20 of the Most Dangerous Foods for Dogs

If you have a dog, somewhere along the line, your vet will tell you that your dog shouldn’t be eating “people food.” Sometimes, this can be entirely beyond your control; if a bit of tomato sauce falls on the floor, and you can’t clean it up in time, what’s an owner to do? Otherwise, the general advice is “don’t feed your dog scraps.” There’s a good reason: dogs can’t handle many of the foods that people eat on a regular basis.

First, let’s look at what a dog is. A dog is a domesticated version of Canis lupus – a canid with a pack structure. Despite being almost exclusively found near humans, dogs and wolves are not separate species in the eyes of science. Dogs are still mostly carnivores, even if their dietary requirements have gotten more flexible. Got that down? Good. “Would my dog eat this if he was a wolf?” is usually a good starting point for determining what’s good and bad for your canine.

That said, since dogs have literally been around people since before the invention of the wheel, they have evolved some adaptations that wolves have not. One of the first things that scavenging wolves developed was the ability to handle grain; domestic dogs can tolerate grain, but wolves cannot. Then there are foods like cheese, which maybe dogs shouldn’t have, but it helps us get their pills in, so we let it slide.

There are still things that dogs absolutely should not have, even though they’ve been sneaking our table scraps since time immemorial. There are also a bunch of foods that are in a gray area- the foods that dogs shouldn’t have, but scarf down anyways. Shall we begin?

20. Raw Meat

This is probably the most counterintuitive item on the list. We just said dogs were carnivores, right? Yes, they are, but that doesn’t mean you should immediately give your dog raw steak.

For starters, many pets (including dogs) are fed commercial diets. These are usually high in grain and low in meat. Certain brands have high-meat food – these are fine. One vet recommends giving any attempted diet food as a treat, and seeing how it goes from there. Raw foods are no different. Many humans have issues when changing diets, too, so if you must try a raw meat diet, give your dog the same adjustment time that you would give yourself. It can take up to a year for a dog to adopt a new diet plan.

Raw Beef

Raw Beef

After that, there’s simply too much fine print for raw meat to not make this list, even if it’s really low on the “deadly” scale. There’s the gut flora issue that comes from a sudden change in diet. Raw meat hasn’t been treated for parasites or bacteria. Never give your dog spoiled meat. It’s easier and safer to go for an all-natural dog food that’s been slightly processed and tested as opposed to risking an unnecessary trip to the vet. If you’re really serious about releasing Spot’s inner wolf, plan around it and brace yourself.

Threat Level: Low. A fresh cut of salami probably won’t hurt your dog, but if you want to squeeze out the inner wolf with a meatier diet than most pet foods provide, you have to research, plan, and be patient.

19. Milk

This is another one on the “counterintuitive” side, especially since the advice applies to cat people as well. Humans are exceptional in that we can handle milk past babyhood. Heck, we drink milk from other species with no issues at all. Nearly every other mammal, however, loses this capability as they grow older. In humans, it’s called “lactose intolerance.”

Many dogs (and cats) are lactose intolerant. It’s a bad idea to give your dog straight-up milk. Diarrhea and general indigestion may result…or they may not. Some dogs have a good dairy tolerance, and others do not. It probably won’t kill your dog to have a piece of cheese with a pill in it, but he may need medication after a glass of milk.

All dairy is not created equal. Yogurt and cottage cheese may be better alternatives; they contain less lactose than pure milk. The trick of concealing pills in unprocessed cheese is okay, but it’s better not to make cheese a habit. The less lactose your dog has, the better.

Oh, and if you happen to have a cat, milk isn’t good for them, either. It’s the same logic.

Threat Level: Low. A little bit of cheese won’t kill your dog, but don’t give them dairy on a regular basis. Cat people, take heed.

18. Spinach

The health benefits of spinach have been touted since time immemorial. It’s got iron, potassium, fiber, and more vitamins than can fit on a label. If spinach makes Popeye strong, it should make your dog strong, right?

There have been rumors about things called “oxalates” in spinach. The threat comes when these chemicals calcify in a dog’s bladder, leading to nasty kidney stones. They can’t process oxalates as well as people. However, a dog would have to guzzle more than a salad’s worth of spinach for this to be a problem. Worry more about what pesticides have touched your greens than about this chemical.

