Dear Readers,

I find myself wondering why we get to eat certain foods when they can be so dangerous to our pets. Did you know there are foods we eat every day that, when given to a dog, can cause great harm?

The first food that comes to mind is grapes. Grapes and raisins were not even on the radar as a toxin when I was in veterinary school some 30 years ago. It seems they became a known toxin in the mid-2000s.

The mechanism of the toxicity is not known even today. While some dogs may not have a toxic episode after eating them, kidney failure and death have occurred with as few as four or five grapes ingested by an 18-pound dog.

The main thing to remember is to keep grapes away from dogs. If your pet does eat them, it should be treated as a toxin, and the pet should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If caught in the first 45 minutes, the pet can be made to vomit. This is often followed by activated charcoal. If it has been more than 45 minutes and the pet is showing signs of toxicity, activated charcoal and supportive care with fluid therapy is recommended.

Onions and garlic are another toxin to pets. While we go to restaurants and enjoy deep-fried onion appetizers, and some people eat garlic every day, dogs and cats can get very ill from ingesting these bulbs. They are members of the allium family. Garlic and onions contain thiosulphate, which cannot be properly digested by dogs and cats. In the blood stream, thiosulphate damages red blood cells, causing anemia. One-fourth of a cup of onions can make a 20-pound dog sick. Toxicity can occur whether they are fresh, cooked or powdered.

Macadamia nuts are another human treat that can cause toxicity in pets. When a dog eats enough of them, they can cause tremors, ataxia, vomiting and depression. While not fatal, it is certainly not something you want to see your pet go through.

Xylitol is an additive we use as a substitute for sugar in our diet. It is naturally occurring in plants and has a low glycemic index. With 40% fewer calories than sugar, it is considered a great sugar substitute. It also has been found to kill bacteria in the mouth making it a go-to in sugarless gum. Some studies show it even aids in digestion.

But xylitol in dogs is a different story. Xylitol, when ingested by pets, can cause severe hypoglycemia, seizures and liver failure. It causes a potent release of insulin in the dog, resulting in severely low blood sugar levels that can be life threatening. Higher doses can cause liver failure.

Chewing gum is a common source of xylitol. Many artificially sweetened foods and candies contain the additive. Surprisingly, some peanut butters now have xylitol as a sweetener, so be sure to check your peanut butter before giving any to your dog.

As puzzling as it seems, clearly a dog’s system is not made to process everything we eat. We need to be mindful of what we allow our pets to come into contact with.

Have a question for Dr. Johns? E-mail her at JohnsDVM@aol.com. Write to Pet Peeves, P.O. Box 2949, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549. Johns is a Niceville veterinarian.