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Common foods can be toxic to pets

They are foods, beverages and ingredients that we enjoy and take for granted. They are so common, in fact, that they can be found in most of our households much of the year.

But for our dogs and cats, these foods, drinks and ingredients can pose serious health hazards. These ill effects can range from simple stomach upset and vomiting to organ malfunction and even death.

That’s why I thought I would review some of these common household items that should be kept out of reach of pets, along with a description of the problems they are likely to cause in dogs, cats or both. If you suspect your pet has consumed a toxic food, contact your family veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic immediately for advice.

Here’s our list of common household dangers, in alphabetical order:

• Alcohol, including beer, wine and hard liquor, is toxic to dogs and cats. Alcohol poisoning causes a variety of problems including weakness, collapse, coma and death. Please keep alcohol out of reach of your pets, and never experiment with letting your dog or cat take a sip.

• Avocado causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats. Ingestion of the large avocado seed also can create an extremely dangerous stomach or intestinal obstruction.

• Bread dough can pose serious problems in cats and dogs. Yeasted dough will expand in the warm environment of the stomach, possibly causing obstructions, bloating and a dangerous twisting of the stomach. Fermenting dough also results in the release of alcohols, which can cause alcohol poisoning.

• Chocolate and caffeine, including coffee, tea and soda, are toxic to cats and dogs. Darker chocolates cause more severe disease. Signs of ingestion include tremors, seizures, vomiting, restlessness and death. Especially around candy-focused holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas, take extra care to keep chocolates — including baking chocolate — out of reach of pets. Check out this chocolate toxicity meter at PetMD:

• Grapes and raisins, somewhat surprisingly, are toxic to dogs. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, changes in water consumption and urination. Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure, so ingestion can be life-threatening.

• Garlic, along with onions and chives, is toxic to dogs and cats. All of these vegetables damage red blood cells, which can lead to anemia in pets. Signs of this include stomach upset, diarrhea and lethargy.

• Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs because they affect nerves. If you suspect your dog has gotten into the macadamia nuts, look for severe tiredness, vomiting, tremors, stiffness and an inability to walk.

• Salt actually can be a life-threatening toxin to dogs and cats. One of the dangers with salt is that it is all around us, inside and outside our homes. In addition to kitchen or table salt, don’t forget the de-icing rock salt and even the high levels of salt in an item such as children’s Play-Doh (the brand name stuff as well as generic varieties). Salt poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, tiredness, excess thirst and urination, tremors, seizures, coma and death.

• Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener found in chewing gum, mints, toothpaste and some vitamins. It is toxic to dogs. Xylitol causes low blood sugar and liver failure. It also can be life-threatening. As with the chocolates mentioned above, take care to keep gum, candy and other items with xylitol away from your dog.

It’s scary — and even a little frustrating — to see how many foods, drinks and ingredients that we take for granted in our lives are so dangerous to our pets. The first step to preventing problems is awareness. The second is action to keep these items — and most people food and drink — away from our pets. With a little information and a little forethought, we can usually avoid a serious problem.

But don’t hesitate to call your vet or the emergency animal clinic if you suspect a problem. If your pet has ingested something it shouldn’t have, time is of the essence in seeking treatment.

Dr. Laura Kiehnbaum is a veterinarian at PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject go to

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