The Dangers of Onion Toxicity

The organosulfoxides (sulfurs) in onions, garlic, leeks and chives react with the cell membranes of the red blood cells of dogs, causing the cells to lyse (explode).  Cats are even more sensitive to the lytic effects of  allium (onion family) toxicosis than dogs.

It is a common myth that a small amount of onions or garlic is not harmful to dogs.  In fact, many homemade dog treat recipes include garlic powder as a flavoring because dogs tend to love it so much.  Dogs are more tolerant of garlic than onions, and small amounts of either often do not produce effects that are noticed.

foxy roxy

Foxy Roxy – recently adopted from Nebraska Humane Society. Smaller dogs are more greatly affected than larger dogs by the same amount of onions.

 

However, I believe that any amount of garlic or onions is unacceptable, because it always causes damage on a cellular level, whether or not we notice the effects of the damage and label it “toxic.”

common definition of veterinary toxin – taking in a substance at a high enough level to cause measurable damage or issues that are noticed by others

correct definition of toxin – poison

A small amount of garlic or onion ingestion will cause a small amount of subclinical hemolysis.  That is, a small amount will cause a small amount of red blood cell explosion.  Dogs need their red blood cells to oxygenate their brains and other important organs.

A moderate amount of garlic or onion ingestion will probably cause your pet to feel light headed and lethargic, which may go unnoticed.

A large amount of garlic or onion ingestion will cause clinical signs that are felt by the dog and noticed by the people.  Signs may take several days to develop.   Signs include:

  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • fast heart rate
  • fast breathing
  • anemia – low levels of red blood cells
  • paleness secondary to anemia
  • icterus – yellowing of the skin, gums or whites of the eyes, in this case secondary to hemolysis

hem/o – blood

lysis – rupture or destruction

hemolysis – rupture or destruction of red blood cells

anemia – low levels of red blood cells

Heinz bodies – microscopic changes to red blood cells seen with this particular toxicity as well as some others.  Heinz bodies are little swellings seen on the cell membranes of red blood cells before they lyse.  They are signs of a weakened cell membrane.

Onion and garlic toxicity are rarely fatal, but they can cause serious illness secondary to the red blood cell destruction and resulting anemia that they cause.  The anemia caused by onion toxicity is a regenerative anemia, meaning the body will be triggered to make new red blood cells.  This process can take up to a week to begin, and until then, cell damage continues to occur.

If your pet has ingested onions, garlic or foods containing either, call your veterinarian right away.  At early stages, the toxicity can often be treated with supportive care and detoxification.  At later stages, oxygen therapy and blood transfusions are sometimes required along with supportive care and monitoring of anemia.

Please, even if the treat recipe says to add garlic, even if your dog loves leftover stew with onions, even if he has worked hard for the leeks he dug from the garden, never allow your dog to ingest foods from the onion family.  The resulting toxicity is rarely fatal, uncommonly dangerous, sometimes uncomfortable, but always occurs.

 

 




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78 comments

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    June 18, 2012 3:44 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kathryn

    i heard grapes and brocolli are not good either, is that right? x

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      June 18, 2012 10:49 pmPosted 2 years ago
      JG

      Grapes and raisins (dried grapes) are toxic. Broccoli gives them gas, but I’ve never heard of broccoli being toxic.

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  • June 18, 2012 3:44 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Fred

    c’est bon à savoir

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  • June 18, 2012 3:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marie

    poor thing

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    June 18, 2012 3:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lana

    I didn’t know about garlic ! Always gave it to the dogs, won’t any longer

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    June 18, 2012 3:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Michele L

    Grapes for sure…never heard brocolli before

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    June 18, 2012 3:46 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Michele L

    heathershomemadedogtreats.com/toxic.html – check out this page, it has a full list

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  • June 18, 2012 3:47 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kevin

    wow never knew that. my dog eats onions all the time. he loves lettuce onions and tomatoes.

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    June 18, 2012 3:47 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lisa

    SO SAD!

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    June 18, 2012 3:48 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jerrie

    chocolate,sugar is also bad for them

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  • June 18, 2012 3:51 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Rhonda

    thank you..i always thought garlic was ok.

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  • June 18, 2012 3:51 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Gail

    When our dog was three months old, we dealt with this! It was awful, but he is fine now. Our vet was awesome!!!

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  • June 18, 2012 3:51 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Mina

    Poor pups, need to get the word out!!

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    June 18, 2012 3:53 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jennifer

    broccoli is fine for dogs….grapes, citrus fruits, avocados, onions, garlic, chocolate, raisins can be deadly. other foods that aren’t good for them are: high fatty foods (french fries, donuts), foods with corn, wheat and yeast, high sugary foods and soda.

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    June 18, 2012 3:53 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kristian

    You just can’t tell that too often!

