Biologically Appropriate Raw Food for Pets


Foods that Spell Danger to Dogs and Cats


Direct exerpts from an article written by Ian Billinghurst to be found @
Copyright © Ian Billinghurst 


Onions and Chives

Onions can be fatal to dogs and cats because they destroy red blood cells and can cause anemia, weakness, and breathing difficulties. Some vets warn that even small amounts can cause cumulative damage over time. All forms of onion and chives, particularly cooked and powdered, are toxic for pets. Garlic too can be harmful to dogs and cats when fed in large amounts.
One percent of fresh garlic added to a standard BARF mixture is beneficial and safe for dogs.

Grapes and Derivatives

It is still not entirely clear what makes grapes and their weathered friends sultanas and raisins so toxic to dogs. However, what is clear, is that these fruits contain a fungus, pesticide, or some other toxin that negatively affects a dog’s kidneys. And it doesn’t take much toxin (i.e. much grape material) to cause problems; just one ounce of fruit (28 gm) for every 2.2 pounds (one Kg) of body weight can induce toxic symptoms, including vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea. In severe cases, dogs have experienced severe renal failure and death. Recent research suggests that not all dogs are susceptible. The problem appears to be genetic. Only those dogs lacking the enzymes that detoxify the poison – whatever it is – are likely to suffer from grape poisoning. Until we can be certain of the genetics or otherwise of this grape toxicity conundrum, AND we have a way of detecting (safely) those dogs likely to be harmed by grapes, the strongest advice we can hand out is do not feed any member of the grape family (in any form) to any dog. 


Chocolate can cause seizures, coma and death. Cooking or dark chocolate is the most dangerous. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. But any chocolate, in large enough amounts, can kill a dog. There have been reports of an ounce of cooking chocolate (28 gm) poisoning a 30-pound (13.6Kg) dog, and most dogs will happily consume more than this. The symptoms may not show up for several hours (and you might mistakenly think all is well), with death following within twenty-four hours. If there is any suspicion that a dog has consumed chocolate, veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible. 

Spinach and Oxalic Acid

Many people are concerned about the level of oxalic acid in spinach, particularly the possibility that this may be problematic if spinach is included as part of a raw food or BARF Program of Nutrition. Foods that are rich in Oxalic acid include tea, cocoa, rhubarb, spinach and silver-beet. Oxalic Acid also occurs in substantial amounts in celery leaves, beetroot tops and parsley.

So the question is: “Should cat and dog owners be concerned about spinach or silver-beet because of their oxalic acid content?”

The short answer is – No. In the context of a balanced formulation of BARF, there is insufficient oxalic acid to cause problems. However, oxalic acid has the potential to cause calcium and iron deficiencies as these minerals attach to oxalic acid and become unavailable to the body. However, it should be pointed out that this is far more of a problem with cooked food than raw food. More importantly, is the fact that whether one is a human or an animal, many kilos of cooked spinach or silver beet would have to be consumed, for these vegetables to have any sort of adverse effect on the body. In some cases, a small number of dogs, cats and humans that have a genetic tendency to form oxalate stones or uroliths in the urinary system. In these cases, it is best to avoid foods that contain oxalic acid. Rhubarb leaves, are most definitely toxic/poisonous because of their very high concentration of oxalic acid. Fortunately, high levels of oxalic acid makes food very bitter, which is a deterrent to its consumption by most animals and people. 


Avocados have been found toxic to dogs (fruit, pit, and plant) and it appears that the toxic component is a substance, which has been called ‘Persin’. Studies to date indicate that Persin can damage heart, lung and other tissue in many animals. Reported symptoms of Persin toxicity have included difficulty breathing, abdominal enlargement, abnormal fluid accumulations in the chest, in the abdomen and in the sac around the heart – the pericardium. It is not know how much Persin or avocado needs to be ingested in order for these toxic effects to be seen. Nor is it known exactly how Persin produces its adverse effects. Mostly GI signs are seen and the vet will treat them symptomatically. In addition, the patient should be monitored closely for other clinical signs related to the cardiovascular system. (This information comes from the American Veterinary Medicine Association, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.) Other reported problems with Avocados have related to their fat content. In these cases the problems seen were stomach upset, vomiting and pancreatitis. 

