Dr. Chris Roth, DVM
Human foods can be your dog’s best friend—or his worst enemy. Some of the most common household foods can actually make your dog very ill. Many are toxic! But other human foods are perfectly safe and even healthy for your dog to eat.
Nonetheless, it can be tough to keep track of which is which, and pet poisonings are a real threat. In fact, more than 232,000 pet poisonings happen in the United States every year.1 Although not all of these are food-related (and many are household items), common household foods are a major contributor.
That’s why you want to be prepared with all the best information on foods to avoid and foods your dog can safely eat. Let this simple guide to foods your dog can and can’t eat serve as your “cheat sheet” to help keep your fur buddy safe.
20 Toxic Foods for Dogs
Many household foods are dangerous—and often toxic—to dogs. Some of the most common food poisonings in dogs are connected to alcohol, avocado, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins, Xylitol, and chocolate. But your dog should avoid all the foods listed below. However, although these are common dangerous foods often found in households, it’s not meant to be an all-inclusive list.
Because cats and dogs are smaller than humans, alcohol can have a deadlier effect on them. Dogs are often attracted by the sweet taste of alcoholic drinks, especially eggnog.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning in animals—including dogs—are similar to symptoms in people, including vomiting, breathing problems, coma, and in severe cases, death.
Even small amounts of alcohol can lead to heart arrhythmias, dangerously low blood pressure, or worse.
2. Apple, Apricot, Cherry, & Plum Seeds/Pits
Although the fleshy parts of apples are safe for dogs, the core and the apple seeds are not. Apple seeds contain cyanide, and while they likely are fine in small amounts, it’s best to just avoid the core and seeds altogether.2
But these aren’t the only fruit seeds your dogs shouldn’t consume. Apricot, cherry, and plum seeds and pits should also be avoided. These fruit pits also contain cyanide which can cause vomiting, irregular and fast heartbeat, seizures, coma, and death. This is due to the inability of red blood cells to properly carry oxygen to cells.
You might think of avocados as healthy; however, they’re anything but healthy for dogs. Avocados contain a substance called persin that can act as a dog poison, causing vomiting and diarrhea.
Avocados, if eaten, may also trigger fluid accumulation in the lungs and chest. This can lead to difficulty breathing and death from oxygen deprivation.
Broccoli contains isothiocyanates which can be harmful to pets in very large doses. Although small amounts of broccoli can be okay on occasion, it’s probably best to avoid them since so many healthy foods are available.3 Broccoli stalks can also sometimes get caught in a dog’s throat, causing an obstruction.
5. Caffeine & Coffee Grounds
Caffeine contains methylxanthines. This can cause potentially fatal diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and irregular heartbeats.
In fact, your dog’s heart may race if he accidentally ingests coffee grounds or consumes any drink that is high in caffeine. This can lead to seizures, tremors, arrhythmias, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms.
6. Chicken & Turkey Skin, Ham, & Other Fatty Cuts of Meat
When it comes to fatty cuts of meat, ham, and other fatty items like chicken or turkey skin, it’s better to throw them out rather than feed them to pets as a treat. These food items contain a high-fat content, which can cause acute pancreatitis, a life-threatening illness with severe complications.
Avoid turkey bones too. Dogs can develop severe indigestion or vomiting after eating turkey bones. If the bones splinter, they can obstruct the bowels or damage the stomach or intestines. Sometimes this can puncture the stomach, which may lead to a fatal abdominal infection.
Chocolate toxicity is one of the most common causes of pet poisoning during the holidays. Chocolate contains a lethal component called theobromine—the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. Chocolate also contains caffeine, and some sugar-free chocolate might have xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Dogs and cats simply cannot metabolize chocolate as well as humans. Dark chocolate or baker’s chocolate are the worst offenders, but any type of chocolate can be problematic.
Symptoms associated with the ingestion of chocolate can include hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, pancreatitis, abnormal heart rhythm, and seizures. If your dog ingests any amount of chocolate, no matter how small, you should call your vet immediately.
8. Grapes & Raisins
Experts aren’t sure exactly why grapes and raisins are dangerous to dogs, but these fruits can actually cause kidney failure in canines. A few bites are enough to cause a big problem in some dogs.
Symptoms of raisin or grape poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, changes in the amount of urine passed, or not passing any urine.
9. Macadamia Nuts, Almonds, & Pistachios
Macadamia nuts can cause dogs to suffer numerous painful symptoms, including weakness, overheating, and vomiting. Though the exact mechanism for the poisoning is something of a mystery, these famous Hawaiian exports are considered toxic to dogs. As few as six nuts can cause severe poisoning.
While Macadamia nuts are the most dangerous, other nuts may be choking hazards or problematic if they’re flavored or spiced. Watch out for pistachios and almonds, for example, due to the choking hazards.4
10. Milk & Dairy Products
Milk and other dairy products should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Some dogs can drink milk or eat dairy products just fine.5 However some dogs are lactose intolerant or allergic and may experience diarrhea and gas if they have cow’s milk.