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  • June 18, 2012 3:54 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Beverly

    I’ve asked three different vets about using a half teaspoon of granulated garlic in a batch of dog treats (yield 120 treats) and have been told that such a small amount isn’t harmful.

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    June 18, 2012 3:54 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Deborah

    Let’s feed our kids what’s good for THEM!

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    June 18, 2012 3:55 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Vesna

    ne mogu to ni čitati ” užs !

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    June 18, 2012 3:55 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Ladin

    And (bell) peppers are also very dangerous! I had one day some left overs and i put some in her bowl. The whole night my dog got sooo sick, i thought she was dying :(

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      June 18, 2012 10:56 pmPosted 2 years ago
      JG

      I make our dogs their own very small salads when I make ours. They get diced pieces of broccoli, green and red peppers, lettuce spine, plus shredded carrots and shredded zucchini. They’ve never gotten sick from any of that. We had a dog with kidney failure and I ended up having to make all of her meals. Broccoli was one of the main recommended ingredients.

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      January 21, 2014 3:56 amPosted 6 months ago
      Anonymous

      Bell peppers are not toxic to dogs.

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  • June 18, 2012 3:56 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anna

    poor fellow (:

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    June 18, 2012 3:56 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Karen

    Is that raw or cooked or both? Koli loves bolognaise but it contains both

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  • June 18, 2012 3:57 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anne

    My dog George “counter surfed” and ate a whole avocado, skin and all. We didn’t discover it until I was preparing the guacamole and noticed I was one avocado short. We panicked and called the vet, but it turned out fine. However he is a BIG boy so at over 90 pounds he can get away with eating bad things.

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  • June 18, 2012 3:59 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Rockie

    shared

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  • June 18, 2012 3:59 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Michele

    Yes it happend to a freind of mine, sharing spagetti sauce. Almost lost their girl. They were devesated.

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  • June 18, 2012 4:00 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Siobhan

    Thank you! I’m always telling my mom this and she never believes me that dogs should not eat food with onion in. Now if I show her this she’ll believe me!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:02 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Darlene

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

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    June 18, 2012 4:02 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Nicele

    Oh no!! My 13lb dog loves grilled onions as an occassional treat, he will be sad to know he can’t have any more :(

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  • June 18, 2012 4:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sarah

    Maybe it varies, but my dog was chewing on what I thought was a stick outside (not everyone lets them do that, but please don’t judge!) and it turned out to be connected to a vine in the grape vine family? My poor dog was sick for hours, all night. Grapes & vines are another toxin for dogs!!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:05 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Anonymous

    OMD!!!! My food from THE HONEST KITCHEN contains garlic!!!!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Mary

    I truly had no idea.

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    June 18, 2012 4:07 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Helen

    Please, get the veterinary facts before deciding on what you should and shouldn’t feed. Garlic, onions, and chives also have that effect on humans in very large doses. Onions are the most worrisome in dogs, but most large dogs will tolerate a little onion without issue. Garlic is rarely a cause for concern. In fact, it is frequently used as a natural pest repellent. Large dogs don’t seem to have issues. As far as broccoli, it, along with other cruciform veggies like cauliflower can cause excess gas so owners of dogs who may be prone to bloat should be careful about feeding it. The veggie itself is not dangerous. Grapes and raisins are absolutely a no no. They have been found to cause acute renal failure, sometimes irreversible.

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      June 18, 2012 9:13 pmPosted 2 years ago
      donna

      I had heard how bad grapes are- but not until after feeding them to my dogs for their whole lives-both were largish boys,( shar-pei & mastiff X) and lived till 16 & 18 yrs. One loved grapes and begged for them- he would have eaten many,many kilograms of grapes in his 16 yrs.

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        January 29, 2013 7:22 pmPosted 1 year ago
        Anonymous

        my dog loved grapes also, he thought they were small balls and played with them for an hour before he ate them. Lived to 15. Like people, it probably depends upon the dog such as people with peanut allergies, but wouldn’t want to take the chance now.

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      June 18, 2012 11:04 pmPosted 2 years ago
      JG

      Right, Helen. When I make the salads for the dogs, they get a very minimal amount of small diced pieces of broccoli. I hadn’t considered bloat as a possible consequence of the cruciferous veggies. Our dogs are large and the salads are small, primary ingredients are the shredded carrots and shredded zucchini. They don’t get any leftovers from our meals.

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  • June 18, 2012 4:07 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jordan

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

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    June 18, 2012 4:08 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Marie-José

    is this true?! a lot of people feed garlic pills to there dogs and cats to keep the flees away!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:09 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Christina

    I am allergic to alliums (except garlic) myself, so they are never in the house, thankfully, since my dog must taste everything that I eat.