Popeye Spinach

Popeye Spinach

The vitamins you’ve heard so much about in spinach are indeed worth getting into your dog’s system. A little bit of spinach is fine. This doesn’t mean that you should try to make your dog vegetarian. Dogs are still carnivores, even if they will try to put anything in their mouths.

Threat Level: Low. The oxalates you’ve heard of really aren’t that big a deal, but your dog still isn’t well-equipped to handle leafy greens. Feed sparingly for best results. This is more mythbusting than actually dangerous.

17. Coconut

Coconut, while not as horrible as other things, is high in fat – kind of like tree nuts and avocado, which are also on this list. Having too much coconut can give your dog loose stools, stomach upset, or diarrhea due to its triglycerides. Furthermore, if you’re a fan of letting your dog chew coconuts, you do so at your own risk; the fibers on the shell can cause more gastrointestinal issues. Small amounts are fine, but don’t go beyond a little piece as a treat.

Mixed literature abound on coconut water. Click around and you’ll see anything from “it’s great!” to “this has way too much potassium.” Most people seem to think that it’s great, and there are no morbid reports.

Threat level: Low. Coconut is fine in small doses, but keep your eyes peeled.

16. Avocado

Another health food perhaps best avoided is the omnipresent avocado. Although mostly found in Mexican food such as guacamole, humans love avocado for its numerous health benefits. It’s high in fiber, full of the good kinds of plant fats, and can lower your cholesterol. So, why is it bad for your dog?

Enter a phrase that we’re going to see again: “the fruit is fine.” The thing that would make avocados poisonous, persin, is largely in the pit of the avocado. The rest is fairly harmless except for dogs not handling plant foods well in general. There’s a brand of dog food that uses avocado, and if you absolutely must put avocado into your dog’s diet, that’s probably the way to go.

Threat level: Low. Give small slices of avocado and no more. There are far worse things to worry about in Mexican food. I’ve heard horror stories, so keep your search bars peeled for anything new.

15. Donuts

We already know that donuts are bad for us. They’re even worse for dogs. A dog’s gut can’t handle the same amount of fats, sugars, and cholesterol that a human’s can. They’re carnivores; we evolved as herbivores with an omnivorous touch, so we can handle more sugar, even if it’s not good for us. Donuts make people fat, and make dogs even more obese in old age. For the sake of both you and your dog, it’s best to leave the donuts at the office.

Donuts may also come with toppings that can make your dog sick. Chocolate is a common one; we’ll see later that chocolate is very bad for dogs. Jelly may contain grape or cherry, both of which are also not good for dogs. Cream-filled donuts are, well, cream-filled, and we just talked about how milk was bad. A baker’s dozen of donuts is a veritable minefield.

Threat Level: Low. You probably shouldn’t be eating donuts, but definitely do not feed them to your dog!

14. Bagels

Bagels are slightly above donuts when it comes to being healthy for dogs. There used to be these stale bagel bones as a certain bagel shop chain, so they have to be good for dogs, right?

First, bread is not good for dogs. They can handle the corn used in kibble, but cannot take in the amount of carbs that humans do on a daily basis. Too much grain can cause food bloat and eventual obesity. As a brief reminder, this is still a step up from wolves, who cannot handle grains at all.

Bagels

Bagels

Other than being bread, bagels specifically are a minefield. Onions? Your dog can’t have those. Raisins? Stay away, FAR away. Cream cheese? Let’s not make a potential problem even worse; not all dogs take dairy well. Sesame seeds? Those are fine. The point is that a lot of common bagel toppings are also on this list, and it’s better to avoid the battlefield rather than dodging bullets.

Threat Level: Low to Medium, depending largely on how fancy you like your bagels.

13. Salty Junk Food

Junk food is just that: junk disguised as food. The cheese used in many snack foods is whey instead of real cheese, the sunflower oil is low-grade, and so on. Treats like chips and Cheetoes have a lot of corn in them. Cheese isn’t exactly good for your dog, and, as we’ll discuss later, avoid anything with onions. Carbs are even worse for your dog than they are for you. Keep both your dog and yourself healthy by avoiding all of them!

