a dog looking up sadly standing over chocolate

Foods your dog can and can't eat

Would you know what to do if your dog eats something they shouldn't? Learn more about the foods that are toxic for canines so you can protect your senior dog.

Dogs are our trusty companions. Faithful and loving, they’re always by our side through thick or thin and are great for our wellbeing. But when it comes to tasty morsels, loyalty goes out the window. Their eyes are almost certainly locked firmly on that delicious prize.

That’s because dogs are opportunists.

If they spy some scraps, they can’t resist. And their human owners can be just as bad. You need strong willpower not to give into those big, puppy dog eyes and that cute begging stance.

The temptation can be to sneak them a bite from your dinner plate. But what might seem like a fairly innocent action, may have devastating consequences for your canine and see you claiming on your pet insurance for senior dogs.

What are the dangers of human food for dogs?

Feeding your dog from your dinner plate isn’t just bad table manners, it can also cause a number of health issues, as well as encouraging unwanted behaviour.

Here are some of the reasons why human food needs to be kept on human’s plates.

It can cause issues with digestion

A dog’s digestive system is not the same as a human’s. Rich, fatty food that a human can digest with ease can cause vomiting, diarrhoea or more serious conditions such as pancreatitis in a dog.

It can be toxic to dogs

Some foods are more dangerous for dogs to eat than others.

Chocolate, grapes, onions and almonds are all on the most-toxic list and must be avoided at all costs (more on those below).

It is important to remember that food often contains ingredients you wouldn’t expect. That means unless you are absolutely certain a meal doesn’t contain toxic ingredients, it could still pose a risk.

This is especially true of takeaways. And processed food can be just as harmful. Most contain artificial sweeteners such as xylitol (another item on the most-toxic list).

Even just a spoonful of the wrong food can be potentially life-threatening.

It can cause obesity

Just like their human owners, if dogs eat too much they gain weight. Dogs that are being fed scraps on top of their daily food allowance are consuming more calories than their body requires – which can cause them to put on weight.

And you’d be surprised how much of a difference a little bit of extra food can make.

According to research by dog food company Royal Canin, the average UK dog is eating a whopping 54,000 extra calories in treats and titbits each year.

To put that into human food terms, for a medium-sized dog, that’s the equivalent of eating 340 cheese burgers, 1310 chocolate chip biscuits, or 360 ice creams every year, in addition to regular meals.

The study also revealed some of the most calorific foods owners admitted to feeding their dogs.

These include:

  • Crisps (35%)
  • Sausage rolls (34%)
  • Hot dogs (32%)
  • Cakes (30%)
  • Ice cream (30%)
  • Shepherd’s pie (28%)
  • Burgers (24%)
  • Chinese takeaways (21%)

The weight a dog will gain if it is fed unhealthy, processed food can also lead to a range of health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and heart problems.

The rule of thumb is that a dog should never eat more than 10% of their daily calorie allowance from treats or human food.

It encourages poor behaviour

If a dog knows it’s in with a chance of getting a tasty treat at its owner’s dinner time, it’s going to turn on the charm. And when we say charm, we mean begging.

Dogs are scavengers by nature and they know that puppy dog eyes are a simple way of getting some snacks. Even if they are full, this begging behaviour comes as second nature.

But while an owner might find it cute when their dog starts begging, guests might not agree. There is also the risk that because a dog knows it will be fed from the table, there’s nothing stopping it from helping itself to anything on offer.

In their eyes, any food left on a dining table or kitchen counter is there for the taking.

A to Z of toxic foods for dogs

Reactions to toxic food can vary. It will depend on the type of food, the size of dog and the amount of food consumed. One bite of a toxic substance could make your dog vomit.

However, eating a large amount of the same food could be fatal.

Here are some of the most toxic human foods a dog can eat.

Alcohol

Even just a small amount of alcohol can have a big impact on dogs. As well as making them drunk, it can also cause vomiting, diarrhoea, central nervous system damage, breathing difficulties, tremors, unconsciousness, and even death.

Avocado

Avocado plants contain persin, which can be found in their leaves, fruit and stone. It can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

Bread

Feeding your dog white bread is not advised. It contains high levels of oil and sugar, which are both linked to pancreatitis and a whole range of other health conditions. The same goes for bread  and pizza dough.

The yeast can cause the dough to keep expanding in your pet’s stomach leading to bloating, ethanol production, and even alcohol poisoning.

Caffeine

Caffeine acts as a stimulant and can affect the nervous system and heart. Drinking a splash of coffee is unlikely to cause long-lasting damage, but it may cause sickness. Eating coffee grounds could prove fatal.

Chocolate

Chocolate can be fatal for dogs. That’s because it contains substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds. When ingested by dogs they can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and death.

Dark chocolate contains the highest levels of methylxanthines, white chocolate the lowest.

Citrus fruits

The stems, leaves, peels, seeds and flesh of citrus plants and fruits contain varying levels of citric acid. When eaten in large amounts, this can cause central nervous system depression in dogs.

