We all know that raisins, grapes and chocolate are off-limits for our canine companions. But did you know that there are other kitchen items and foods that can pose a risk to your beloved pet? For instance, you’ve just left a loaf of bread to rise on your counter. The house is filled with the scent of warm yeast. You come back a few minutes later to find an empty bowl and a guilty-looking dog. No bread dough in sight. Uh-oh, you think. Is bread dough toxic to dogs?
Surprisingly, there are many common things in your kitchen that you might not consider a threat. Yet these can pose a significant risk to our canine friends. As an emergency veterinarian, I encountered all of these at some point in my nine years in the ER.
Rising bread dough.
Most dog owners don’t know this poses a threat. Rising bread dough is filled with yeast. When in a warm, moist environment (like a dog’s stomach), it will continue to rise and ferment. The fermentation process results in two problems: significant abdominal bloating and discomfort, and the production of ethanol alcohol. Not only will your dog be bloated and painful, but also drunk! Bread dough ingestion requires immediate veterinary care to prevent serious consequences. Other, yeast-free doughs (such as biscuit and cookie) do not present the same concerns, although cookie dough frequently contains raw eggs, chocolate chips and/or raisins.
With the rise in popularity of home brewing, hops toxicity is becoming more and more common. While you may have heard about “spent” grains being used in dog treats; these should not be confused with hops. The “spent” hops cause a condition called malignant hyperthermia, in which a dog’s body temperature can reach 108 degrees or more. Other symptoms include restlessness, panting, drooling and abdominal pain. It is a life-threatening illness if not recognized and treated rapidly.
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Empty chip bags.
It’s hard to believe that this could pose a risk to your canine buddy, but empty chip bags have been implicated in several asphyxiation deaths recently. Make sure that your dog does not have access to these in the trash or elsewhere in the kitchen.
We all want to do our part to preserve the natural environment, so many households are now composting food scraps. While this is an excellent idea with many benefits, compost can pose a significant risk to dogs. Compost piles often grow molds of a class called mycotoxins. When ingested, these can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, tremoring, and severe, seizure-like activity. Supportive treatment with IV fluids and muscle relaxants is very successful, and most dogs return to normal within 1-2 days. Always make sure that compost piles are fenced off from your canine friends.
As an emergency veterinarian, I’ve removed more than one corncob from the GI tract of a dog. These can be especially damaging in the small intestine and lead to perforation. If ingested whole, corncobs rarely make it through the intestines on their own and must be removed surgically. All corncobs should be disposed of in a sealed trash bag outside of the kitchen in a can with a locked lid.
While many nuts are not toxic to dogs, macadamia nuts can cause significant illness. Much like raisins and grapes, the toxic agent is not known. Symptoms can develop within a few hours to a day after ingestion and include vomiting, weakness, tremors, elevated body temperature, and even seizures. Dogs are the only known species to exhibit this response to macadamia nuts. With supportive care, most dogs return to normal within 1-2 days.
Xylitol has become a common sugar substitute used in both store-bought goods and at home. In diabetic humans, it prevents large increases in blood sugar. In dogs, however, it causes an overwhelming insulin release leading to a precipitous drop in blood sugar. This can lead to weakness, tremoring, stupor, seizures and coma. At doses high enough, xylitol can also cause liver failure. Treatment is supportive and symptomatic and should be started as soon as the ingestion is noted. Of particular implication in xylitol toxicity is candy and sugar-free gums.
Onions, garlic and leeks.
These vegetables are all members of the Allium family. Allium species can cause oxidative damage to the red blood cells in your dog—which are critical for carrying oxygen to tissue. Toxicity is dose-dependent, so the more your pet eats, the higher the risk for problems. Symptoms include pale gums, weakness, lethargy and anemia.
Dirty knives and skewers.
It’s hard to believe that a dog would ever swallow something so sharp, but it is shockingly common. Dogs, when tempted by the smell of delicious food, will grab a knife or skewer from the counter without thinking twice. Sometimes, they swallow those sharp objects, necessitating surgery.
With care and forethought, most of these toxicities and injuries can be avoided. Always keep counters clean and clear of food or food containers. Dogs are tremendously adept at climbing onto counters and opening cabinets, so keep particularly tasty treats on a high shelf away from curious noses. It’s a good idea to keep the number for ASPCA’s Poison Control on hand, as well. When in doubt, if your dog ingests something, you can always consult with the experts!