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  • June 18, 2012 4:09 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Gail

    Our vet told us that it could be a small piece of onion, onion skin, or green onion tops…. We had one sick puppy. He just happened to get a piece that fell on the floor while we were making soup. I’m very careful now!!!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:17 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sarah

    You can probably get away with it but I always wonder why? Maybe because one of our dogs has an auto-immune issue, but I never feel like finding out that she can or can’t eat onions/grapes/chocolate the hard way – what am I proving!?

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  • June 18, 2012 4:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Isabel

    Brigada pela dica!!!!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:20 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jordan

    Can somebody tell me why grapes have never effected my dog?(in a message)

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  • June 18, 2012 4:22 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Love

    I had a friend who had a German Shepard puppy and the little girl next door fed him chocolate through the fence and he died. Was so sad. The people felt terrible that had no idea she did that. She was only about

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  • June 18, 2012 4:23 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Love

    3 years old so she didn’t know any better.

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    June 18, 2012 4:26 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Opal

    My JRT, Lucy accidentally got 1 small piece of cooked onion. She got so deathly ill. She threw up over & over again & again. When her little tummy was empty, she still kept throwing up, exhausted between bouts. Finally resting, shaking & chilled. It was horrible. She was about 8 months old. When I heard garlic can do the same thing, I am very careful handling it in the kitchen. They say some garlic is ok. But don’t know how much. It’s in some of their dog food.

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  • June 18, 2012 4:27 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Carolyn

    another important one!

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  • June 18, 2012 4:29 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Dewayne

    does that do the same cooked or raw?????? or both????no more tablescrapes.

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    June 18, 2012 4:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Scott

    thank you for that information scotty

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    June 18, 2012 4:36 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sharon

    OMG !!! My bloody vet TOLD me to put a small amount of garlic in my pups food to help stop any fleas. She has just turned 1 and luckily she has had no reaction to it. She gets no more and i’m changing vets asap.

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    June 18, 2012 4:41 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Annette

    More people need to know this. Onions, garlic and grapes/raisins are toxic to dogs even in small doses.

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    June 18, 2012 4:45 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Vicci

    I give my dog a few times a week a little bit of garlic in his food against the flees. When I told the vet he said this is an old but good remedy and never mentioned this is bad. I do this for about a year now and the dog was never sick. And he’s medium size, about 15kg.

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    June 18, 2012 4:50 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Julie

    Yikes!

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    June 18, 2012 5:09 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Tami

    Thank you for sharing this – I had no clue!!

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    June 18, 2012 5:09 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Angela

    BROCCOLI: There has been a bit of confusion where broccoli is concerned. Broccoli is very good for dogs, however, if the daily intake exceeds more than 10% of the animals diet – problems can occur. The toxic substance is isothiocyanate and can cause gastrointestinal irritation.
    NOTE: Broccoli toxicity was first noted in dairy cattle raised in California. When there was an over abundant broccoli crop, it was fed to the cattle. Problems may have occurred because cattle have rumens and digest things much more thoroughly, therefore taking in more of the toxic substance.

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    June 18, 2012 5:10 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Angela

    My service dog Sweetpea got really sick from sneaking some greenbean casserole once. She was horribly sick and ended up needing fluids and several meds. It took her about 2 weeks to get over it.

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    June 18, 2012 5:28 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Lizzy

    Unless you’re shoving whole cloves of garlic down your dog’s throat, garlic is fine. Many pet foods have garlic. And I don’t mean some mess you find at Wal-Mart. Top shelf dogs foods like The Honest Kitchen have formulas that contain garlic. I have 5 dogs who all eat food containing garlic. They’re perfectly healthy and they have no problems with fleas and ticks. I’m also not sure why there’s such a big fuss over Avocados either. There’s an entire dog food line based on Avocados called Avo-Derm. It’s even made Whole Dog Journal’s best foods list.

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  • June 18, 2012 5:29 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Brianna D

    I feel like a broken record saying this again, but garlic is fine in small quantities. It is in a LOT of things the average joe buys for their dog. In fact, if you buy canned food, it very well may be in that. Garlic is only toxic in large quantities. For it to be toxic to a dog, a five lb dog would have to consume about 5 cloves in one day. Who goes around giving their dog garlic by the cloves? Do it by the tsp (the powder form) and it is not toxic. The misinformation that it IS comes from the fact that onions are. While they ARE in the same family and onions ARE toxic in any dose, the same is NOT true of garlic.

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  • June 18, 2012 5:30 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Brianna D

    Sharon, no need to change vets. The vet was right, not right. Once again, garlic being toxic in small quantities is misinformation.

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  • June 18, 2012 5:32 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Brianna D

    *not wrong*

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    June 18, 2012 5:51 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Vicki

    That is good to know!