If a dog were to eat a small amount of citrus fruit, it would probably just lead to a stomach upset. Larger quantities could be more serious.

Cooked bones

Giving your dog a raw, uncooked bone to chew on is fine. Giving them cooked bones is not. They can easily splinter and if eaten in large quantities can cause constipation or a potentially fatal perforation of the gut.

Dairy

In order to digest dairy, humans produce an enzyme called lactase. Dogs don’t produce lactase in such high volumes, so may have trouble digesting milk, cheese and ice cream.

Plus dairy is high in fat, which can cause serious health complications.

If your dog is lactose intolerant, dairy is definitely off limits. If not, a low-fat cheese may be OK in moderation.

However, too much and they could soon develop stomach ache and diarrhoea.

Grapes and raisins

It is not entirely clear what it is in grapes and raisins that is dangerous to dogs. However, the consequences of a pooch eating them is very clear. Both can cause severe liver damage and kidney failure.

It’s worth remembering that raisins in particular are found in all sorts of foods – from biscuits and cakes to breakfast cereals and mince pies.

Remember if you have pet insurance for senior dogs through Petwise, you have access to 24/7 vet video calls, so you can ask their advice.

Nuts

Eating certain kinds of nuts such as black walnuts, raw cashews, and pistachios  can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and pancreatitis in dogs.

Macadamia nuts, in particular, contain a toxin that can affect a dog’s muscles and nervous system resulting in weakness, tremors, and swollen limbs .

Symptoms usually appear within 12 hours of eating the nut and can last up to two days.

Onions, garlic and chive

The onion family is another group of foods that can be toxic to our four-legged friends. That's because they contain a substance known as thiosulphate.

Whether raw, cooked or dried, this can cause gastrointestinal irritation, red blood cell damage, and anaemia. It is thought that garlic is five times more toxic for dogs than onions.

All can be found as ‘hidden’ ingredients in food such as sauces, soups and gravies.

Raw meat and eggs

Raw meat and eggs contain bacteria including Salmonella and E. coli that can be harmful to dogs and humans. Raw eggs also contain avidin – an enzyme that decreases the absorption of biotin, which can lead to skin and coat issues in dogs.

Salt and salty snacks

Too much salt is not good for anyone – human or canine. It can cause excessive thirst and sodium ion poisoning. Signs your dog may have consumed too much salty food include vomiting, diarrhoea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, and seizures.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a commonly-used sweetener that is used in a number of different products – from chewing gum and sweets to peanut butter and protein bars. Unfortunately, it can be fatal for dogs, causing insulin release, which can lead to liver failure.

Early symptoms include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination. This can lead to seizures, progressing to potential liver failure in just a few days.

What human food is safe for dogs to eat?

You’ll be pleased to hear that not all human food comes with a doggy health warning. Some foods are fine for your pets to eat. Some are even good for them.

However, it is important to remember that all human food should be given to pets in moderation – especially fruit, which is high in sugar, and processed food, which is high in fat.

If you’re feeding your pet human food, you need to do it properly. This means doing plenty of research, finding out if your dog has any allergies, and giving them any human food in moderation.

It is also worth sticking to the rule that if you wouldn’t eat it, your pooch probably shouldn’t eat it either.

Here are some of the foods your dog is allowed to eat.

2 brown dogs sitting in front of a plate of veg and a chicken

Fruit

You can feed your dog apples and bananas in moderation. They are rich sources of vitamin A and C (apples) and magnesium (bananas). Apples, in particular, can be a useful addition to a senior dog’s meal plan.

Blueberries and strawberries are also beneficial for senior dogs. If you own an older dog, it’s good to know there’s dietary help when you need it. Pet insurance for senior dogs from Petwise includes a senior food contribution limit, for food that is specifically designed and formulated for senior pets

Vegetables

Bite-sized pieces of carrot can be a wonderful addition to your dog’s diet. Either raw or cooked, they can boost their immune system, work wonders for their coat and skin, and help remove plaque from their teeth. Check out our tips on keeping an older dog’s teeth clean.

Meat

Plain chicken is a good source of digestible protein for dogs. Lean beef, when fed in moderation, is also a good option.

Salmon and tuna are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, helping boost your dog’s immune system. But raw, uncooked fish should be avoided.

Processed food

Not all processed food is created equal; some can offer benefits to your dog’s health (as long as it is not overly processed). For example, plain, cooked white rice can be a great addition to your dog’s diet – especially when they have an upset stomach or are older.

However, if your dog suffers with diabetes, rice must be kept off the menu.

Find out more about pet insurance for senior dogs and what health conditions may be covered by our lifetime or time-limited dog insurance. 

Other harmful products for dogs

Dogs will eat (or at least try to eat) anything that has been left lying around. With that in mind, you need to keep a close eye on your pet in case they do eat something they shouldn’t.

This could be a certain type of food (as listed above), or another potentially dangerous product, such as:

  • Cleaning products
  • Medicines
  • Poisonous plants
  • Antifreeze
  • A baby’s dummy
  • Underwear

You’d be amazed at what vets have to remove from dogs’ guts!

