Onions and garlic are considered to be very healthy foods for humans. They boost the immune system and are essential elements of many savory recipes. You may think that it is perfectly safe to share your food containing onions with your pooch but, in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Onions and garlic are extremely bad for dogs; they can cause serious health conditions and even death. Here are some more details on why you must never feed onions or garlic to your dog.
What Makes Onions so Toxic to Dogs?
Onions, leeks, garlic, shallots and chives are all members of the Allium plant family. All plants in this family contain a substance called N-propyl disulfide which is toxic to dogs. It causes damage to hemoglobin which is the substance that is found inside red blood cells and carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the dog’s body. As a result, your dog’s red blood cells cannot carry oxygen in the normal way and your pooch will become anemic.
However, it can also trick your dog’s body into thinking that its own red blood cells are an invader and so the body’s immune system attacks them. The red blood cells completely rupture and this is called hemolysis. This condition results in an anemia that is more severe (hemolytic anemia) and your dog’s urine may become red or brown. Sadly, it can also result in damage to the internal organs and even death.
How Can Your Dog Ingest Onions?
Sadly, dogs have no idea that onions can do them harm and will happily devour whole onions and any human food that contains onions. This is a big problem.
It takes a tiny amount of onion to make your dog ill so you need to be very alert at all times. Dogs that ingest just 0.5% of their body weight in onions have suffered poisoning and it could take just 15g of onion to make your dog very ill. In practical terms, just a quarter of a cup of onion can make a 20-pound dog very ill indeed and a larger (45 pound) dog will suffer a dangerous toxicity by eating just one medium-sized onion. Just think how quickly your dog could eat a medium onion! When smaller amounts are ingested over a prolonged period, the effects are the same.
There is no such thing as a safe form of onion for dogs. The toxin is found in the flesh, the leaves, onion juice and even dried onion powder that has been heavily processed. The onion family is toxic when it is raw and after it has been cooked. Any dietary supplement and any recipe that contains onions are potentially toxic so think before you give your dog any human food such as onion rings, soup, casseroles or meatloaf. Onions are present in an astonishing range of human food and are often added as onion powder. The powder is even more toxic than fresh onion so you need to start looking out for it on food labels.
Symptoms of Onion Toxicity in Dogs
It is sensible for dog owners to be alert for any signs of onion poisoning in their dog. The symptoms usually appear a few days or so after consumption of the onion but if a large amount is ingested the symptoms can start within a day.
The typical symptoms to look out for are:
- General weakness and lethargy
- Loss of coordination (ataxia)
- Pale gums (a sign of anemia)
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and/or diarrhea)
- Decreased appetite
- Increased heart and/or respiratory rate and panting
- Red or brown discolored urine which indicates hemolysis
If you spot any of these symptoms in your dog, you must get them to a vet as soon as you can and they need to be seen as an emergency case. Your vet can carry out various tests to diagnose hemolytic anemia related to onion toxicity.
Steps to Take if Your Dog has Eaten Onion
Because your dog will happily eat an onion even though it can cause them serious harm, you need to know what steps you should take if this happens. The main thing you need to do is get them to an emergency clinic at your vet right away. Your vet will take your dog’s history and check for any early clinical signs of toxicity. They will also carry out a special test for Heinz body-type hemolytic anemia which is caused by onion toxicity.
Your dog will be given appropriate and immediate treatment which will attempt to decontaminate the body of the toxins. This may include intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated and to flush the toxin out of the bloodstream. If you managed to get to the vet within two hours of the onion being digested, they will try to make your dog vomit or will flush out their stomach to remove the onion. They may also give your dog activated charcoal which will absorb the toxins and then pass them out of the body in the poop. Cathartic drugs which encourage the body to excrete the toxin may also be given.
If your dog is very ill, they may need oxygen therapy or a blood transfusion. If the correct treatment is started early, your pooch has a good chance of recovering although they may need supportive care until the body can produce new red blood cells. Sadly, not all dogs make it through but the sooner you get to the vet the better chance your dog will have of recovering.
Prevention is always better than cure so keep your four-legged friend away from where you store your vegetables and away from food waste. Human food is often the culprit so think very carefully about eliminating table scraps alltogether. This is the best way to protect your pooch from hidden dangers in your own food.