Understanding Pet Food


Practical information about commercial pet foods and what goes into them.

Feeding Management

Toxic Foods for Dogs and Cats

A basic principle of toxicology says “the dose makes the poison.” This adage applies to many common food items, which may contain natural chemicals that can be toxic when consumed in sufficient quantities. The potentially harmful amount may differ among species, so what may be safe for people to eat may be dangerous for pets. When some dogs — and an occasional cat — get access to certain foods (e.g., chocolate candy, baked goods, moldy foods in the garbage), they might eat an amount that provides a dangerous dose of the potentially toxic substance or overwhelms their bodies’ ability to process it. 

Toxic Foods for Dogs and Cats

Key Messages

  • Some foods, while safe for people to eat, may cause a wide range of health issues for dogs and cats. While veterinary toxicologists know why some foods cause poisoning in pets (e.g., theobromine and caffeine in chocolate), they have yet to identify the toxic agent in others (e.g., grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts).
  • Dogs are far more likely to experience food-related toxicities than cats due to their scavenging nature and tendency to investigate the environment with their mouths.
  • The list below is not exhaustive; however, it includes those foods most commonly reported to animal poison control centers.
Food Potential Health Problems
Chocolate Vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures 


(natural sweetener found in certain sugar-free gums, candies, baked goods, toothpastes) 

Low blood sugar (glucose), liver failure 
Coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks  Hyperactivity, restlessness, vomiting, fast heart rate, rapid breathing, tremors, abnormal heart rhythm 
Raw or cooked onions, garlic, leeks, chives (Allium spp.)*  Lower-than-normal number of red blood cells due to cell damage and breakdown, digestive upset, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate 
Grapes, raisins, Zante currants (Vitis spp.)  Digestive upset, loss of appetite for food, sudden kidney failure 
Macadamia nuts  Hind limb weakness, vomiting, poor balance or coordination, tremors, increased body temperature, joint stiffness 
Alcohol (ethanol)  Depression or lethargy, incoordination, vomiting, decreased breathing rate, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low body temperature 
Raw yeast-containing dough  Lethargy, incoordination, vomiting, decreased breathing rate, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low body temperature, bloating with possible stomach twisting, seizures, respiratory failure 

Moldy foods 

(some molds produce toxins known as mycotoxins) 

Vomiting, agitation, incoordination, tremors, seizures, elevated body temperature 
*Small amounts of these vegetables, including powder and oil forms, are safely added to some pet foods for flavor 
  • To avoid an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital, pet owners should identify potential hazards in their home and store them well out of reach of curious cats and dogs.
  • If ingestion of a potentially toxic substance is suspected, a veterinarian or animal poison control center should be contacted immediately. Availability of animal-specific poison control services varies from country to country. Check within your region for a resource before one is needed. 


Assistance for Veterinary Professionals and Pet Owners   
United States and Canada

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center  

Phone: (888) 426-4435 

Website: www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control 

United States, Canada and the Caribbean

Pet Poison Helpline 

Phone: (855) 764-7661 

Website: www.petpoisonhelpline.com 

United Kingdom

Animal PoisonLine  

Phone: 01202 509000 

Website: www.animalpoisonline.co.uk 


New Zealand

Australian Animal Poisons Helpline 

Australia Phone: 1300 869 738 

New Zealand Phone: 0800 869 738 

Website: https://animalpoisons.com.au 


Assistance provided to veterinary professionals only   


New Zealand

Pet Poison Helpline World 

Australia Phone: 0011 800 4444 0002 

New Zealand Phone: 00 800 4444 0002 

Website: www.petpoisonhelpline.com 


conversation starter background image

"No matter how much your pet begs, there are some people foods you should avoid giving your pet and make sure they are not left out where your pet could get them. Many pet owners are aware that dogs and cats should not eat chocolate. They also should not consume onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, raw yeast dough, moldy foods, coffee, caffeine-containing energy drinks or alcoholic beverages."

Aldrich, G. (2006). Onions and garlic offer flavor in the right amounts. Petfood Industry, 48(11), 40─41. 

Cortinovis, C., & Caloni, F. (2016). Household food items toxic to dogs and cats. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 3, Article 26. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2016.00026 

Kovalkovičová, N., Sutiaková, I., Pistl, J., & Sutiak, V. (2009). Some food toxic for pets. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 2(3), 169─176. doi: 10.2478/v10102-009-0012-4