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Grapes, Nuts, and Your Dogs Health – Foods that Fido should Avoid
“Magoo was a big, playful Labrador retriever who often got himself into embarrassing situations…”
So begins the story in the ASPCA’s latest report on foods that could be toxic to dogs. It turns out that Magoo went into the pantry and grabbed about half a kilo of raisins. He ate the whole thing, of course.
The ASPCA never mentions Magoo’s fate. But they tell us that just a handful of raisins can damage a dog’s health and that for some it was fatal. The same for grapes.
Growing up, I thought of our family dogs as “the first cycle of the dishwasher.” They were good at waiting their turn for what we left on their plates and we weren’t too concerned about offering them “human food”. It never crossed our minds that the health of our dogs could be affected by a few miserable leftovers from the table. What is safe for us, we thought, is also safe for our pets.
Moreover, whenever I ate grapes, I liked to give one or two to our German Shepherd “Tiffany”. Grapes always jumped out of her mouth when she tried to bite into them, and Tiffany, ever the good person, refused to give up until she had crushed each one into submission. At least 60 seconds of harmless fun is guaranteed.
Tiffany also loved the gum (she chewed it — wrapper and all — but didn’t swallow it!) We had the sugar-free kind, which is often sweetened with xylitol these days.
I had no idea that I might have poisoned our family pet! (More on xylitol below).
Why are grapes harmful?
As for grapes and raisins, no one is sure why they are harmful. It has 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 is also not known whether small amounts eaten over a long period of time can have a cumulative effect.
What we do know is that the end result in almost all reported cases of grape or raisin poisoning is acute kidney failure. (The term “acute” means that the condition is serious and occurs quickly.) The dog eventually cannot produce urine, which means it cannot filter toxins from its systems — a process necessary for 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. More than a third of the dogs developed symptoms ranging from vomiting to kidney failure, and seven dogs died. The ASPCA based its study on reported cases, so naturally there may be cases where eating grapes doesn’t affect dogs’ health at all. But until they know all the facts, The company advises against feeding grapes or raisins to pets in any quantity.
A little prevention
So your dog just got a big box of raisins. What should a pet owner do?
The first line of defense, if you have recently eaten grapes or raisins, is to induce vomiting and give activated charcoal (it absorbs toxins in the digestive tract). Vomiting is also the first sign that your dog is in trouble, so switch to activated charcoal immediately if vomiting has already occurred. (As a last resort, you can make your own activated charcoal by charring a piece of toast until it turns black and crumbles easily.) Then call your vet immediately.
Can’t get to the vet? Call ASPCA Poison Control: 888-426-4435
The vet will give your dog intravenous fluids for at least 48 hours and monitor blood chemistry daily. A normal blood count after 3 days usually means your dog is clear.
Keeping a watchful eye is, of course, 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 grapes…
There are other types of food that your dog should stay away from, and some of them may surprise you.
Here are some other foods that can endanger a dog’s health:
Who can resist chocolate? Like you’re not, your dog.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, and cocoa beans contain a chemical called theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. Different types of chocolate have different effects on the health of dogs. Dark chocolate has the most theobromine, a whopping 450 mg (compared to 1 mg of white chocolate). So on Valentine’s Day, you’re actually being kind to your best friend if you eat all the chocolates yourself!
Cocoa bean husks are a by-product of chocolate production (which is why mulch has fallen into the “food” category) and are popular as a landscaping mulch. Homeowners love the attractive color and smell and the fact that mulch breaks down into organic fertilizer. However, some dogs like to eat it and it contains theobromine.
Fatty food is difficult for the dog to digest and can overload the pancreas, which leads to pancreatitis. This can endanger your dog’s health and is potentially fatal.
Macadamia should be avoided. In fact, most nuts are not good for the health of dogs because their high phosphorus content is said to lead to bladder stones.
Mulch isn’t food, but there is one kind that is tempting enough for dogs. Some dogs are attracted to cocoa mulch, so they will eat it in varying amounts. The husks of coca beans can contain from 0.2% to 3% theobromine (a toxin) compared to 1-4% in untreated beans.
Onions, especially raw, have been shown to cause hemolytic anemia in dogs. (Stephen J Ettinger, DVM and Edward C. Fieldman, DVM’s book: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine vol. 2 p. 1884) Also stay away from onion powder.
Potato poisoning in humans and dogs is rare, but it has happened. The toxin, solanine, is poorly absorbed and is found only in green sprouts (appearing in tubers exposed to sunlight) and green skins of potatoes. This explains why incidents rarely occur. Keep in mind that boiled mashed potatoes are good for a dog’s health, in fact very nutritious and digestible.
Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, especially sugar-free gums and candies. Ingesting large amounts of products sweetened with xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar in dogs, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures. According to Dr. Eric K. Dunayer, a veterinary consultant in clinical toxicology at the poison control center, “These signs can develop quite quickly, sometimes less than 30 minutes after ingestion of the product,” says Dr. Dunayer, “…so it’s important for pet owners to seek veterinary assistance immediately.”
Turkey skin is currently thought to cause acute pancreatitis in dogs, partly due to its high fat content.
Other foods listed as harmful by the ASPCA:
Avocado (the only “fatty” member of the vegetable family)
Coffee (all forms of coffee)
Moldy or spoiled food
The bottom line
Thanks to a more educated public, fewer deaths from foods like chocolate are being reported these days. But it is important to follow what is currently known about food and its effects on the health of dogs. For example, grapes and cocoa mulch have only recently been discovered to have harmful effects.
Check back often with sources like the ASPCA or sign up for “Cold Noses News” and we’ll keep you updated. (You’ll also get a bunch of cool dog stuff with your free registration).
Of course, being careful and taking your pet to the vet right away will help ensure a happy outcome if something unfortunate happens.
Health and good nutrition for your dogs!
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