Dogs Eat the Darndest Things

I’m supposed to be writing blog entries this month about nutrition and supplements. That’s important stuff, but I thought for this article we could go off on a literally juicier dietary tangent.
Dogs are gross at times, can we all agree on that? The stinky things they enjoy sniffing and rolling themselves in can induce a gag reflex in your average human, and we here at the hospital are continually amazed at what they’ll actually ingest. Aside from sheer foulness, problems occur when a pet eats something toxic or when the material is non-digestible and too large to pass through the bowel. These cases can be fun (pets usually recover fully) and funny (what a goofy dog!).
Owners sometimes suspect a neighbor poisoned their sick dog. However, it’s much more common for the dog to have accidentally poisoned herself. One of the most toxic substances we regularly see patients having eaten is zinc, which is found in pennies from 1983 and later (before that they were mostly copper), and in some hardware. We’ve taken x-ray pictures showing what must’ve been handfuls of pennies, nuts, washers, and bolts in the stomach. Maybe dogs think it’s candy? Kibble? One particularly unappetizing toxin case involved a Doberman coming into the hospital and vomiting up an enormous, poison-laced rat. When our seasoned technicians get a little queasy, you know it’s disgusting.
Foreign body surgeries, to relieve intestinal obstructions, can be especially rewarding. The patient’s problem is often solved tidily and we get to remove some pretty interesting chewed-up evidence. During surgery our team has removed the zipper from a dog bed along with copious amounts of stuffing, steel wool, various underwear and socks, a bikini top AND bottom tied together, and a plastic McDonald’s spoon that a Newfoundland had swallowed whole while sharing an ice cream sundae.  Occasionally we will see repeat offenders, such as the golden retriever who had surgery twice in one year after eating children’s socks.  We also treated a cat (it’s true, cats are not immune to poor choices) who obstructed twice before the owner figured out it was foam padding from their Swiffer mop.
I have great empathy for the owners of these wayward pets because my pointer Charlie was infamous for his creative eating. Over 12 years, a partial list of his unauthorized diet included: a bunch of bananas in the peel, a six-pack of bagels, 5 pounds of a room-mate’s dog food, another room-mate’s lunch (Charlie wasn’t popular in the house), a Halloween pumpkin, a honey bear, a bag of sugar, a ballpoint pen, a bar of soap, diapers, and the piece de resistance—an entire cantaloupe which no one realized was missing until we saw the aftermath. Yes, dogs are crazy, and gross, and make us wonder “what were they thinking?”, but they make my job, and my life, so much sweeter.

Robin Lake, DVM

Foster Animal Hospital



Why People Yum-yums are Pet No-nos



Did you over-indulge a bit over the holidays like I did?  How about your pet?  I imagine a few of us are guilty of eating too much delicious holiday junk food and SOME of us who will remain unnamed also fed a little to our dogs and cats.  There’s one table feeder in every family; sometimes it’s the 3-year-old but more often it’s the mother-in-law or the husband, and I see accusing fingers fly when I ask who’s to blame.  Then we all laugh about it.  No judgment here, I just can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on!

While I admit to problems disciplining myself to eat perfectly, I don’t have any issues with ignoring big brown eyes staring up at me from beneath my dining chair.  (Do as I say, not as I do?) Maybe it sounds harsh, but ideally we should feed no table food to our pets.  Why shouldn’t we show them we love them by giving tasty leftovers?  Because too much of the good stuff or even a little of the wrong stuff is bad for them!  Here are some examples of problems caused by table food:


1. Obesity.  Did you know that about 50% of dogs and cats in this country are overweight or obese, but only about 25% of those animals’ owners recognize this?  Excess body weight contributes to a shorter lifespan due to increased risk of diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and respiratory disease.  You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily, but not see them.  If there’s a layer of fat padding, well, he’s overweight.  Fun facts:

For a 10 pound cat, 1 potato chip is equivalent to a person eating ½ of a hamburger.

For a 20 pound dog, 1 hot dog is like a person eating 3 hamburgers or 2 chocolate bars.  Just 1 small oatmeal cookie is equivalent to a person’s hamburger.

What seems like a snack can actually be more like an extra meal!  If you really MUST feed table food, consider carrots, green beans, apple chunks.


2. Toxicity/illness.  It’s getting to be common knowledge that chocolate, raisins and grapes, onions, and xylitol (in some sugar-free gums and baked goods) are toxic to pets.  However, many people don’t know that fatty foods such as bacon, gravy, and sausage can cause pancreatitis, a serious medical condition that requires hospitalization.

3. Gastrointestinal upset.  Some pets have sensitive stomachs, and eating table foods can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea.  I’ve also seen some awful constipation cases after dogs have eaten bones, both cooked and raw, creating bone splinters in the feces.  Ouch!

4. Incomplete nutrition.  Treats should make up less than 10% of a pet’s total diet.  In some of our client families, table food makes up more like 100% of the diet.  My concern with this practice, besides potential for obesity, is that pets are not getting the right balance of nutrients.  For example, cats eating only tuna don’t get
needed taurine, and dogs eating only chicken don’t receive enough vitamins and minerals.

If your dog “refuses to eat his food”, you can try adding low-salt broth for flavor or a small amount of oregano.  Cats like food that’s been warmed slightly and to eat from a wide, shallow bowl allowing for whisker room.

How will my pet know I love her if I don’t feed her from the table?  I recommend small dog or cat treats, breaking them into pieces if they’re large to begin with.  People look at me like I’m nuts when I say this, but fill a treat jar with the pet’s regular kibble and offer a piece with lavish attention.  Take your dog for a walk.  Give your cat five minutes of undivided attention and playtime.  Maybe I’ll take my own advice, get my dogs out for a walk, and step away from the cookie jar right now.



Robin Lake, DVM

Foster Animal Hospital


Thanks to Hill’s Science Diet for the statistics, and my research assistant Keisha Medrano