Ice cream is also bad for dogs because of the lactose, the high sugar, and high fat. Rather than giving your pup ice cream, try freezing bites of healthy fruits your dog can eat instead.6
As for cheese, it’s OK in small quantities, but stick to lower-fat cheese as a treat instead of high-fat.6
It’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding your dog mushrooms. Mushrooms contain a variety of toxins that may cause kidney and liver failure, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucination, and damage to red blood cells. Washed, white mushrooms from the grocery store may be ok, but it’s probably safer to choose a different treat.3
12. Nutmeg & Cinnamon
Dogs should not be fed any foods with nutmeg. This spice may cause hallucinations and severe vomiting. So even if your dog is begging for a cookie spiced with nutmeg, don’t give in.
The culprit is myristicin, a compound in nutmeg.7 Its effects are strongest when eaten in high doses or consumed by a small dog. But if your dog gets into any amount of nutmeg, call your veterinarian for guidance.
Cinnamon should also be avoided, not because it’s toxic, but because it can irritate your dog’s mouth and sometimes lead to low blood sugar, which can have serious health effects on your pup.6
13. Onions, Garlic, Chives, & Leeks
Many pet owners are surprised to discover that the herbs belonging to the Allium family—such as onions and garlic—are not safe for their pups. Onions and garlic contain sulfoxides and disulfides, which can damage red blood cells and cause anemia in cats and dogs. Onion and garlic powders are found in many prepared foods—even baby food—so make sure to read labels before serving store-bought food to your pet.
In fact, all Allium plants can cause potentially fatal anemia in dogs and cats,including chives and leeks. 8 Certain Japanese breeds of dogs, like Akitas and Shiba Inus, are extra sensitive to Allium plants, but the plants are dangerous to all dogs.
Excessive amounts of salt can change the fluid balance of cells in your dog. Too much salt can cause tremors, seizures, and even coma. Whether your dog is begging for a bite of something with rock salt, homemade playdough, or potato chips, don’t let their sad eyes jeopardize their health.
15. Spicy Food
Keep your pup away from spicy food. Hot, spicy food can cause vomiting, stomach ulcers, or diarrhea, which can be painful for both your dog and your wallet.
16. Sugar-Free Gum & Candy (Xylitol)
Xylitol is a sweetener found in many human foods, such as sugar-free gum and candy. But in dogs, it can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar that leads to weakness and even seizures. Some dogs may also experience liver failure.
In fact, dog poisoning cases involving this artificial sweetener, often found in sugar-free baked goods as well, are on the rise. The amount of Xylitol in just five pieces of gum has the potential to kill a 65-pound dog.
17. Tomatoes & Raw Potatoes
Tomatoes and potatoes fall in the category of “safe in some forms, unsafe in others.” A ripened red tomato is generally okay.9 However, the green parts of the tomato plant have solanine, which is toxic to dogs. Green, unripe tomatoes also have solanine.
Potatoes are the same deal. If baked or boiled with no additives, they’re generally safe in small amounts. But raw potatoes contain solanine, which is toxic to dogs.10
Tobacco is dangerous and unhealthy for your pup.11 Exposure to nicotine-containing products can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Rapid or labored breathing
- Abnormal heart rate
- Weak muscles
- High or low blood pressure
More significant or frequent exposure to tobacco may lead to blue gums, coma, and ultimately become fatal.
Dogs are curious. They may get into a cigarette that was left on the sidewalk while you’re on a walk, or nose through an ashtray with cigarette butts. If your dog gets into tobacco, you need to act fast and take him to the veterinarian right away.
19. Yeast & Raw Dough
Yeast and raw dough are unsafe for dogs for several reasons.12 The raw dough can expand in your dog’s stomach, causing severe pain and even potentially life-threatening torsion or rupture of the stomach.
On top of that, the yeast and sugar in raw dough can ferment, leading to alcohol toxicity. This can quickly become fatal and requires immediate medical intervention.
20. Raw Meat
Never feed your dog raw or undercooked meat.13 The possible Salmonella or E. coli that is sometimes found in raw meat can be harmful to dogs too, not just humans. Your dog can also choke on the bones in raw meat.
13 Foods Safe for Dogs
Although the list of foods that dogs should avoid is long, the list of foods that you can give your dog is also quite extensive! Some of the safest foods that dogs tend to enjoy the most include dehydrated chicken or beef in very small amounts, apples (without the core), green beans, and carrots.
Here are some popular foods that are safe for dogs to eat. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it can help get you started on finding tasty treats for your pup.
1. Apples, Oranges, & Bananas
While you need to avoid apple cores and seeds because these are toxic, the fleshy parts of apples without seeds are just fine for your dogs. It’s best if you cut off a little piece of an apple, so there’s no danger of your dog getting into the core.
Oranges are safe if fed in small amounts.14 And in moderation, bananas (minus the peel) can also be a tasty treat.
Blueberries are tasty treats your dog will likely love.14 Blueberries have antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals, and Vitamin C that are great for your pup’s health.
3. Cantaloupe, Mango, Peaches, Pears, Pineapples, & Watermelon
There are quite a few fruits that your dog can safely enjoy, so try a variety and see which they like best!14
Cantaloupes are a great choice to start with. Your dog might also love watermelon if you remove the rinds and seeds (including pale seeds in the seedless variety) to avoid choking. Because they’re mostly water, watermelon can be especially tasty on a warm day.
