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By Jane Caldwell, Ph.D.

We love our dogs and puppies. They are faithful, non-judgmental companions who delight in our presence. Many pet owners return this affection by feeding them treats. But some human foods and household products are poisonous to dogs. Can we kill them with kindness?

People Foods Versus Pet Foods

There are a plethora of commercial dog treats that are safe and appropriate for your best friend. These are the preferred treats to share with a dog. Human foods and table scraps are no-nos for a variety of reasons. A dog is a carnivore with a digestive system that is quite different from a human one. Our human food generally contains large amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium, which may cause digestive distress for Fido. Calories are also an issue. In the United States, 54% of dogs are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Overfeeding dogs with high-calorie human foods can produce diabetes in canines, just as it does with their owners. Surveys have shown that the prevalence of pet diabetes is increasing in the U.S. Between 2006 and 2015, there was an 80% increase in the prevalence of the disease in dogs.

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be prevented through proper diet and exercise. Feeding commercially-available dog treats while keeping an eye on total daily calories is one preventive measure. The ASPCA Poison Control Center recommends safe fruits and vegetables such as raw green beans, baby carrots (only four calories each), raspberries, and cored apples as alternative treats to reduce caloric intake.

What about reduced-calorie human foods? The artificial sweetener, xylitol, can cause kidney failure in dogs. Used as a low-calorie sugar substitute in many gums, candies, jams, and bakery items, xylitol may come in foods with individual serving packages with no labels. Pet parents risk their dog’s health by feeding human sweets with no labels. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, stevia, and saccharine are ‘safe’ for dogs, but overconsumption can cause gastric problems and diarrhea.

Some of our foods contain ingredients that are benign to us but harmful to canids. Chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, almonds, onions, and garlic are all harmful ingredients to dogs. More foods to avoid include alcohol, coffee, coconut products, dairy products, salty snacks, or yeast doughs. These products can cause illness, an expensive trip to the vet’s, and even death in pooches.

CBD for D-O-G-S?

CBD and THC are cannabinoids of interest due to the ongoing relaxation of state laws prohibiting the use of marijuana and its components. (THC causes a psychoactive ‘high’ while CBD does not.) Many health claims have been made for these chemicals for humans and pets alike. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has weighed in on cannabinoids for dogs. THC can cause toxicity and death when given to dogs in prescribed human dosages. The primary concern with CBD is its possible interaction with prescribed drugs. CBD inhibits cytochrome P450, a chemical in your and your dog’s body that helps metabolize most drugs. Dosing your dog with CBD may cause the drug to be less effective or cause it to build up to toxic levels. The AKC warns never to give your dog CBD without your vet’s knowledge if your dog is taking other medications.

CBD research in dogs is still relatively scarce. Some positive results have been seen in a few studies. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine found pain relief and improved quality of life in arthritic dogs given doses of CBD. Two recent studies reported that CBD reduced itchiness in canines. Reports of anxiety reduction and reaction to loud noises such as thunder are mainly anecdotal, with no controlled trials available. In a small Colorado State University study involving sixteen dogs given CBD, 33% had fewer seizures than the controls, but CBD was not effective for every dog. While studies continue to discover responses and quantitate dosages in dogs, the AKC recommends that pet parents use products that have the National Animal Supplement Counsel seal of quality and that list the potency level of CBD. Furthermore, ingredient lists on the CBD supplement or treat package should disclose the presence of heavy metals, mycotoxins, or pesticides. As a final precaution, the AKC asks dog owners and breeders to avoid edible human products containing toxic ingredients such as xylitol.

Canine Poisons at Home

Here are the most common sources of canine poisoning in the home:

  • Antifreeze or ethylene glycol. It is a clear, colorless liquid and is often dyed fluorescent yellow-green as a visual warning. It is a sweet syrup that dogs like, making spills on the garage floor a toxic “treat.” Ethylene glycol breaks down into toxic compounds when digested, damaging the central nervous system, heart, and kidneys. As little as one teaspoon full can kill a small dog. Take care when handling antifreeze and clean up any spills immediately.
  • Rodent baits contain many chemicals that are also toxic to dogs and humans. Click here if you want specifics. Rodent baits can also cause secondary poisoning if dogs consume tainted carcasses. Lower toxicity products such as powdered corn cob and corn meal gluten are available. These eco-friendly poisons promote dehydration and electrolyte imbalance to cause rodent death.
  • Metaldehyde is the active ingredient in slug and snail baits. It is highly poisonous to dogs and can cause seizures, vomiting, drooling, and muscle tremors. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to these slug baits, including iron phosphate, that are far safer for pets. Diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, lava rock, or other rough materials can be used to surround affected plants and deter these pests.
  • Overdosing or accidental access to dog medicines is a common cause of poisoning. It would help if you treated them as you would your medications, read the label carefully, give the proper dose, and store them safely away from dogs and children. And you should not share your medicines with your pet; some are toxic to canines. Call your veterinarian immediately if you know the dog has consumed too many meds. You may need to induce vomiting to clear Rover’s digestive system of the overdose.
  • Insecticides for agricultural use are not to be used on dogs or puppies. Keep all insecticides in their original containers or clearly-labeled applicators, locked away from probing pets. Keep hounds away from fields, lawns, or plants which have had insecticidal or fertilizer treatment. Use only veterinarian-approved flea and tick preventatives.

For More Information

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides science-based nutritional standards to the pet food industry. AAFCO offers general guidance to consumers on pet treats and chews. For more information, click here.

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