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    June 18, 2012 6:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Sharon

    Brianna, thankyou for your info, she’s never had any problems, but different countries says conflicting thing sometimes. I just want what is best for my fur child

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  • June 18, 2012 6:11 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Kimberlee

    I don’t understand why pet food companies sell brewers yeast with garlic as a flea preventative if garlic is known to be toxic to dogs. Don’t these companies have our pets best interest and/or good health in mind? We assume that if a reputable company is selling a product for our pets that it must be okay for them. It’s incredibly disappointing that this is not the case.

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    June 18, 2012 6:31 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Alexandra

    I am very strict on telling our 6year old not to feed any table food to our 7month old Puggle… But he got a hold of some fat free popcorn and LOVES it…. :-)

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    June 18, 2012 6:33 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Wilda

    My vet PRESCRIBED garlic pills to my small dog to get rid of internal parasites. His breath was hard to tolerate while he took it, otherwise he was a-ok. I’d take that over chemical pesticide and neurotoxins any day.

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  • June 18, 2012 6:50 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Caroline

    Sharon Barker – your vet is right! Garlic is good for dogs – like so many herbs that are ignored by conventional vets. Huge amounts of garlic can cause anaemia, but please give your dogs 1 or 2 crushed cloves per day in the raw meat meal. One of its many benefits is that it wards off worms and fleas. Have used it for years since starting to breed dogs. Never needed conventional dewormers which are far more toxic. Onion is a no no

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  • June 18, 2012 7:06 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Benjamin

    this dog is more adorable then boo the cutest dog in the world

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    June 18, 2012 8:01 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Alexandra

    There is a garlic powder for dogs expecially for dogs from the vet. It contains the garlic and minerals.

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    June 18, 2012 8:09 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jessica

    i use garlic powder(springtime brand) for both my dogs to keep the bugs away. works amazingly well and have not had any problems with it!

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    June 18, 2012 9:41 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Shawn Finch, DVM

    Thank you for all your thoughtful comments! I sure did not mean to upset the Honest Kitchen and garlic-for-flea-protection folks. I totally understand why those can be reasons to use small amounts of garlic.

    I still contend that any amount of preventable red blood cell destruction is not ideal, and I do avoid allium with our pets, but everything we do for our pets is a risk trade off, and I understand how giving very small amounts of garlic for the benefit it can provide may be worth it for some dog lovers. And please do not leave your vet for suggesting garlic for fleas – talk with him or her and decide what you think is best for your pet.

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    December 8, 2012 11:14 pmPosted 1 year ago
    debrae

    my puppy just got into my dinner and ate some onions…
    what do i do now?

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      December 15, 2012 12:02 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Anonymous

      Debrae, call your vet or animal emergency clinic for advice when this happens. and watch your dog for signs of illness.

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    May 15, 2013 6:19 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Dianna

    Last Thursday I fed my dog some left over thawed stir fry vegetables. Not realizing onions were a problem, there were a good number of onion pieces in the veggies. Sunday, the dog vomited and was eating grass. Monday he was very lethargic and seemed to be in pain. Tuesday afternoon / night he seems to be over whatever was wrong. He is a lab. He weighs approximately 100 pounds. Do you think it could have been the onions and if so, what are the lasting effects of a dog eating onions. Like I said, he seems to be better now.

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      February 5, 2014 1:23 pmPosted 5 months ago
      Emmsy

      He may just have less red blood cells because onions make them burst but he will be fine.

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    June 29, 2013 7:41 pmPosted 1 year ago
    zoobee

    Hi Shawn, Thank you for the informative article. I have a question I can’t seem to find an answer to anywhere online, I was wondering if you could answer it. I just made a large volume of chicken stock which included an onion and a half to at least 8 lbs of chicken bones and meat plus carrots and celery. The onions were boiled with the stock for over 2 hours and all the liquid was drained away. I then ground up all the remaining solid with the intention of supplementing my dog’s food with it. Halfway through, I vaguely recalled that onions were no good, and pulled out around 1/2-3/4 an onion’s worth of remaining pieces. The yield is somewhere around 4 quarts of chicken mush, resembling tuna salad, within which is no more than 1 onion total, stripped of all its juices, etc. Wouldn’t the organosulfoxides have boiled away after 2 hours, leaving just fiber? I would like to feed my 50 lb Cattle Dog about 3/4 cup of this mix a day. Is that safe?

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    July 26, 2013 3:39 amPosted 12 months ago
    Anonymous

    I gave my chiuaha some left over French onion dip which was about 2-3 tablespoons ROUGHLY as a treat. I’m worried now :( he weighs about 6lbs.

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    February 5, 2014 1:19 pmPosted 5 months ago
    Emmsy

    If I put onions in gravy just for the taste but not actually give my puppy any onions is that ok? Also I believe that homecooked food is alot better for dogs than a raw diet or dog food. First of all becuase u know what is going into it and it contains alot more nutrition and healthy food.

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