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Onions, Garlic, Chives, & Leeks: Allium Poisoning in Pets

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If you’re a foodie like me, fall and the holiday season are an absolute joy! But it’s not just about the pumpkin crave or an apple kick – it’s also about those savory favorites like grandma’s classic hotdish, garlic and chive mashed potatoes, stuffing, and more! Some of the most basic, universal ingredients we love to use for these delicious dishes though include onions, garlic, chives, and leeks – which are all members of the Allium species. But when you’re in the kitchen with your allium of choice and see your dog begging with those puppy-dog eyes, it’s important to ask: ithis safe to share with my pet? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

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Why are onions, garlic, chives, leeks, & other alliums toxic to my pet? 

All alliums have sulfur-containing oxidants (SCO), which give them their pungent smell and flavor. The SCOs cause oxidative injury to red blood cells, which leads to the destruction of the red blood cells (hemolysis) and results in life-threatening anemia. Whether raw, cooked, dried, liquid, fresh, or over-the-hill, all forms of alliums can have this effect on both dogs and cats. Typically, pets experience allium poisoning after eating a raw or cooked plant.  

What about using garlic as a flea/tick repellent? 

Pets can still experience allium poisoning when pet owners give pets garlic as a flea/tick repellant. Although these are often considered “odor-free” and have many of the SCOs removed, their use can still cause anemia. Please speak with your family veterinarian to discuss safer and much more effective alternative flea/tick preventatives. 

Are all alliums equally toxic?  

The more pungent the allium, the more toxic it is. So, garlic is more toxic than onions, which are more toxic than chives or leeks. Onion and garlic powders are considered much more toxic than their raw forms because they are dried and concentrated.  

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What happens if my pet experiences allium poisoning? 

Unfortunately, clinical signs of allium poisoning only become noticeable once the damage is done. In other words, the larger the dose your pet ate and the more obvious the symptoms, the more severe the internal damage! 

The earliest clinical signs of toxicity are gastrointestinal upset, followed by signs of anemia within several days. Common signs of anemia include: 

  • Lethargy 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Weakness
  • Yellow Gums
  • Yellow in Whites of Eyes 
  • Red to brown-colored urine  

How is my pet diagnosed and treated? 

A diagnosis of allium toxicity is made based on blood test results, your pet’s history, and clinical exam findings. There is no specific treatment, but patients often require oxygen supplementation and blood transfusions.  

What should I do if my pet does eat an allium?  

If you suspect your pet may have eaten any form of an allium or dishes that contain an allium, contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital immediately for treatment. Veterinary professionals will be able to safely induce vomiting and monitor your pet for signs of anemia. DO NOT try to induce vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide, as it has shown to cause severe ulceration of the lining of the stomach. 

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We hope your fall is full of good smells in the kitchen – and no allium poisonings! Remember, prevention is best so keep your pet away from these tempting foods whenever possible. Our best recommendation is to keep pets out of the kitchen while cooking with any allium or other toxic ingredient. It’s also a good idea to remind family and house guests not to share food with the pets without your permission. Happy cooking! 

Dr. Bruns, ER vet, emergency veterinarian, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota


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