A lot of snack foods are also high in salt. This can be bad for dogs, too. While dogs can still metabolize salt, too much of it can result in sodium poisoning. In the worst cases, this can lead to liver failure. Dogs like junk food, but they shouldn’t have it – just like people.

Threat Level: Medium. There’s too much that dogs shouldn’t have, but very few junk foods are deadly.

12. Tree Nuts

Right on the heels of peaches and almonds are the rest of the nutty bunch. The most general warnings point out that shelled nuts can cause digestive blockages, and that nuts have such a high fat content that they aren’t good for that reason. Salted nuts combine these with a risk of salt poisoning.

The more you look, the worse it gets: pistachios cause upset stomachs; walnuts contain tremorganic mycotoxin; pecans and hickory nuts contain the toxin juglone, which causes laminitis (inflammation of the hoof) in horses, so goodness knows what it’ll do to dogs. Almonds really don’t contain that much cyanide, but they still have everything else wrong with them. We’ll get to macadamia nuts – they’ve earned a special place on the list.

The only nuts that are 99% safe for dogs are peanuts. Dogs can have peanut allergies, but they usually aren’t as bad as in humans. Don’t worry – the treat of peanut butter is A-OK for dogs!

Threat Level: Medium. Again, this snack food is a minefield, this time of fat and salt rather than outright poison. Stick with the tried and true peanuts.

11. Apricots (and peaches, almonds, cherries…)

There aren’t many people who would guess that apricots, peaches, and almonds are all bad for dogs. It’s not the fruit that’s the issue – don’t make a big fuss about your dog eating drops of peach cobbler. No, you have to worry about the dog not knowing to stop at the pit present in many fruits.

Apricots, peaches, cherries and (wild) almonds all contain trace amounts of cyanide in their seeds/pits. For those of us who don’t read enough mystery novels, cyanide is a handy-dandy poison that inhibits the enzyme that lets all mammals transport oxygen throughout their bodies. It’s fairly popular in murder mysteries because it’s easy to get and its almond-like taste makes it easy for someone to identify. Symptoms include shortness of breath, oddly red lips, and death. Throw in a choking hazard for good measure. Just don’t attempt to feed Fido whole cherries, and you’ll both be fine.

Threat level: Medium. Anything with cyanide isn’t worth feeding to your dog.

10. Tomatoes

Let’s say some pizza or pasta falls on the floor, and your dog beats you to the punch when it comes to cleaning it up. That little bit of sauce is probably fine. However, if you’re a fan of “on the vine” tomatoes or grow them in your yard, keep reading.

Tomato plants contain the compounds tomatine and solanine. Both tomatoes and eggplants are part of the nightshade family, which has some pretty nasty members: datura, the drug used to create zombies in Haiti, and deadly nightshade are famous poisons. If you really want to be cautious, eggplant, potatoes (but not sweet potatoes) and all peppers should be off the table, too . Not giving your dog tobacco should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s part of the same family.

Luckily for us, the toxins are only in the green parts of the tomato plant. The red fruit – and you want your dogs to have the reddest, ripest tomatoes you can find – is safe for everybody. In case of accidental ingestion, symptoms include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, drooling, and difficulty breathing. Tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family are also worst for dogs with inflammatory issues or arthritis, so if your dog is a senior citizen in dog years, avoid giving him members of the nightshade family to the best of your ability.

Threat Level: Medium. It’s not really bad to give your dog some red, ripe tomato, but keep Fido away from all other parts of the plant!

9. Coffee/Tea

Are you a coffee person or a tea person? Regardless of what side you’re on in that debate, don’t share your drinks with your dog! Anything with caffeine in it is bad for dogs. As with many chemical components on this list, they simply aren’t evolved to handle it.

Hyperactivity is a common symptom of caffeine poisoning in dogs, as in humans, but should be taken more seriously. More severe symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse. Contact your vet if Spot got into your pot.

Threat Level: Medium-High. A hyperactive dog shouldn’t be funny, even if that’s what we expect from people.

