How to Know if Your Pet Has Food Poisoning

Dogs will put just about anything in their mouth. Usually, it's not a big deal, but certain foods can have painful and sometimes life-threatening consequences.

If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know it’s a gut-wrenching experience. It’s something you never want to experience again and certainly wouldn’t want your beloved furbaby to suffer either. It’s essential to know the foods that are dangerous—including these top 12 offenders—and sometimes life-threatening so you can get your dog the medical help he needs.

Food poisoning signs

Dogs often experience the same kind of symptoms people do when they get food poisoning. While some types of food poisoning run their course and improve on their own, others are more serious and even deadly. The only way to truly know if your dog needs medical attention is to call your vet. “If you suspect your pet may have ingested something potentially toxic—food, plant or otherwise, it’s imperative to get them examined by a veterinarian right away,” says David Dilmore, DVM, Banfield Pet Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Early intervention help prevents serious complications such as kidney or liver failure, or even death. Whether you actually see your dog eat something suspicious or not, call your vet right away if you notice these symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stumbling, staggering or lack of muscle control
  • Blood in the stool
  • Difficulty urinating or discolored urine
  • Lack of appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

You’ll also want to know what to do in these specific circumstances:

She lapped up your beer

A dog lapping up your mug of beer while you’re napping on the deck might not seem too dangerous, but it can be deadly. According to the ASPCA, any beverages or food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lack of muscle coordination, difficulty breathing, tremors, central nervous system depression (affects the brain and spinal cord), abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death. If you don’t know how much alcohol your pup drank, call your vet right away for guidance. Some doggy dangers aren’t as obvious, so be aware of these potential hidden hazards to your dog in your backyard.

He ate bread dough

Tossing your dog a few bites of raw bread dough (made with yeast) is a big no-no. According to the ASPCA Animal Control Poison Center (APCC), yeast produces ethanol, a type of alcohol and as mentioned above, can be very dangerous for your dog. Besides the symptoms already mentioned, your dog could have a painful tummy ache due to the gas from the yeast. If its stomach bloats and twists, it can lead to a life-threatening emergency. It’s tempting to share human food with your pup, but Dr. Dilmore says a consistent veterinarian-approved diet is the safest and healthiest way to go. Here’s what veterinarians feed their own dogs.

Your dog went dumpster diving

The best part of your day is coming home to the wags and kisses from your furbaby—until you discover he got into the trash while you were out. “Rummaging through and eating what’s in the garbage, unfortunately, can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, pancreatitis, toxicity or intestinal blockage as well,” says Dr. Dilmore. Besides the lurking dangers of salmonella, there are other risks from moldy food that are dangerous and even life-threatening if left untreated. According to the APCC, the fungal neurotoxins found on moldy food can cause additional symptoms of seizures, elevated temperatures, and muscle tremors. Consider a locking trash bin to keep your dog out of the trash

Did she sneak some grapes or raisins from your plate?

If your dog eats grapes and raisins, your furbaby could be facing sudden kidney failure or death. And it doesn’t matter if your dog only ate a couple. “This toxicity is not dependent on the amount eaten. If your pet eats raisins or grapes, get them to the veterinarian right away,” advises Dr. Dilmore. Symptoms of toxicity include vomiting within 12 to 24 hours of eating, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, decreased urination, weakness, and abdominal pain.

He scarfed down your sugar-free muffin

You walked away from the table and came back to find your muffin gone. Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in several food products including baked goods, chewing gum, candy, and some brands of every dog’s favorite treat—peanut butter. “Xylitol causes an increase in insulin in dogs, which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) anywhere between 10 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion,” says Dr. Dilmore. Liver failure or vomiting and bleeding disorders may occur if not treated and lead to death. “Signs to look for include weakness, lethargy, disorientation, and seizures,” says Dr. Dilmore.

Your niece fed your dog a burger with all the trimmings

Your three-year-old niece may turn up her nose at a grilled burger with garlic and onions, but your dog won’t. “Toxicity can occur whether the products are fresh, cooked, or in a dried/powdered form such as in spices,” says Dr. Dilmore. Garlic and onions are part of the allium family, so don’t let your dog eat leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots either. Signs of toxicity include lethargy, weakness, lack of muscle coordination, pale gums, red or brown urine, excessive drooling, and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Anemia can occur, and in some cases, lead to internal organ damage, organ failure, or death. Teach your dog to stop begging at the table with these dog training secrets.

Your dark chocolate stash is empty

If your living room is scattered with empty candy wrappers, make haste, and get your dog to the vet. Dr. Dilmore says theobromine and caffeine are higher in darker chocolates (including baking chocolate, which has the highest concentrations). “These act as stimulants in your dog, which can cause restlessness and an increased heart rate. If too much is ingested, tremors, seizures, lack of muscle control, collapse, coma, and even death can follow,” says Dr. Dilmore. “The severity of effects from eating chocolate depends on the type of chocolate, the amount eaten, and the size of your dog.” Getting your dog to the vet as soon as possible with help prevent some of the more severe problems.

Did your dog eat raw food?

Salmonella comes from many sources, including commercially prepared raw dog food or dog treats. “Salmonella is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through undercooked, raw, or contaminated food; it doesn’t have to be from meat or dairy, either. Contaminated fertilizer used on fruits and veggies can contain salmonella, and you can catch it if you don’t wash those foods well,” says Jeff Werber, DVM, Los Angeles. Typically, dogs will experience the same symptoms that humans do—diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. And the illness usually clears up on its own in humans and dogs, but some dogs, especially younger and older or ones with compromised immune systems, may require antibiotics and hospitalization.

Don’t spread salmonella to your pup

Dr. Dilmore says that most germs be can’t be transmitted from dog to human and vice versa but there are some such as salmonella and listeria bacteria that can. “The most common ways for disease to pass to humans is by contact with feces or urine and dog bites,” says Dr. Dilmore. “In addition, pet owners who feed their pets a raw diet have a higher risk of getting infected with Salmonella and Listeria bacteria.” Cleaning up immediately after your dog and handwashing can prevent transmission or many of these diseases and parasites. That includes washing your hands after touching your pet, pet toys, and pet products like grooming tools and feeding bowls. Dr. Dilmore says that most germs be can’t be transmitted from dog to human and vice versa but there are some diseases you can pass on to your dog if you’re not careful.

Download this app

Dogs are curious and forever putting things in their mouth that could be dangerous to their health. If you suspect your dog ate something he shouldn’t have, call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Or better yet, download the APCC Mobile App for instant knowledge to over 300 everyday hazards, including these 11 foods you should never feed your pet.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.