In fact, many foodstuffs, products and everyday items we commonly keep in the house or garden can be life threatening for our pet dogs. Scott Mathison, a veterinarian at Queen West Animal Hospital in Toronto, reveals the worst offenders.
Chocolate is a big concern, particularly dark, natural or unsweetened baking types. Candy bars that contain more filler than chocolate are less dangerous. "Your dog would have to consume an enormous amount of milk chocolate to have problems," says Mathison. The problem lies mainly in theobromine, an alkaloid that dogs metabolize much slower than humans do. Caffeine is bad, too. In a worst-case scenario, it can cause death by affecting many different organs.
2. Some garden supplies
Gardeners who buy cocoa mulch -- made from cacao shells -- should beware. The sweet-smelling fertilizer is highly appealing to dogs and, like chocolate, contains theobromine. "The problem is that whole yards get covered in it," says Mathison. Dog owners simply should not use cocoa mulch. And even people with no dog of their own would be best to avoid spreading the stuff in their front yard or any part of the garden accessible to passing neighbourhood pups.
3. Grapes and raisins
Dogs are also partial to grapes and raisins, which again can cause them great harm. "The theory is that there's a fungal toxin on grapes," says Mathison. To be safe, keep grapes out off the fruit bowl and don't leave fruit-and-nut snack mixes within Rover's reach.
Raw, dehydrated or cooked -- are toxic to dogs, too. "Although onion poisoning is very rare, it can cause what's called Heinz Body anemia," says Mathison.
Your dog needs red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues and organs, so anemia can lead to problems ranging from depression to heart failure. Doctor's orders: Don't give your dog leftover spag-bol or toss him even the occasional deep-fried onion ring.
5. Human medications
More often than not, when dogs ingest medications for humans, it's not accidental. "Some people actively give them drugs like Aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen," explains the vet.
Unfortunately, the side effects we occasionally see in people from those meds are much more likely to occur in dogs. "Aspirin, for example, can cause stomach ulcers and bleeding, and in pets it happens faster," says Mathison. "Give it to a dog for just four to five days, and the risk of ulceration is very high."
6. Rat poison
Mathison recommends keeping your cleaning and pest-control products well out of reach of Fido. The worst offender: rat poison. "Whatever tastes good to a rat also tastes good to a dog," says the vet.
It's extremely risky to use rat poison if you have a dog in the house. Mathison recommends poison-free traps instead, with the precaution of keeping your pet out of the areas where they're laid, since paw-snapped-in-trap is a whole other problem.
"The biggest killer of pets is ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze," says Mathison. This is especially so in suburbs and in the country, where people are more likely to change their own antifreeze on their driveway.
"It's sweet, so animals are attracted to it," says the vet. "But it destroys the kidneys, and just a teaspoon can kill a small dog." Tragically, once antifreeze has been consumed, the effects are irreversible.
While talk of all household toxins is scary, knowing what to do in case of poisoning could save your dog's life. If you suspect your pet has ingested something it shouldn't have (symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and appetite loss), call your vet or local animal poison control centre immediately.
If it happened within the hour, pour hydrogen peroxide down your dog's throat to induce vomiting. Afterward offer activated charcoal -- it binds much of the toxic food or substance that hasn't been absorbed.
And your best bet? Treat your furry friend the way you would a toddler: never leave it unsupervised. "I'm a big fan of crating dogs when you're not around," says Mathison.