What Foods Are Harmful To Dogs?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM February 20, 2020

We all consider our pups part of our family. They travel with us, play with us, sometimes sleep and eat with us. But where should you draw the line when it comes to sharing your dinner with your best friend so that they don’t consume something potentially harmful? On that same note, with the recent scare around grain-free dog foods, is your commercial dog food safe? Let’s take a moment to look at foods that are harmful and safe for dogs, as well as what you should do if your pup happens to take a bite out of something bad.

What Foods Are Harmful To Dogs?

All dog parents know that a dog’s diet should not be the same as their own. Not only does the caloric content far exceed what a pup should be receiving, some foods that we eat can be potentially harmful. The list of harmful foods contains far more than just chocolate, so be sure you’re not giving your canine companion any of the following.

  • Chocolate

Of course, chocolate makes the list as it’s probably the most well-known harmful food to dogs. The bad ingredient is theobromine, which is present in all forms of chocolate, but most concentrated in dark and unsweetened versions. Theobromine can cause vomiting and diarrhea and more severely, seizures and death.

  • Grapes and raisins

A small number of grapes, and an even smaller number of raisins, can cause kidney failure in your dog. It happens very quickly, so it’s important to keep these foods away from your pup.

  • Xylitol

If you need another reason, besides the mess it can make, to keep chewing gum away from your pup, xylitol is it. Other foods such as candy, diet foods, and toothpaste can be sweetened with xylitol as well. This product can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar leading to seizures and potentially liver failure in the long run. Watch out for vomiting, lethargy, and staggered walking and incoordination.

  • Onions and garlic

While both of these foods make tasty seasonings, to your dog they can cause red blood cell destruction leading to anemia. If eaten in large enough amounts, or small doses frequently over time, that anemia can be life-threatening.

  • Avocado

The fruit of an avocado, as well as the seed and leaves and bark of the trees, contain persin, a compound that can lead to vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

  • Alcohol

Don’t think for a second that it would be funny to get your dog a little buzzed with alcohol since it has the same effect on them as it does on you. The problem is it takes a lot smaller amount to cause permanent damage to them.

  • Caffeine

Don’t share your morning pick-me-up with your furry friends. Caffeine also contains the not-so-friendly theobromine (remember from chocolate?). Moderate amounts of coffee, tea, or soft drinks can be a problem.

  • Fatty foods

Meat scraps, sweets, and other fatty foods are a no-no for dogs partially because the caloric intake can pack on the pounds. Fat from meat scraps and bacon grease also has the potential to cause pancreatitis, a painful and potentially fatal disease.

For more comprehensive information on foods that are harmful to dogs, visit the Pet Poison Hotline.

Are Grain-free Dog Foods Harmful?

Looking at the above list of foods that are harmful to dogs, you’ll notice that dog food isn’t listed. Does that mean that all commercial dog foods are safe? With the recent spike in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in breeds of dogs that aren’t thought of as genetically predisposed to the disease, many have started to wonder if there is a link between DCM and the diet of those dogs.

DCM is a disease in which the muscles of the heart basically stretch, or dilate, until they aren’t powerful enough to pump blood as efficiently. Dogs with DCM typically tire more easily and can develop congestive heart failure. Breeds like Golden and Labrador Retrievers and other large breeds can be genetically predisposed. However, in the last two years, there has been an increase of DCM in breeds that aren’t on that predisposal list, including many small breed dogs.

In the majority of the cases of DCM that were studied, dogs were fed grain-free diets from various different brands. Instead of grains, these diets used other carbohydrate sources from peas, lentils, other legumes, and potatoes. While the FDA hasn’t yet been able to uncover the direct cause of this major increase in cases of DCM in the past two years, a grain-free diet is thought to contribute.

Dogs are omnivorous. They commonly consume grains in the wild. Feeding a dog food that contains wheat, barley, oats, and other such grains isn’t going against nature. That being said, there are dogs that are allergic or sensitive to grains. Therefore, they should eat a grain-free dog food. But, in the majority of dogs, this isn’t necessary. Until the exact cause of the rise in DCM cases is discovered, exercise caution in feeding grain-free dog foods to dogs that don’t have known grain allergies or sensitivities. Please report any signs of DCM to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Human Foods Can Dogs Eat?

Now that we’ve covered the scary stuff of harmful human foods and grain-free dog foods, let’s look at foods that your dog can eat. In order to safely share a little food love with our pups, talk to your veterinarian or stick to the foods on this list.

Now that we’ve covered the scary stuff of harmful human foods and grain-free dog foods, let’s look at foods that your dog can eat. In order to safely share a little food love with our pups, talk to your veterinarian or stick to the foods on this list below.

  • Carrots

Carrots are high in fiber and vitamin A and are a great treat for your pup. The texture helps to remove tartar from their teeth as well, so a win-win!

  • Green beans

Another great treat for dogs on a diet is green beans. Green beans are high in fiber and nutrition, but low in calories. Your dog won’t even miss their extra kibble if you slip them some raw or cooked green beans.

  • Apples

More fiber and vitamins, like A and C, can be found in apples. My dog likes to eat them right off the tree.

  • Blueberries

A super food for humans, blueberries are also super for dogs. They contain lots of antioxidants which are important for healthy aging.

  • Watermelon

Instead of sharing an ice cream cone with your dog, turn to another cool, summertime treat - watermelon. With lots of, well, water, watermelon keeps your pup hydrated while also providing lots of important vitamins.

  • Yogurt and cottage cheese

For an upset tummy or when on an antibiotic regime, turn to the probiotics found in yogurt. You’re better off choosing the plain version in order to cut down on unwanted sugar. For broken bones or growing puppies, cottage cheese can be a great source of calcium. Just be sure to keep dairy products in small quantities as too much can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

  • White rice

Cooked white rice has long been a staple for upset tummies. It is bland and easily digestible, giving an irritated digestive system a much needed break.

  • Lean meats

Cooked chicken, fish, turkey, and lean cuts of beef and pork are great for a little protein boost or as a special treat to our canine companions. Just keep the fat to a minimum and omit the skin.

  • Peanut butter

What better hiding spot than peanut butter to conceal medication? It tastes good, sticks the pill to your dog’s mouth, and adds a little protein punch. Use in moderation (1 teaspoon) as it can be high in fat.

Should You Give Your Dog Food Off Your Plate?

Dinnertime is a great time to share with your family members, furry or human. However, feeding your dog the food from your plate can be dangerous. Obviously, giving your dog any of the foods listed as harmful can be just that. But even foods that are generally considered safe for dogs can be detrimental in what they do to their waistline. The calories in human foods add up fast, especially in smaller dogs. For example, a 1-ounce cube of cheese to a 20lb dog would be like us eating one and a half hamburgers, buns and all!

Excess weight in our pups can lead to diseases like diabetes and arthritis, to name a few. Keeping your dog lean and trim is essential to lifelong health and happiness. If you’re having trouble saying no to your dog’s sad begging eyes at dinner table, try sharing some of the healthy fruits and vegetables listed above instead. Or bring a few pieces of their kibble to share. They won’t care what they’re getting as long as it comes from you at dinnertime.

What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Something Harmful?

If you witness, or even suspect, that your dog ate something harmful, contact your veterinarian immediately. They will be able to walk you through on getting your dog to vomit and treatment if necessary. Even if you’re unsure about what your dog ate, speak to your veterinarian to avoid possible life-threatening complications.


If your dog is like most dogs, they have little dietary discretion with it comes to human food. If given the chance, they’ll eat almost anything. So, it’s up to you to make sure that any human foods they are eating aren’t harmful, and that they aren’t receiving too many calories. 

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