8. Chocolate

First, dogs are carnivores, and shouldn’t have that much sugar. Second, chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine, but different enough to be its own point. Many of the symptoms are similar to coffee/tea poisoning.

The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for a dog – the opposite case from people. Avoid giving your dog baking chocolate and high cacao dark chocolate at all costs. White chocolate contains the smallest amount of deadly chemicals, but still isn’t good for a carnivore.

Threat Level: High. Special mention for this being hard to avoid.

7. Toothpaste/Gum

Some vets say that you should brush your dog’s teeth in order to give him the uncanny human smile present on pet hygiene products. One, no, your dog’s mouth will never look anywhere near like yours; two, don’t use your own toothpaste on your dog’s teeth. It might have a sweetener in it that dog’s can’t take.

Xylitol is a common artificial sweetener in gum, toothpaste, and many candies. It will wreak havoc on a 20-pound dog’s regulation of insulin (the hormone that lets your body process sugar) if he has so much as a stick. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include weakness, tremors, and seizures before death. Low blood sugar and liver failure are the main causes. If you know anybody who has diabetes, this should ring some horrifying bells.

Threat Level: High. Definitely contact a vet, if not poison control, if your dog has ingested toothpaste or gum.

6. Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts have a unique notoriety when it comes to canine toxicity. They contain an unknown toxin like grapes and have high fat content like other tree nuts. Although you may think it rare for a dog to eat macadamia nuts, remember that they’re a popular nut in cookies and health food bars. Again, what’s healthy for you isn’t always healthy for your dog.

Feeding your dog macadamia nuts may lead to paralysis, hyperthermia, tremors, and more. It’s much worse than other tree nuts, hitting harder and faster. Symptoms appear within twelve hours, and can last up to two days. We don’t quite know what mysterious powers macadamia nuts have, and they don’t affect all dogs, but it’s better to play it safe and call your vet if you think your dog has taken them in.

Threat level: High. Stick with peanuts (unsalted).

5. Citrus

In 2013, there was a “dogs react to lemons/limes” trend on YouTube. The videos involved people placing lemons or limes in front of dogs and filming the dogs as they encountered the fruit. Many of them jumped, came back, then jumped again as if they couldn’t quite tell if the fruit was harmful or not. Some of them rubbed themselves to get the offending scent off. Some barked as though the lemon was trying to attack them. This trend was a bad idea for so many reasons, starting with “dogs don’t need citrus at all” and ending with “citrus fruit is toxic to dogs.”

We humans like citrus because, among other things, it contains vitamin C. Dogs do not need any more vitamin C than they produce already. They gain nothing from eating citrus fruits. The toxicity is also on a spectrum: orange juice won’t kill your dog, but the seeds, skin, and pith of most citrus fruits are highly toxic. There may be some uses for lemon juice, largely cosmetic, but feeding the fruit to your dog isn’t one of them. Best avoid the whole fruit basket.

According to one poll relating to these videos, 88% of pet owners did not know that citrus was toxic to cats and dogs (so don’t do this with cats, either). Symptoms of citrus poisoning include upset stomach, diarrhea, and depression. Tremors and liver failure occur at very high amounts. The culprits are a chemical called psoralens and the essential oils.

Threat Level: High. Please don’t risk your pet’s health for a few hundred YouTube views. Irresponsible ownership/”curiosity killed the dog” scenarios warrant a “high,” but citrus fruits are already an upper-mid-level threat if you’re not interested in the limelight (pun not intended).

4. Alcohol

Have you ever wanted your dog to join you at the bar? Don’t even think about it, least of all because that might irritate the barkeep. Even though beer and drinking go all the way back to the dawn of civilization, man’s best friend has not evolved a liver strong enough to process ethanol. There is no safe alcoholic beverage for your dog; if anything, wine is even worse than beer for reasons that will appear later on the list.

While the idea of a drunk dog may seem funny at first, and many of the symptoms of a drunk dog are similar to those of a drunk human (e.g. vomiting, loss of coordination), things can turn serious fast. Contact your vet or ASPCA poison control immediately if your dog has consumed alcohol.