Mango, peaches, pears, and pineapples are also safe in moderation. Make sure you remove the seeds, pits, and cores before your pup gobbles down these fruity treats.
4. Carrots, Cucumber, & Celery
Looking for more ideas? Remember the three Cs: carrots, cucumbers, and celery.3 These veggies and fruit are especially great options for overweight dogs since they’re so low in calories.
Bite-sized carrot pieces have a nice crunch that many dogs love. Celery bites also have a fun crunch and can help with bad breath. Cucumber slices contain lots of vitamins and minerals with very few carbohydrates or fats.
While dogs should avoid milk and dairy products in general, a little bit of cheese every now and then is okay if you know your dog isn’t lactose intolerant.6 Just remember that some cheese can be high fat, which is dangerous for dogs. So look for lower-fat varieties, like a little bit of mozzarella, or ask your veterinarian which type is best.
Fully cooked eggs can be a tasty and fun treat for your dog.6 Scrambled eggs can help soothe an upset stomach and provide a yummy source of protein.
7. Peanuts, Peanut Butter, & Cashews
Peanuts and cashews are safe for dogs when given in small quantities.6 Because of their high-fat content, however, you’ll want to give your dog just a little bit every now and then. Make sure they’re not seasoned, flavored, or salted.
And what about peanut butter? In moderation, peanut butter is delicious, high-protein for your pup. Look for unsalted peanut butter and avoid any sugar-free varieties with Xylitol.
8. Popcorn & Corn
Popcorn is another tasty treat your dog may love.6 Choose air-popped, unsalted, and unbuttered popcorn. And check the popcorn thoroughly to make sure your pup doesn’t get any un-popped kernels that could cause him to choke.
Of course, this means corn (removed from the cob) is acceptable too when given without butter, salt, or spices.
9. Coconut & Honey
In small amounts, coconut is fine for your dog (including coconut milk and coconut oil). It has lauric acid and may even help with allergies.6 However, some dogs may experience an upset stomach from fresh coconut or coconut milk, so use it with caution.13 (And avoid coconut water, which is not safe for dogs.) Also, don’t let your dog eat the furry shell, which might cause choking.
Honey in moderation is also safe, and comes with lots of vitamins and minerals that are good for your pup.
10. Shrimp & Fish
Plain, fully cooked shrimp is a great choice for your dog.6 Remove the shell, head, tail, and legs, and avoid any kind that’s been seasoned, salted, or buttered.
Fish is also permissible, especially salmon and sardines. Make sure the fish is plain, fully cooked, and boneless. A good rule of thumb is to give your dog dish no more than twice a week.
Plain, canned tuna is safe in moderation (to avoid excess mercury and salt). Look for the kind packed in water, not oil.
Turkey meat is healthy and safe for dogs once you remove the skin, fat, and bones.6 Dole out small bites of plain turkey as a delicious treat and great source of protein. Avoid anything that’s been seasoned or salted.
12. Grains, Wheat, & Quinoa
What about grains, wheat, or quinoa?6 Just like corn, a little bit of wheat or other grains is fine. And quinoa is a little healthier than many other fillers. Be sure to keep an eye out for allergic reactions.
13. Green beans
Many dogs enjoy green beans, whether served raw, steamed, or from a can.15 They’re safe, tasty and healthy—a great combination. Look for green beans that are either raw or cooked plain and don’t have added spices, oils, or salt. Cut them up into little bites so they don’t cause choking.
What To Do If Your Dog Eats a Toxic Food
If your dog eats toxic food, get help as quickly as possible.
Some signs that your dog may have eaten a toxic food include listlessness, distress, pain, vomiting, or bloody stools. Sometimes a dog’s stomach will become bloated from gas and feel hard to the touch. This painful condition can cause the stomach to burst if not treated.
Exactly what to do (such as whether to induce vomiting or not) varies widely depending on the type of toxin ingested. In fact, some situations will get worse if you induce vomiting.
Don’t try to figure it out yourself: Call your veterinarian or poison control right away. Timing is vital. Treatments are typically more successful and hospitalization is shorter if a dog gets help fast.
If you have good pet insurance, you’ll want your veterinarian to send them all the records about your treatment later.
The Bottom Line: Focus on the Safe, Tasty Foods
From household toxins to dangerous foods, it can be tough to keep track of the things your dog shouldn’t get into. And dogs don’t always have the most discerning taste (some even eat their own poop!). But if you follow this guide, you can help keep your dog safe from foods that can hurt him.
The good news is that there are plenty of healthy foods that are safe and healthy to enjoy! Figure out which ones on our list your dog loves and give them to him as treats when he’s been a really good boy.
Sometimes the unexpected happens. If your furry friend eats something unsafe, they will need immediate (and possibly expensive) veterinary care. Know that Pets Best has your back, and take a look at coverage options for your pal.
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11AKC Staff, “What to Do if Your Dog Ate a Cigarette Butt,” American Kennel Club, 24 June 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-ate-cigarette-butt/. Last accessed June 14, 2022.
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