What You Need to Know to Keep Sparky
by Natasha Marko
Most of us treat our dogs to the occasional taste of human food, but
how often do we consider whether our food is safe for our
companions? According to veterinarians, who regularly treat dogs
poisoned by foods as seemingly benign as leeks and chocolate, the
answer is: not often enough.
"If you are going to feed your pet your food, you should do some
research first," says Danielle Redhill, a veterinarian at Downtown
Animal Hospital in Toronto.
Poison Prevention Week, which runs from March 16 to 22, is a good
time for dog owners to research what poisons they have in their
home. Food, medications, plants and household products can all be
toxic to dogs.
Redhill recently treated a dog suspected to have ingested a toxic
dose of leeks with his dinner. The dog regularly eats the same foods
as his owners and had consumed a dish of food that contained
onions and three large leeks.
Onions, leeks and garlic are toxic to some dogs, says Brent Hoff, a
veterinary toxicologist at the University of Guelph. Hoff provides
diagnostic and treatment advice to veterinarians dealing with
poisonings. "The dogs end up with a severe anemia due to the
destruction of red blood cells," he says. "Even eating a hamburger
with onions will affect some dogs."
Other foods to watch include grapes and raisins, says Redhill.
"These mostly cause transient gastrointestinal problems, but they
have been known to cause acute renal failure," she says.
Foods are only one of many household items that can be toxic to
dogs. Hoff consults on cases ranging from food and drug poisonings
to the ingestion of poisonous metals.
"We commonly see poisonings from heavy metals, such as zinc and
lead," he says. Some pennies contain zinc, which can be highly
toxic to dogs. "One penny swallowed by a puppy can cause
haemolytic anemia, and the puppy can die." Zinc is also found in
nuts and bolts.
Drugs account for 75 per cent of reported poisonings, according to
the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
(ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, which provides a 24-hour
phone service to pet owners, including those in Canada. The service
costs $45 US per consultation. Two regular strength Tylenol pills,
for example, can cause significant damage to a small dog. In
addition, anti-inflammatory medications such as Aspirin, which is
often prescribed by veterinarians, can be toxic in significant doses.
It is not uncommon for a dog to be poisoned by a well-meaning
owner who has given him a human dose of an anti-inflammatory
Other poisonous products include pesticides, antifreeze and some
cleaners. Rat poisons, such as warfarin, are particularly lethal.
Warfarin is designed to kill small animals by preventing their blood
from clotting. Antifreeze, which is made with ethylene glycol, is also
extremely dangerous and is, unfortunately, appealing to dogs
because of its sweet taste. Newer antifreezes made with propylene
glycol are safer. Ethylene glycol is also used in some paints and
The natural world has its share of dangers as well. Several plants,
such as the Japanese Yew, can also be deadly. Others, like yellow
callas and peace lilies, can cause irritation when chewed but are
less likely to cause severe problems because dogs rarely eat
enough of them. Poinsettias can cause irritation and intestinal
problems, but are generally not lethal.
If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, contact a veterinarian
immediately. Your vet will want to know details about what your
dog has eaten and when you believe it happened. This will help her
decide on a course of treatment. The next step may be to induce
vomiting, if the poison isnít corrosive.
A few poisons have antidotes that can counteract their effects. For
example, vitamin K can be administered after warfarin ingestion to
increase blood clotting. In some cases, a dog will require
hospitalization for several days.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Symptoms can vary and may include:
• Severe vomiting
• Difficulty breathing
• Increased salivation
• Blood in urine or feces
If you suspect your dog has come in contact with a poison:
• Contact a veterinarian and let her know you may need to bring in
your pet. Provide details, including the poison involved and your
• Start counter measures, such as washing contact areas.
• Induce vomiting only if the poison is not corrosive.
• Save labels and containers of poisons for analysis.
• Don't wait until regular hours to seek veterinary advice. Some
poisons can cause damage or death very quickly.
Steps to take to prevent poisoning:
• Be aware of the poisons in your home and yard and make sure
they cannot be accessed by your dog.
• Don't assume a food that is safe for one species is safe for
• Do an inventory of the plants inside and outside your home to
determine if any are poisonous.
• Clean spills of household products, such as cleaners and
antifreeze, immediately. If you are using cleaning products, keep
your dog out of the area until you are finished.