My Big Onion Scare
Last Friday, I bought 2 cheese and ham quiches from a local gourmet store, as I do quite regularly. I took one up north and left one in the fridge for my daughter. Unfortunately, the store may have mislabelled these 2 quiches. They were onion and tomato, not my usual ham and cheese. My daughter can not eat onions or tomatoes, so she had a bite, tossed her slice, and left the rest.
These quiches are made at the store. I was angry because I felt this showed a lapse in food safety. If the labels on quiches were misleading, what about the cookies and other prepared foods for those people (or dogs) with severe allergies or intolerances. Plus it was a waste of money.
On Tuesday, I took the remaining quiche out of the fridge to return. I put it in a plastic bag and left it by the front door while I grabbed my purse. I headed out to do some chores and the quiche stayed by the door. I only realized it was not with me when I finally got to the store. It was up on a shelf but Kilo the Ninja Pug must have jumped up and pulled on the ends of the white plastic bag until it fell. He then tore open all the packaging and ate the whole piece.
I came home to a guilty, but very satisfied looking Pug licking his lips 2 hours later. At first, I was just a little annoyed he had eaten the evidence and made a mess. Then I remembered why I was returning the quiche – ONIONS.
I knew onions were not great for dogs, so I googled “What if My Dog Eats Onions?” and came across Onions the Secret Killer by Dr Sophia Yin. I was terrified. I called my vet and asked him to stand by in case we needed to make Kilo sick and give him charcoal. I then called the ASPCA hotline (I had spoken to them when I did a recent post on Poisonous Plants). They were fantastic. They asked Kilo’s weight (18lbs) , age (nearly 3) and other details. Then they asked how much he had eaten when. We estimated around a tablespoon or 15 grams 2 hours earlier (I called the store to ask and they were very unhelpful).
The Vet at ASPCA advised that I wait and see. They felt that it was too late to make him sick and that going to my vet and giving him charcoal could have other risks without enough benefits. While any amount of onion is toxic, they did not feel that this amount would cause him terrible damage. They suggested that I take him for blood tests if he showed any symptoms after 2-4 days. My Vet agreed with their recommendation, so we are waiting. Luckily Kilo just had a check up a few weeks ago with blood tests so we have a base.
So far so good. He seems normal. If Kilo shows symptoms today or tomorrow, and his blood work is bad, he might need hydration or even a transfusion.
Why Onions Are Toxic
Thiosulfate found in onions is toxic to canines because they do not have the enzyme to digest this substance. Additionally onions contain a compound called organosulfur that results in toxicosis.
According to the ASPCA, significant onion ingestion may lead to liver damage, asthmatic attacks, allergic reactions, weakness, diarrhea, discolored urine, anemia, vomiting, and even dermatitis.
One of the most critical problems that can arise from onion toxicity is canine Heinz Body Anemia or Hemolytic Anemia. Toxicity results because an oxygen-transporting protein called hemoglobin in the red blood cells gets oxidized. The hemoglobin forms clumps which can’t carry oxygen as well. These small clumps, called Heinz bodies, can be seen in the red blood cells under a microscope.
Onions and Heinz Body Anemia
Heinz bodies don’t usually cause life-threatening problems themselves; the red blood cells can still carry oxygen, just not as efficiently. Heinz bodies cause problems by decreasing the red blood cell lifespan. As a result, the dog may become anemic. If a dog eats a large amount of onions, the dog may develop a sudden anemia 2-4 days later. So scary.
■Pale or icteric mucous membranes like the gums
■ Weakness, depression
■ Rapid heart and respiration rates (caused by hypoxia)
■ Vomiting, anorexia, and/or diarrhea
■ Onion odor on breath
■ Brownish or reddish urine color
■ Loss of appetite
So far, Day 3, Kilo has not shown any symptoms at all. I delayed a trip to monitor.
According to the ASPCA’s, “Toxology Brief: Onion Breath” article in Veterinary Technician, an early study (“Onion Toxicity In A Dog” published in Mod Vet Pract) revealed onion toxicity occurs in dogs when the amount of onions fed was more than 0.5% of the animal’s weight.
A review of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center case record database for Allium cepa exposure over a 2-year period revealed 23 cases (20 dogs, 3 cats). Six of the affected dogs and one cat showed clinical signs. The data revealed that it takes a fairly large amount of ingested onions before signs are observed but that the dose in the reported cases was consistently over 0.5% of the animal’s body weight.
Dr Yin estimated that 1/4 of a cup can make a smaller 20-pound dog like Kilo sick, while several cups may be needed to make a large dog sick. Cats are even more sensitive.
According to Dogster, onion toxicity builds up over time – so if the dog is getting a little bit of onion every day – it could build up in his system over time and have toxic effects.
What to Do when Your Dog Ingests Onions
PetMD urges you immediately consult your vet if your dog ingests onion, or if you see the symptoms listed above.
I called the ASPCA Hotline as well as my Vet and they were both fantastic – I paid US$65 happily.
24-hour ASPCA emergency poison hotline 1-888-426-4435 (fees may apply).
If caught within 2-3 hours, Treatment normally involves inducement of vomiting, carrying out gastric lavage or flushing out the stomach, and making use of activated charcoal to treat not just poisoning but allergic reactions as well.
They may take blood tests immediately then 2 days and 4 days after ingestion to check for anemia, if the dog shows symptoms.
Be careful to maintain your dog’s hydration levels, your vet may do this by providing fluid in his bloodstream. Furthermore your vet may have to assess for liver damage and may do blood transfusions if necessary.
Did You know? Garlic, of the family Liliaceae, is related to onions and has similar chemical characteristics.
Conclusion- Pet Safety
Ingesting onions, whether they are raw, cooked, or in powdered form can make a dog (or cat) seriously ill. However, dogs’ red blood cells do regenerate. With proper supportive care, a dog should make a full recovery – usually in 10 to 14 days.
Many human foods contain at least a small amount of onion or onion powder. To be safe, always read your labels carefully and keep human food out of reach where possible.
According to PetMD’s “How to Safely Feed Your Pet People Food“, when it comes to foods like grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate, onions and garlic, it’s best to just stay away.
Stay Safe! Read Dogster’s list of vegetables that aren’t safe for dogs.
Photo credits for Blog Paws Badge:
(1) CJ Jackson; (2) Christine Paul; (3) TattleCat; (4) Ann Staub
Poor little Kilo is keeping quiet and well hydrated for the next few days. Then we’ll get back to our fitness routine.