the needs of both veterinarians and their clients.