It’s important that you keep all potentially poisonous products locked away and out of reach of your pet. With so many potentially harmful items in every owner's home, be sure to take measures to make your house safe for hungry dogs.

Here are four top tips:

  1. Make sure food waste is not accessible.
  2. Don’t leave bags containing food on the floor.
  3. Be careful not to drop food on the floor when cooking or eating. If you do, clear it up as soon as it happens.
  4. Never leave plates or glasses unattended where your pet can reach them. When it comes to scoffing a delicious plate of freshly-baked cake, your dog is probably smarter and more motivated than you realise.

Signs your dog has eaten something harmful

Symptoms of poisoning in dogs can vary and will largely depend on the type of substance eaten. By knowing the signs to look out for, you can act quickly and get the help you need, especially if you have pet insurance for senior dogs in place.

Depending on what they’ve eaten, symptoms could present themselves within a few hours or up to a couple of days.

Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

Vomiting:

Many toxic foods cause stomach irritation, leading to nausea and vomiting. An early sign of this could be a lack of appetite.

Diarrhoea:

An upset stomach can also lead to diarrhoea. In some cases, there might also be blood in the stool.

Lethargy and weakness:

A toxic reaction can have an adverse reaction in organs and body functions. When this happens, dogs can become tired, listless and weak.

Tremors and seizures:

When a toxin affects the nervous system or muscles, it can lead to seizures, tremors, or muscle spasms. If your dog begins to twitch involuntarily (and as long as they haven’t been diagnosed with epilepsy), chances are they have eaten something poisonous.

Drooling:

Many dogs will experience some kind of mouth irritation after eating something they shouldn’t. This will often lead to drooling or foaming at the mouth.

Breathing difficulties:

Any toxin that affects the respiratory system could cause issues with breathing, such as laboured breathing, shortness of breath, and slowed breathing. A dog’s gums may also turn blue.

Collapse:

Some toxins act really fast, causing your dog to collapse before any other symptoms become obvious. If your dog suddenly collapses, it is an emergency situation and you need to seek professional help as soon as possible. Having pet insurance for senior dogs in place means that you don’t have to delay treatment.

Changes to body temperature:

Toxins can also make a dog’s body temperature rise (hypothermia) or fall (hyperthermia). If you think this is the case, use a thermometer to check their temperature.

Changes in behaviour:

Toxins can cause behavioural changes in dogs. They may become hyperactive or over-excited (seen after eating a stimulant such as chocolate or caffeine).

Or, they could become less responsive or sedate (seen after consuming alcohol). Time is of the essence, so an emergency vet appointment is essential.

What to do if your dog has eaten something toxic

If you think your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have, it’s important to take action as soon as possible. Remove them from the potential toxin and contact your vet.

Even if you’re not 100% sure about whether they have eaten something harmful, make an appointment to see a vet as a matter of urgency.

You can also call the 24-hour Animal Poison Line on 01202 509000.

If you have a pet insurance for senior dogs policy with Petwise, you’ll have access to our 24-hour vet video helpline, which has answers to all your pet-related queries.

Give the vet as much detail as possible – what you suspect they have eaten, how much, and how it happened.

Do not try to make your pet vomit unless you are told to do so by your vet.

If you’re advised by your vet that they have nothing more than an upset stomach, there are things you can do to help them at home:

  • Feed them bland food – rice and plain, cooked chicken.
  • Check they are drinking enough and able to keep water down.
  • Check there’s no blood in their stool.
  • If you are worried about anything, give your vet or a pet helpline a call.

Why do dogs eat what they shouldn’t?

It is perfectly understandable why dogs will pick up and chew anything they can lay their paws on.

Chewing is natural behaviour for dogs and something that should be encouraged, not stopped. The key is making sure your pooch is chewing on the right things.

Here are some of the reasons why your dog is keen to eat what they shouldn’t:

-       Curiosity:

Dogs are curious creatures and love to explore the world around them. And they do this with their mouths. Even if they don’t mean to swallow something, it might happen accidentally.

-        Boredom:

breeds of dog are highly intelligent and need plenty of stimulation. If they don’t get it, they can get bored and decide to occupy themselves by chewing on items around the house or seeing what food has been left lying around.

-        Stress:

If a dog is feeling stressed or anxious, they might seek comfort by chewing. This might happen if they are left alone for long periods of time, or if they hear loud noises (e.g. fireworks or if they get scared during a storm).

-        Hunger:

When a dog is feeling hungry, they will go in search of food. Make sure you’re following the recommended guidelines for daily food portions. Discover more about feeding older dogs now.

-        Humans:

If you give into your pet’s requests for food from your plate, you really are doing them no favours. The occasional treat is fine but that means making up no more than 10% of their daily food allowance.

Find pet insurance for senior dogs today

dog staring at pizza slices

With the right pet insurance for senior dogs, you can make sure your canine is protected whatever they get their teeth into.

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