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Can dogs get food poisoning?

Can dogs get food poisoning?

Have you ever eaten a questionable tasting meal or a weird looking snack only to feel sick a few hours later? Food poisoning is a terrible feeling and in some situations can leave certain individuals hospitalized. Much like their human companions, dogs are not immune to the perils of food poisoning. With their curious nature and penchant for scavenging, dogs can easily ingest contaminated substances, leading to a range of unpleasant symptoms. From household foods that are harmless to humans but harmful to dogs, to spoiled leftovers, these animals are susceptible to gastrointestinal distress and other health issues caused by consuming improper or unsafe foods. Understanding the risks and being vigilant about what our canine companions consume is crucial in preventing food poisoning and maintaining their overall well-being.

Dogs are more well adapted to consume food that contains microbes that we associate with food poisoning. Occasionally, dogs can get food poisoning from contaminated commercial food. It is uncommon however because the majority of commercial pet food undergoes a cooking kill step to ensure the destruction of dangerous microbial species. In addition, commercial pet food also goes through rigorous quality assurance and food safety testing. 

The difference between food poisoning and toxicity

Food poisoning and toxicity are related but distinct concepts when it comes to health risks in both humans and animals, including dogs. To be able to understand and treat the symptoms it is important to distinguish the difference between food poisoning and toxicity in dogs.

Food Poisoning

  • Food poisoning refers to an illness caused by consuming contaminated, spoiled, or tainted food.
  • It typically involves the ingestion of harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins produced by microorganisms present in the food.
  • Symptoms of food poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Food poisoning can result from consuming food that has not been stored, prepared, or cooked properly, allowing harmful microorganisms to proliferate.


  • Toxicity refers to the harmful effects caused by exposure to substances that are poisonous or harmful to the body, including chemicals, plants, medications, or certain foods.
  • Toxicity can occur through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact with the toxic substance.
  • Toxic reactions can vary widely depending on the specific substance, the amount ingested, the individual's sensitivity, and the duration of exposure.
  • In the context of dogs, certain foods that are safe for humans, like chocolate, grapes, and xylitol, can lead to toxicity when ingested by dogs due to their inability to metabolize certain compounds.

In summary, food poisoning is primarily associated with the ingestion of contaminated or spoiled food containing harmful microorganisms, while toxicity refers to the harmful effects resulting from exposure to poisonous substances. Both can lead to various adverse health effects and require prompt medical attention, whether for humans or animals like dogs.

Close-up portrait of a Beagle laying on a bed Close-up portrait of a Beagle laying on a bed dog not eating stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Common causes of food poisoning in dogs

In the case of microbial contamination of commercial pet food, it is usually the human owners who are most at risk. Owners can actually get food poisoning from their dog’s food without actually eating it. This is because if food is contaminated, simply handling the food can be a route of exposure. Furthermore, dogs also shed live microbes in their feces and saliva. Therefore, owners can also be exposed by cleaning up after their dogs and petting them or letting them lick their face.

The most common reason for dogs getting food poisoning is because they are eating something they shouldn’t be. Some examples of this include:

Dog food Natural raw diet versus against kibble dry food Concept close up Dog food Natural raw diet versus against kibble dry food Concept close up dog food poisoning stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Keep in mind that food poisoning is different from food toxicity. Food poisoning usually has a pathological, microbial component. In contrast, food toxicity results from dogs eating food with a chemical compound that is toxic to them, such as onions, walnuts, grapes, etc. Some of the symptoms of food poisoning and food toxicity can be similar but the treatments are different.

Symptoms of food poisoning in dogs

Food poisoning in dogs can manifest through a variety of symptoms that range in severity. If you suspect your dog has ingested something harmful, it's important to monitor their behavior and health closely and seek veterinary care if necessary. Common symptoms of food poisoning in dogs include:

  • Vomiting: Sudden or frequent vomiting can indicate that your dog's digestive system is trying to expel something harmful.
  • Diarrhea: Loose, watery, or bloody stools can be a sign of gastrointestinal distress caused by food poisoning.
  • Lethargy: A sudden lack of energy or increased tiredness might indicate that your dog is not feeling well.
  • Loss of Appetite: If your dog is refusing to eat or eating significantly less than usual, it could be due to stomach discomfort or illness.
  • Abdominal Pain: Whining, restlessness, or a hunched posture can indicate that your dog is experiencing abdominal discomfort.
  • Excessive Drooling: Unusual drooling, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, can signal gastrointestinal distress.
  • Fever: An elevated body temperature might indicate an infection or inflammation caused by ingesting harmful substances.
  • Weakness: Your dog might appear weak or unsteady on its feet, which could be a sign of toxin exposure.
  • Excessive Thirst: Drinking more water than usual can be a response to vomiting or diarrhea, which leads to dehydration.
  • Tremors or Seizures: In severe cases of food poisoning, neurological symptoms like tremors or seizures may occur.
  • Pale Gums: If your dog's gums appear pale instead of their usual pink color, it could indicate a serious health issue.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Some toxins can cause difficulty breathing or labored breathing.
  • Behavioral Changes: Restlessness, anxiety, or changes in behavior might occur if your dog is feeling unwell.

