I (Almost) Poisoned My Dog

It was an accident -- I was trying to give him medication! Now I know better.


We raised Buster, our Australian Shepherd/Lab mix, from when he was an 8-week old puppy, and we tried our best to be good pet parents. We adopted him from a restaurant co-worker of my husband, whose dog escaped after being spooked by fireworks one Fourth of July and (unfortunately) found comfort with a Labrador Retriever. The co-worker offered the resulting puppies for adoption, and once we saw a snapshot of Buster with his littermates, it was love at first sight.

We’re pretty sure Buster’s dad was a Lab because, like a Lab, Buster lived for food. He would steal it whenever he was given the chance. Of course, anything on the floor was fair game, but the rest of the kitchen? Buster was a known counter surfer and food thief. Once when he was staying at the local veterinarian’s kennel, he got into a little bit of trouble. The receptionist would let him out to run around early in the morning before the office opened. She reported that Buster had carefully watched when the refrigerator door opened and closed. At the perfect moment, he made his move — lunged at and stole a Natural Balance treat roll. And ate it all. (Uh oh.)

Another time, I came home to the remnants of a package on the porch. All that was left was a round cardboard plate and a cake recipe. A food research company had delivered the cake to my husband as a holiday present, but Buster ate the spoils. I panicked when I read that the cake included chocolate, which is toxic to dogs. I immediately phoned our vet. The technician said to keep a close eye on him, and he turned out be okay and not suffer any consequences. Whew!

Overall, Buster was a healthy dog. He did have a tendency to get flea allergies and break out into hives. The vet would prescribe Prendisone and an antibiotic for this affliction. But administering his medicine was to become a challenge of epic proportions. Yes, Buster did like to eat, but this chef’s dog also had a refined palate. And antibiotics did not fit within this scheme. Have you seen dog antibiotics? They’re big capsules, and they must smell of something medicinal because Buster would get one whiff of a pill and turn his nose up faster than you can say, “Bon appetit.”

I tried lots of things to sneak his medicine in his food. Cheddar cheese, peanut butter — the veterinary technician even suggested liverwurst. None of these worked. For example, Buster took the peanut butter-covered pill in his mouth, swallowed the peanut butter, then spat out the pill.

It was exhausting. But I was determined not to be outsmarted by my dog. One day, out of desperation, I stuck the pill into a grape and then filled it with blue cheese to cover the smell. I popped it in his mouth, and bingo! Mission accomplished. He never even knew what he swallowed. I was proud of myself for solving this problem, and I continued using this recipe for pill delivery whenever Buster had a flare up of his flea allergy.

One day I was researching household toxins for pets for an article and I found a list of toxic foods on the Humane Society of the United States’ website. I reviewed the list of foods to avoid feeding your pet, and what to my horror I saw listed there — grapes.

Oh no!

It turns out that grapes can cause kidney problems — and even renal failure — in some dogs. Now, to be sure, the research available online says it probably takes a lot of grapes, eaten all at once, for most dogs to suffer health problems. And one study says that two-thirds of dogs are not affected at all by grapes. But still. Even an outside chance was enough to put me off my method.

My first thought was, “I’m a bad dog mom.” My second thought was, “How am I ever going to get a pill down his throat?” I remembered all the times we would toss grapes at Buster for him to catch. We had no idea. I’m sharing this confession in the hope of letting other pet parents know what common foods are toxic for dogs and cats. For example, did you know avocados and walnuts are potentially poisonous to pets? You can see a more complete list from the Humane Society of the United States the list here.

I’ve learned more of what not to feed dogs, and I try to do better with our current dog, an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie mix. I’ve seen pill pockets by Greenies sold in the pet stores, but haven’t tried them yet.

What about you? How do you give your dog pills? Have you had any close calls with your methods?


Cathy Weselby is a writer and marketing specialist who lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She enjoys hanging out with her Australian Shepherd mix, making mixed media art, and blogging about dogs and pop culture.

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