Ask a Vet: What Are the Worst Things a Dog Can Eat?
Editor's note: This story originally ran in December of 2013. We're featuring it again for Poison Awareness Week, March 15 through 21.
Dogs are nothing if not silly creatures. They have a knack for getting themselves in trouble in all sorts of hard-to-imagine ways. However, many of the ways in which dogs get themselves in trouble have something in common: The trouble starts with dogs' mouths.
Dogs will eat anything. I'm not saying that your dog in particular necessarily would eat anything. I'm saying that dogs in general will eat just about anything, and I'm not talking about food. Your dog might not have any interest in consuming a rod of enriched uranium, but I can assure you that there is some dog somewhere who would.
Lately I have been thinking about some of the worst things I've seen dogs eat. There are many items that, when consumed by a dog, will almost always cause major trouble or death without significant intervention. Some of them are obvious -- most people know that rat poison, gopher poison, and snail bait can cause terrible deaths in dogs who consume them. Others are less well known and owners can be massively surprised to learn that their dog could be in trouble after consuming them.
This article will discuss some of the most dangerous things I have seen dogs eat. Of course, it's not possible to list every terrible item that I have seen a dog consume -- this article might never end if I did. But here are some of the worst.
Rat bait, snail bait, and gopher bait
Poisonous to rats, snails and gophers. And dogs.
Grapes, raisins, and chocolate
Let's get these ones out of the way early. Fortunately, death by chocolate is not common because quite a bit generally must be consumed. And fortunately many dogs do not seem to experience toxicity after eating grapes or raisins. But dogs who consume enough chocolate can suffer from gastrointestinal distress, seizures, coma, and death. Dogs that are sensitive to grapes can suffer from kidney failure.
Sometimes they pass. Sometimes they cause an intestinal obstruction.
Sugarless gum and candy
Now we're getting to some seriously dangerous stuff. Most sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol. Xylitol tastes just like sugar to people, and it has no calories and is supposedly good for our teeth. Dogs, however, can experience fatally low blood sugar after consuming the stuff. They also can suffer from liver failure. I have known dogs that required many days of ICU care after consuming sugarless gum.
Moldy cheese, nuts, or compost
Moldy items often contain substances known as tremorgenic mycotoxins. These nasty chemicals cause seizures and disorientation. Fortunately, most dogs suffering from tremors after consuming moldy items will survive if they receive veterinary treatment.
Gorilla Glue is not toxic. But it is attractive to dogs, and it causes a significant problem. When Gorilla Glue hits a dog's stomach, it expands and hardens. It generally fills the stomach, and can only be removed surgically. Keep your dog away from the stuff.
We have friends who like to give my pal Buster Christmas presents every year. Unfortunately, they seem to think that he is a Jack Russell Terrier rather than a Labrador Retriever mix. Every year, I am therefore forced to throw out or re-gift the tiny little balls that are perfectly sized for Buster to swallow or, worse, aspirate into his larynx. A ball in the intestines can cause an obstruction. A ball in the larynx can cause suffocation within minutes.
Resist the temptation to play fetch with a baseball. Although I have seen dogs pass amazing things -- shards of glass, rib bones, rocks, strings of christmas lights -- I think it is safe to say that it's nearly impossible to pass a baseball. The interiors of baseballs are made of stringy rope. When that stuff unwinds in the intestines, an obstruction is incredibly likely.
U.S. pennies made after 1982 consist mostly of zinc. The acid in a dog's stomach creates a perfect environment for the dissolution and subsequent absorption of the zinc. This leads to a major problem called hemolytic anemia, which is nearly universally fatal if not treated. Dogs who consume pennies require endoscopy or surgery, and usually must be monitored for several days afterwards. Blood transfusions are often necessary.
Not only do batteries put dogs at risk of intestinal obstruction. The corrosive compounds in them can also wreak havoc with the lining of the entire digestive tract, from mouth to anus.
Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which can cause kidney failure if rapid action does not occur. There are two antidotes to ethylene glycol. Fomepizole, the superior antidote, is hard to obtain. Ethanol, an inferior option, is readily available in the form of vodka in places other than Utah and Saudi Arabia. Fortunately for American dogs, all major antifreeze producers in the United States have agreed to add bittering agents to their products. This hopefully will reduce the frequency of antifreeze toxicity in the US.
I have saved the very worst item for last. Here it is:
Mushrooms come in several varieties. Some are edible. Some cause hallucinations. Some cause tremors. Some cause gastrointestinal upset. And some cause liver failure. Dogs that eat all but the last category can usually survive. But those last ones, the so-called hepatotoxic mushrooms, are absolutely the worst things I have ever seen dogs eat (because I've never treated a dog that consumed enriched uranium). Dogs that eat them develop progressive and essentially untreatable liver failure. One of the more common ones where I live is called the Death Cap Mushroom. The name says it all. Keep your yard free of mushrooms, and keep your dog on leash when you're walking in forested areas. Once a dog develops symptoms from eating a hepatotoxic mushroom, there is almost nothing that can be done to keep him from dying.
As I mentioned above, this list is far from exhaustive. Heck, I didn't even have a chance to get to fish hooks, light bulbs, squeakers, and fake breasts. But the items above are common and frequently consumed. Let's hope your dog never consumes any of them.
Read more about foods that are dangerous for dogs to eat:
- 3 Reasons Dogs Should Never Drink Alcohol
- Can Dogs Eat Potatoes Safely? What About Sweet Potatoes?
- Can Dogs Eat Granola Bars Safely?
- Can Dogs Eat Popcorn Safely?
- What Exotic Fruits Can Dogs Eat Safely?
Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)