It's important to note that the severity and combination of symptoms can vary depending on the type of contaminant ingested and the individual dog's sensitivity. If you suspect your dog has food poisoning, contact your veterinarian for guidance. They can provide appropriate treatment, supportive care, and advice on how to manage your dog's condition.

Treating food poisoning in dogs

If you suspect your dog may have food poisoning, begin with fasting them for 24 hours so they can clear everything out of their system. The most important thing to remember is to ensure that they are drinking water. Vomiting and diarrhea put them at risk for dehydration which can be dangerous in its own right. 

After 24 hour fasting, slowly start feeding your dog small, digestible meals. This could be something like a cup of boiled chicken breast and white rice. If you see improvement with the small, simple meals, you can begin to incorporate their usual food back in. 

If symptoms persist or worsen, take your dog to your veterinarian as they may need more clinical help.The severity of the situation will determine the necessary treatment, but here are some general guidelines for treating food poisoning in dogs:

  • Contact Your Veterinarian: If you notice symptoms of food poisoning in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately. They can provide guidance on whether your dog needs to be seen right away or if you can monitor them at home.
  • Fluids and Hydration: Dehydration is a common concern with vomiting and diarrhea. Your veterinarian may recommend giving your dog small amounts of water or an electrolyte solution to help prevent dehydration. In severe cases, your dog might need intravenous fluids to maintain hydration.
  • Withhold Food: In many cases, your veterinarian will advise you to withhold food for a period of time (usually 12-24 hours) to allow your dog's stomach to settle. This can help ease vomiting and digestive discomfort.
  • Bland Diet: After the fasting period, your veterinarian might recommend feeding a bland diet. This can consist of easily digestible foods like boiled rice and boiled, lean chicken. This gradual reintroduction of food can help your dog's stomach recover.
  • Medications: Depending on the symptoms and severity of the food poisoning, your veterinarian might prescribe medications to address vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms. However, it's important to follow your vet's instructions closely and not give your dog any over-the-counter medications without their guidance.
  • Monitoring: Keep a close eye on your dog's condition. Monitor their hydration levels, appetite, energy levels, and any changes in symptoms. If the symptoms worsen or if your dog shows signs of distress, contact your veterinarian.
  • Avoid Further Exposure: Identify the source of the food poisoning and ensure your dog doesn't have access to it again. This might involve pet-proofing your home and being cautious about where you let your dog roam.
  • Seek Veterinary Care for Severe Cases: In more severe cases of food poisoning, especially if your dog is exhibiting neurological symptoms, seizures, or difficulty breathing, seek immediate veterinary attention. These symptoms can indicate a more serious toxin exposure.
The veterinarian doctor treating, checking on dog at vet clinic The veterinarian doctor treating, checking on dog at vet clinic. dog vet stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Preventing food poisoning

Preventing food poisoning in dogs necessitates a combination of vigilance, awareness, and responsible practices. To safeguard our four-legged companions from the risks of contamination and toxicity, it's imperative to become well-informed about the foods that can pose a threat to their health. Properly storing pet food in sealed containers, securing garbage bins, and maintaining hygienic practices can deter dogs from ingesting spoiled or contaminated substances. Equipping oneself with the knowledge to recognize potential hazards, implementing basic training commands, and consulting with veterinarians for dietary advice collectively contribute to a comprehensive strategy for preventing food poisoning in dogs. By taking proactive steps, we can ensure our beloved companions enjoy a diet that supports their well-being and longevity.

Brown dog laying sadly beside a large bowl full of food
Brown dog laying sadly beside a large bowl full of food

View Sources

Pet MD “Can dogs get food poisoning” (2020).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. "Multistate outbreak of human Salmonella infections caused by contaminated dry dog food--United States, 2006-2007." MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 57, no. 19 (2008): 521-524.

Torkan, S., D. Shirani, E. Rahimi, and K. Ghomi. "The Evaluation of Probiotic Effect on Prevention of Food Bacterial Poisoning in Dog." (2011): 403-413.

Chesney, C. J. "Food sensitivity in the dog: a quantitative study." Journal of Small Animal Practice 43, no. 5 (2002): 203-207.

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February 20, 2024
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