Those puppy dog eyes and wagging tail. That purr. They'll get your pet everywhere and everything—maybe even scraps from the table and treats intended for humans. But little rewards here and there aren't always so innocent, and could jeopardize your dog or cat's health. To an animal, chocolate isn't just a savory sweet, and grapes aren't just a tasty break from dog or cat chow. Indeed, these items can lead to everything from kidney failure to death.
Be wary of these five dangerous foods for dogs:
Chocolate. Perhaps the most well-known of what's off-limits to dogs, chocolate and cocoa contain theobromide, a chemical that increases urination and can harm the heart, lungs, kidney, and central nervous system. Pure baking chocolate is most toxic, while milk chocolate is only dangerous when consumed in a higher dose. A 20-pound dog, for example, could become sick after having 2 ounces of baking chocolate, but it would take 20 ounces of milk chocolate to cause harm. Symptoms include tremors, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rate, and overheating.
Sugarless gum. It's packed with xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener that stimulates the canine pancreas to secrete insulin, leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and severe liver damage. "Your dog will seem drunk, just like a human—staggering around and acting erratic," says Jay Ryan, medical director at BluePearl Vet in Skokie, Ill. Just two pieces can cause hypoglycemia in a 20-pound dog. Within 30 to 60 minutes, your four-legged friend could appear weak, begin having seizures, or even collapse. Most dogs recover if they're treated early enough, but liver damage could be permanent.
Alcohol and yeast dough. Ethanol, a toxic chemical compound found in both products, can damage the central nervous and respiratory systems. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, a drunken gait, and a low body temperature. Since ethanol is rapidly absorbed into the system, it's important to call the vet and seek care for your dog immediately.
Grapes and raisins. Ingesting just four or five grapes or raisins could be poisonous to a 20-pound dog, resulting in irreversible kidney damage. Watch for vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weakness, which will typically occur within 24 hours. It's still unclear exactly why grapes and raisins are harmful.
Macademia nuts. These likely won't be fatal, but they can cause illness. Just a handful of nuts could lead to vomiting, weakness, joint and muscle pain, and joint swelling. Onset will likely occur within six to 24 hours.
As for cats? Watch out for these five kitchen staples:
Onions and garlic. Any type of onion (powdered, raw, cooked, or dehydrated) can break down a cat's red blood cells, causing anemia. Either one large dose or small amounts regularly will cause onion poisoning. Similarly, garlic can upset your kitty's stomach. "All cats are sensitive to onions and garlic," says Lisa Weeth, a veterinary nutritionist with Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, N.J. "And it doesn't take much to do it."
Caffeine. In large doses, it's fatal. Symptoms include restlessness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, and muscle tremors. Keep your feline friends away from tea and coffee, as well as cocoa, chocolate, soda, and energy drinks like Red Bull.
Fat trimmings and bones. Table scraps aren't smart snacks. Fat is likely to cause an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea, and cats can choke on bones. Plus, bones sometimes splinter, cutting the inside of the mouth and causing obstructions or lacerations in the digestive tract. Poultry bones are most dangerous. Signs your cat may be choking: pale or blue gums, gasping, drooling, pawing at face, and loss of consciousness.
Raw eggs. These could give your cat food poisoning from bacteria like salmonella or E. coli. But that's not the only concern. Avidin, a protein in raw egg whites, interferes with the absorption of the B vitamin biotin. That can cause skin problems like dermatitis, as well as hair loss.
Milk. Many cats are lactose-intolerant, which means they cannot break down the milk sugar in diary products. If yours laps up some milk and then shows signs of diarrhea or dehydration, it may be smart to eliminate such products. Lactose-free brands of milk designed for cats are available at pet stores.
If you suspect your pet has wolfed down something he shouldn't have, don't wait around to see if he improves. "Call your family vet right away, or the local emergency vet if it's after hours," Ryan says. And the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Poison Control Center has trained veterinary toxicologists on-duty around the clock. A phone consultation costs around $65.