A dog resting its head on the floor.

A flurry of pet-food recalls in recent months has put pet owners on edge. According to the Food and Drug Administration, two children (and several cats and dogs) have become ill and at least three kittens have died after eating (or, in the children’s case, handling) raw pet food contaminated with harmful bacteria.

The majority of pet-food recalls since January have been for commercially prepared meals and snacks made from raw, or uncooked, ingredients. But the FDA says these aren’t the only types of foods that should worry pet owners.

Some seemingly harmless human foods can be downright deadly for your pup, too. 

“Dogs in general react a little bit differently to diet variation than we do,” says Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., the deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. Their digestive systems are simply not as well-equipped as ours to process and eliminate certain foods, she says.

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They are used to eating the same commercial dog food every day, which is designed to provide them with all of the nutrients they need. Human food can throw a dog's system out of whack, and can cause mild and serious health problems.

Not all "people" foods are necessarily toxic for dogs, and not all dogs react to them the same way. For instance, small dogs tend to be more sensitive than large ones.

After monitoring complaints and adverse events through the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal, the agency has identified the top people foods and ingredients that could cause you and your pet to head to an animal hospital.

1. Alliums

Onions, garlic, and chives—and any foods seasoned with them—are a big no-no for your pooch, because they’ve been associated with a disorder called hemolytic anemia, says Hartogensis, which can damage a dog’s red blood cells. The same goes for spices such as onion and garlic powder. If your dog happens to eat any of these alliums, watch out for symptoms of hemolytic anemia: disorientation, fatigue, listlessness, pale gums, and a rapid heartbeat. As the disease progresses, dogs can also develop darkened urine, jaundice, and vomiting.

2. Foods That Have Gone Bad

Some dogs serve as little vacuum cleaners, cleaning up all the crumbs on the floor, but that doesn’t mean they can double as a living compost bin. If a food has mold or you think it has otherwise spoiled, don’t feed it to your dog. And take care to keep trash cans and compost bins in a place where the dog can’t get into them.  

3. Fried or Fatty Foods

Foods that are overly fatty, such as fried chicken, are very toxic for dogs, says Hartogensis. If they eat enough, such foods can cause inflammation of the pancreas, causing that organ to produce enzymes that can severely damage your pet’s intestines. This can be life-threatening, she says: “It’s really scary to watch a dog come in with pancreatitis, because they’re just vomiting like crazy.” 

4. Grapes

Scientists aren’t sure exactly why grapes are one of the most toxic foods for dogs, or which compound in them makes dogs so sick, says Hartogensis, but there’s been a well-established association between grapes and acute kidney failure in some pups. This includes currants and raisins, which can deliver an even stronger toxic punch than a grape, because the fruits are dried and therefore the compounds are more concentrated. 

If your pooch sneaks a grape while you’re not looking, even if it’s just one, watch for signs of kidney failure, which can initially include diarrhea and vomiting, and then abdominal pain, dehydration, lethargy, low urine output, and weakness, according to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. The smaller the dog, the fewer grapes it will take to make it sick. 

5. Macadamia Nuts

Pet owners should keep their dogs away from all nuts, Hartogensis says, but especially keep an eye on macadamia nuts. A dog would have to eat a fair amount of macadamia nuts to get sick, she says, but if it does, it could become depressed or experience fever, muscle weakness, and vomiting. 

6. Raw Meat

You wouldn’t stick a piece of raw meat into your mouth, so why would you feed it to your dog? Uncooked meats can harbor potentially deadly bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, which can wreak havoc on the digestive system. While dogs are typically less prone to infections from bacteria like these than humans are, the bacteria can still make them sick, says Hartogensis.

In February, for example, pet-food manufacturer Darwin’s Natural Pet Products recalled two lots of its raw duck and chicken vegetable meals after a dog suffered recurring diarrhea for nine months after eating the food. Testing later confirmed the presence of salmonella.

And remember that raw pet food—whether prepared at home or purchased from a store—can be a source of harmful bacteria to you, too. (For more information on feeding your pet a raw-food diet, see our story here.)

7. Salty Snacks

In large amounts, foods containing excess salt can cause sodium ion poisoning in dogs, leading to depression, diarrhea, high fever, excessive thirst, kidney damage, seizures, and vomiting, says Hartogensis. “It’s almost like they get drunk,” she says. A potato chip or a pretzel probably won’t do much damage, but a whole bag might, according to the FDA. Make sure your dog has enough water at all times, especially if it dipped into some salty snacks. 

8. Xylitol

More and more, manufacturers are adding this low-calorie sugar substitute to processed foods and other products such as baked goods, breath mints, gums, mouthwashes, toothpastes, and more. Dog owners may not know that even a little bit of the sweetener can cause a rapid spike in the animals' insulin levels, which could cause blood sugar to plummet to dangerous lows.

“Even just a few pieces of gum can be pretty toxic,” says Hartogensis. Small dogs are especially vulnerable because the effects are dose-dependent. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning initially include vomiting and can later progress to fainting, seizures, staggering, and weakness. 

What about our feline friends? Cats can similarly be sensitive to certain foods, such as alliums, but according to the FDA, they are pickier eaters than dogs, and are less likely to eat something that will make them sick.

If you think your pet has been poisoned, first take the food away so that he or she doesn’t eat any more of it, says Hartogensis. Then you should call your veterinarian. If a vet is not available, you can contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435). The ASPCA might charge a consultation fee.