If you’ve recently partnered with a service, hearing, or guide dog, familiarize yourself with common people foods and drinks that dogs should never consume. Even if you’re experienced in canine care, it never hurts to remind yourself of potentially harmful products so you don’t absentmindedly offer your assistance dog an inappropriate treat. Also, dogs are renowned for their enthusiasm for chowing down, and may in their zeal consume something unhealthy if the opportunity presents itself.
Dogs have a fairly robust digestive system designed not just for eating meat, but also for surviving as omnivorous scavengers. Still, they’re not built to eat all the same things we humans regularly eat, and some foods and beverages we wouldn’t think twice about can poison a dog, cause her serious digestive upset, or put her at elevated risk for certain diseases (pancreatitis being a big concern in this respect).
Here are some common human foods and beverages your assistance dog should never eat or drink:
Alcohol causes the same side effects in dogs as in humans. But it takes much less to cause alcohol poisoning and do serious damage—including to the liver and brain—in a dog than in a person. No beer, wine, spirits, mixed drinks, or other food or beverages containing alcohol for your assistance dog.
Avocado is a huge problem for a number of animals (especially birds and rabbits where household animals are concerned), and their persin content can be toxic to dogs in sufficient quantity. Remember, this also means your hearing, guide, or service dog can’t dip her chips in the guacamole.
Bones are choking hazards, and if they splinter they can injure your assistance dog’s mouth, throat, or other part of the digestive system. They can also get stuck along the digestive tract and even puncture part of it. Don’t give your dog bones to chew on or pieces of meat that contain bones.
Caffeine and all the products that contain it, including coffee, coffee beans and grounds, tea, soda, chocolate (more on this below), energy drinks, and more, are off-limits to dogs. You’ve heard of alcohol poisoning, but caffeine poisoning is also a real concern for canines, and it can be fatal.
Chocolate contains compounds called methylxanthines—including the derivative theobromine—that are toxic and potentially fatal to dogs. Dark chocolate is most dangerous, because the higher the cocoa count, the more methylxanthines. Never let your assistance dog have even a small amount of chocolate.
Citrus fruits and juices in small quantities will probably just cause a dog some minor irritation and digestive upset. But their citric acid causes increasing discomfort in increasing amounts, and enough can even depress the canine central nervous system. It’s best to not let your assistance dog have any.
Fat trimmings are often offered to dogs as a treat, but they aren’t built for high fat intake. Feeding your service, hearing, or guide dog fatty meat, poultry skin, oils, and other significant sources of saturated or unsaturated fats can make her feel bad and put her at risk of developing pancreatitis.
Grapes and raisins can make dogs sick and trigger kidney failure. It remains a mystery why these fruits have these negative effects in dogs, but even though we haven’t identified which substance in them is toxic, we’ve certainly figured out that these are not a safe match with canine physiology.
Milk and dairy products aren’t toxic to dogs, but as is often seen in mammals that stop consuming milk after weaning, they easily cause digestive symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. These worsen with increasing amounts eaten. Also, milk is a relatively common canine food allergen.
Nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, and others contain high amounts of fats and oils that cause all sorts of digestive problems for dogs and increase the risk of pancreatitis. Also, note that macadamia nuts are potently poisonous to dogs, and are to be completely avoided.
Onions, garlic, shallots, and chives are more dangerous to cats, but consumption can cause gastrointestinal upset and red blood cell damage in dogs too if enough is eaten. Red blood cell damage can lead to anemia. This goes for all forms, including raw, cooked, powdered, and dehydrated.
Pits from peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, and other drupe fruits are choking and obstruction hazards, and many contain the poison cyanide. Seeds from apples contain toxins too, while persimmon seeds trigger intestinal inflammation. As a general rule, don’t give a dog any seeds or pits you don’t eat.
Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs are potential sources of foodborne illnesses and parasitic infections. Also, raw eggs have an enzyme (avidin) that inhibits absorption of some B vitamins; consistent consumption can cause nutritional deficiencies that affect skin, coat, and health.
Salt can cause increased thirst and urination, an inconvenience and uncomfortable distraction for an assistance dog. Excessive salt consumption can also lead to potentially fatal sodium ion poisoning. Some symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and fever. Skip the high-sodium processed food.
Xylitol is a sweetener in many candies, gum, baked goods, human toothpastes, and other packaged goods. It can prompt insulin release, hypoglycemia, and liver failure in dogs (and many other animals). Dogs generally shouldn’t eat processed people foods, but always check labels for this ingredient.
Yeast dough consumed raw continues to rise, which can cause gas to build up and can even stretch or twist a dog’s abdomen, possibly causing severe pain and becoming a life-threatening emergency. Also, the yeast produces ethanol. That’s alcohol. We’ll refer you from this last entry back to the first.
What to Do About Food Toxicity in your Assistance Dog
Most foods and drinks here aren’t fatal in small amounts, but a “small amount” can mean something very different for an adult human and a dog—particularly a little or medium-sized breed. Still, it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially since some food toxicity can be fatal.
If you know your assistance dog consumed one of these things, promptly contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center 24/7/365 at (888) 426-4435 (you may be charged a consultation fee).
Sudden vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive panting, tremors, seizures, abnormal heartbeat, lethargy, and loss of consciousness are some symptoms of many types of food toxicity in dogs. If you observe these signs in your guide, hearing, or service dog, seek immediate veterinary attention.