Before giving in to those puppy dog eyes, make sure the treat won’t cause your pooch serious harm.
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We get it. It's hard to resist those big eyes staring up at you and the soft, gentle cries of a dog who just wants a taste of what's on your plate. But as tempting as it is to feed Fido table scraps, there are plenty of reasons it's not a great idea. For starters, you don't want to reward begging behavior. Treats are meant to reinforce positive behaviors, so save those for situations when your pet has done something good.

white dog with family and food licking his lips; what are the toxic human foods dogs should never eat?
Credit: teksomolika / Getty

Second, not everything you enjoy eating is actually good for your dog. Plenty of people foods can make your animals sick; some very seriously. Take a look at the list below for the top toxic foods for dogs, which you should never feed your pooch—no matter how nicely they ask.

Infographic showing foods that are toxic to dogs
Credit: Corinne Mucha

The Top 10 Toxic Foods for Dogs To Avoid

1. Alcohol

It doesn't matter if they're over 21 in dog years—alcohol is toxic to pets. It doesn't take much alcohol for an animal to develop alcohol poisoning, according to Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist with Pet Poison Helpline. If your pooch sneaks a sip from your glass or a spill on the floor, be sure to watch for signs of poisoning like confusion, difficulty walking and standing, and lethargy. Even a small amount of beer, wine, liquor, or other types of alcohol can be detrimental for a pup's health, so be sure to keep their paws far away from your Claws.

2. Caffeine

Speaking of drinks, coffee, tea, soda, and other caffeinated drinks should also be kept away from your pets. Dogs are more sensitive to caffeine than humans, and while a couple licks likely isn't enough to cause poisoning, large amounts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, abnormal heart rhythm, and seizures. If your pooch is known to eat just about anything, keep your tea bags, coffee beans, and chocolate-covered espresso beans well out of reach. 

3. Xylitol

Even small amounts of this artificial sweetener, which is toxic to cats and dogs, can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, or death. Xylitol can be found as a sugar substitute in baked goods, chewing gum, vitamins, and some sugarless brands of peanut butter. Xylitol poisoning can occur quickly, so if you suspect your dog has ingested any, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away.

4. Avocados

We all love our avocado toast and guacamole, but avocados are toxic to dogs. This is because the fruit contains a toxin called persin, which can cause gastrointestinal upset in pets. Persin is most concentrated in the leaves, skin, and pit of avocados, but it can still be present in the flesh, so it's best to avoid the fruit entirely. Avocado pits are also choking hazards for dogs, so be sure to discard them safely.

Some dog foods may include ingredients derived from the flesh of the avocado like avocado oil or avocado meal, but don't be alarmed! These are safe because the amount of avocado is a small, nontoxic ingredient in your pet's food. 

5. Garlic and Onions

Garlic, onions, chives, and leeks belong to the genus Allium, which is toxic to dogs. Whether they're raw or used as an ingredient (even in powdered form, as the Allium is more concentrated), these should always be kept away from your pooch. When these foods are consumed, they may cause a dog's red blood cells to rupture and damage important organs. Gastrointestinal upset or even death can occur.

6. Macadamia Nuts

In general, all nuts should be kept away from your dog because of their high fat and salt content and risk of choking. But most nuts, like cashews, peanuts, or almonds, won't harm your pup if he happens to nab one from under the couch. Macadamia nuts, however, could. Dogs may be the only species susceptible to macadamia nut toxicity. Some dogs show signs such as being in a trance-like state, fainting, vomiting, or tremors. The signs might disappear without treatment, but some dogs may need veterinary intervention.

7. Mustard Seeds

Never feed dogs mustard. The condiment is made from mustard seeds, which contain toxic compounds that can cause gastrointestinal issues. This means all types of mustard should be avoided, including yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, honey mustard, and mustard sauces. If your pup accidentally licks a little bit of mustard off your plate, it's unlikely to be an issue, but ingesting too much may lead to vomiting and gastroenteritis. Mustard greens may also cause severe stomach upset.

8. Grapes and Raisins

While they may be a healthy snack for us humans, grapes and raisins are highly toxic to dogs and can cause sudden kidney failure. Even just one grape can cause serious issues in small dog breeds. Veterinarians aren't sure why the fruit is so toxic, but they advise grapes should never be given as treats. If your pup accidentally eats a grape or two, contact your veterinarian and be sure to watch for symptoms like loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

9. Apricot, Cherry, and Peach Pits

The stems and leaves of apricots, cherries, and peaches contain small amounts of cyanide (so do apple seeds). One munch is probably not harmful, but too many may cause a problem. Nix the pits, too; they also contain cyanide and could present a choking hazard. If you're looking for food you can safely share with your dog, many vegetables or fruits are usually good options, but it's best to peel and cut them up into bite-size pieces to get rid of those more harmful components.

10. Chocolate

It may be the perfect sweet treat for humans, but chocolate is one of the most toxic foods for dogs. Chocolate poisoning is caused by the caffeine and theobromine found in chocolate, which can cause cardiovascular and neurological issues in dogs.

Keep in mind that smaller dogs face greater risk of chocolate toxicity than larger ones do because it takes less chocolate to affect them negatively. A small dog weighing under 10 pounds can only tolerate the equivalent of one Hershey kiss before it becomes an emergency situation. And the type of chocolate matters, too. Dark chocolate is a lot more toxic for dogs than milk chocolate or white chocolate.

What To Do if Your Dog Eats Something Toxic

If you think your dog has eaten something toxic, the first thing to do is stay calm, advises Marty Becker, DVM. Below are more steps Becker recommends taking to help your potentially poisoned dog before things get worse.

Check for Signs of Poisoning

If your pet is not showing any serious signs of illness as described below, contact your regular vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) to determine if he needs to be seen by a vet or treated at home. Your vet may tell you to induce vomiting by giving your dog a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide dose (1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of body weight), but this should only be done if your vet recommends it. 

Examine Your Dog's Vomit for Clues

Many substances first cause stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. Examine the vomit for evidence of chewed packaging, food, and other important clues. Many poisonings progress to weakness and depression or nervous stimulation, including tremors and seizures. Pets may stop eating and drinking or may drink excessive amounts, which could suggest liver or kidney involvement. Rapid or slow breathing, with changes in tongue and gum color—from pink to white, blue, or brown—is important to note.

Determine if You Need To Take Emergency Action

If your pet is having difficulty breathing, having seizures, or is bleeding or unconscious, immediately go to your regular vet or an emergency clinic. Take any evidence, including vomit. This information is key to helping your veterinarian save your pet.

A version of this article, written by Steve Dale, CAB, first appeared in Happy Paws Fall/Winter 2019.