Dog beer (non-alcoholic, but realistic enough to fool people on the surface) exists if you absolutely must have a drinking buddy on a lonely night. The dog beer brand Snuffle donates some of its profits to dog asylums and was actually made in Belgium. Unfortunately, it is limited to Europe; try Bowser Beer or Dawg Grog if in the U.S. Cheers!

Threat Level: High. No matter how funny a drunk dog sounds, don’t do it! Invest in dog beers if you really must share a cold one with man’s best friend.

3. Bread Dough

What? More bread? This article has plenty of bread in it already. We’ve covered bagels, donuts/cookies, and junk food, so how can this get any worse? Is pasta lethal and nobody ever told us? Thankfully not, but you have to watch out for the dough.

As if being high carb and low protein wasn’t bad enough for dogs, unbaked bread dough has its own death traps. Yeast is used to bake bread, and the same chemical reaction that makes bread rise has alcohol as a by-product. This causes the dog to act drunk, which, as we said in the point about alcohol, is never a good sign.

Worse still, the science going on in your dog’s stomach is the same thing that happens in the oven: the dough rises due to the action of yeast. This leads to both bloat, which can be lethal, and severe abdominal pain. Any dog who has eaten raw bread dough needs to see a vet immediately.

Threat Level: High. While other grain products certainly aren’t good for dogs, unbaked bread dough takes that, adds what we learned about alcohol in dogs, and throws in the rather sinister imagery of your dog’s stomach being too much like an oven.

2. Onions

Sorry to break apart your Subway salad for this article, but onions, garlic, and cloves are also bad for your dog. All types of onions, in amounts as minute as 15 grams, are poisonous to dogs (with an even smaller amount (5g) toxic to cats). Cooked or raw doesn’t matter; all onions contain thiosulphates, which can cause your dog’s red blood cells to burst. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, and may not show up immediately. Consult a vet if you think your dog has consumed onions.

If you think this is one of the easier items on this list to avoid, think again. A lot of foods that you probably don’t think about have some sort of onion in them. Italian, Chinese, and Greek cuisines all love using onions. Onion powder is a common flavoring, so you might not even see the onions in something. Treatment for onion poisoning can be expensive, so don’t feed your dog table scraps at all!

Threat Level: High. Onions are highly toxic to dogs, so read ingredients carefully if you plan on sharing your table scraps at all. There’s a good chance some onion snuck in.

1. Grapes

Grapes and raisins are small enough to be a choking hazard, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Feeding a dog grapes is one of the worst things you can do. Grapes can cause a dog’s kidneys to fail alarmingly fast… or your dog may be just fine.

Some dogs are immune to whatever makes grapes so bad for canines. Nobody knows what makes them toxic. Some say that it’s a toxin within the grapes. Others say that it’s a special kind of fungus that grows on them while they’re in your kitchen. Most vets agree, however, that no dog should ever have grapes, even if some of them seem to be okay. Don’t risk it!

Threat Level: High. Grapes are among the most notorious people foods toxic to dogs. It’s even worse that we don’t know anything about how or why these fruits are toxic. Someone needs to do studies on grapes and grape-immune dogs to find the culprit.

In Conclusion:

Remember that spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp? We have everything from low to high threats in that two minutes of animation. Bread, be it pasta or breadsticks, isn’t good for dogs, but won’t necessarily kill them, either; tomatoes are a bit of a gray area, with only the stems and leaves being toxic; if there’s garlic or onions anywhere in that Italian food, that’s practically a death sentence. I wonder how many childhoods this paragraph ruined?

In the words of “Dear Kitten,” a dog decides if it should put something in its mouth by putting it in its mouth. Because dogs see the world nose- and mouth – first and like copying us, of course they want to eat what we’re eating. We have to be the responsible species. It’s up to owners to keep their pets healthy. If you worry that your dog might have eaten something listed as a low or medium threat, call your vet; if you’ve given your dog anything marked as “high,” I recommend calling a poison control center that specializes in dogs.

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Aquila Wilks
Aquila Wilks is a part-time employee at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois. Although her specialty is venomous snakes, she likes most animals - especially the weird ones!