Green Tomatoes and Green Potatoes

Both green tomatoes and green potatoes are poisonous for companion animals. While most people are aware of the dangers posed by green potatoes, the fact that tomatoes can also be poisonous is not so well known. The potentially toxic substance in tomatoes is called Tomatine.

Green Potatoes

The green potato contains a toxin called Solanine. Solanine poisoning results in gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. These include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, cardiac dysrhythmia, headache and dizziness. In more severe cases, hallucinations, loss of sensation, paralysis, fever, jaundice, dilated pupils, hypothermia and death have been reported. One study indicates that a dose of 2 to 5 mg per kilogram of body weight can cause toxic symptoms (in humans), and fatalities are possible with a dose rate of 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight. It should be noted that the green colouring in the potato is chlorophyll and chlorophyll is not poisonous. However, the presence of chlorophyll is usually correlated with elevated levels of solanine. The good news here is that solanine is quite bitter, which will deter most animals from eating green potatoes.

Dogs and Cats – Highly Sensitive to Solanine

It should also be noted that Companion animals are thought to be more sensitive to solanine than humans, so that it is extremely important not to allow our cats and dogs to consume food made from green potatoes. Note also that cooking potatoes in water (boiled potatoes) does not reduce their solanine content. On the other hand, frying the potatoes may reduce their toxicity, but almost certainly not enough to render them safe for our cats and dogs.

Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes (and more particularly the tomato plant itself) can be poisonous to dogs. Tomatoes are members of the deadly nightshade family – and like potatoes, when they are green they contain a poisonous alkaloid – which, in the case of the tomato is called tomatine. Tomatine is, an alkaloid related to solanine. As the tomato fruit ripens, the tomatine disappears, in other words, ripe tomatoes are much safer than green tomatoes. The clinical signs of Tomatine poisoning include lethargy, drooling, difficulty breathing, colic, vomiting, diarrhea (or constipation), widely-dilated pupils, paralysis, cardiac effects, central nervous system signs (e.g., ataxia, muscle weakness, tremors, seizures, coma and death. (This information comes from veterinarians, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.)


Nutmeg, which as humans we all love, has been reported to be poisonous to dogs. Symptoms include seizures, tremors, central nervous system problems, and death. 


Caffeine can be harmful to dogs. The symptoms of coffee toxicity are similar to the symptoms of chocolate toxicity, and just as serious, if not more so. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous and cardiac systems, and can cause vomiting, restlessness, heart palpitations, and even death within hours. Coffee grounds and beans have caffeine in them, and dogs that eat them can suffer from caffeine toxicity. Also beware of leaving out bowls or packages of chocolate-covered coffee beans.


Alcohol is a poison. It just happens that in moderation, it produces feelings of relaxation and sociability in most humans. As we all know, acute overindulgence can kill us via heart failure and similar, while chronic alcoholism gradually destroys the liver and other bodily functions. Dogs are highly susceptible to alcoholic poisoning and at certain levels, it can cause canine fatalities. 

Baking Powder and Baking Soda

While baking powder and baking soda are not foods in themselves, they are common items in many kitchens. They are both used in cooking to create a gas, which causes doughs and batters to rise. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder is baking soda combined with either cream of tartar, sodium aluminum sulphate or calcium acid phosphate (or a combination of the three). If a dog eats a large amount of either baking powder or baking soda, he can suffer from electrolyte imbalances, muscle spasms and congestive heart failure. Clearly it is vital to keep these substances out of your dog’s reach. Any spilt powders should be cleaned up immediately.


Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar. It is a carbohydrate, that is extracted or derived from any woody fibrous plant material such as corn cobs and has been used as a sweetener in foods since the 1960’s. This diet sweetener, while useful for humans, can harm dogs. If your dog should ingest Xylitol it can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures. Unless treatment is given quickly, the dog could die. Bottom line with Xylitol containing products is to keep them well away from cats and dogs! 

Macadamia Nuts

These too have been known to harm dogs. Macadamia nuts can cause muscle, gastrointestinal and nervous system problems. The symptoms can include abdominal pain, vomiting, pale gums, stiffness, lameness, difficulty walking, tremors, weakness, paralysis and depression. These symptoms are usually temporary. Although researchers still have not determined what causes Macadamia toxicity, as few as six nuts have been problematic, with 40 nuts documented as causing severe poisoning. 


These too can be poisonous to dogs. When dogs eat the seed hulls, they can get an upset stomach and diarrhea. The real problem is the fungus or mold that attacks walnuts after they get wet (from rain or sprinklers), which produces toxins. If the fungus or mold is ingested by a dog, it can become very ill and possibly die. Signs that should alert you to walnut poisoning are vomiting, trembling, drooling, lack of coordination, lethargy, loss of appetite, and jaundice (this is where the dog has yellowing eyes and gums). Severely affected dogs can produce blood-tinged vomit or stools. Dogs can take several days to exhibit serious signs of illness.

Fruit Pits

The seeds or pits of stone and pome fruits such as apples, cherries, peach, pear pips, plums and apricots can be toxic to dogs. These all contain a cyanide containing compound capable of releasing cyanide in the body. Cyanide is highly toxic! While a few apple seeds may not cause a problem, the effects can accumulate over time if they are given to dogs regularly. Dogs should not be allowed to chew on a peach pit, cherry pit, apricot pit, or plum pit. Chewing can allow ingestion of cyanide. This can result in dilated pupils, breathing difficulties, hyperventilation, shock, and apprehensiveness. Chewing could also result in the pit being swallowed, causing continuous exposure to cyanide, or could cause the dog to choke or result in an intestinal blockage.


Too much Salt is harmful to dogs. Over time, excessive levels of salt in the diet can cause kidney and cardiovascular problems. Large breeds of dogs that eat salty food may then drink too much water and develop bloat, which is fatal unless emergency treatment is given very quickly. Bottom line – dogs should avoid salty food! 

Yeast Dough (Unbaked Bread)

When you bake bread, you place the dough in a warm, moist environment to allow it to expand. Dogs love bread dough. This means that should your dog eat the dough before it rises, it will expand inside your dog’s stomach. This will happen because the dog’s stomach is a nice warm, moist environment. The ‘rising’ dough distends his abdomen and can cause pain or worse yet – BLOAT! Another issue with raw dough is the rising process itself. The fermentation process, which causes the dough to rise produces alcohol, which as we have already noted can be toxic if enough of it gets into your dog. The obvious way to avoid this problem is to make sure that any unbaked dough is kept well out of your dog’s reach. 


Dogs love rich and fatty foods, just like we do. Naturally, a little bit of butter is absolutely fine for the average dog. However, too much fat (e.g. some extremely fatty mince or a piece of meat that is mostly fat) can be harmful to dogs. Dogs will often source fatty material or grease from the garbage can. Sometimes they are given very fatty foods as treats or the left-overs are dished out to the dogs when the humans have finished eating. Too much fat or fried foods can cause pancreatitis. Miniature and Toy Poodles, Shelties, Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Schnauzers are especially prone to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis signs include abdominal pain, acute onset of vomiting, and diarrhea. The pain can show through a hunched posture when you pick up your dog. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention. 

Wild Mushrooms

As with humans, these can be fatal to dogs. Wild mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, drooling, liver damage, kidney damage, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma, or death. 


Large amounts of Grains are bad for dogs and cats. Grains should not be given in large amounts or make up a substantial part of a dog or a cat’s diet. Note that rice is generally safe in small amounts and/or when used as a therapeutic food for short periods of time. Grains are not part of the evolutionary diet for dogs or cats. Unfortunately, they make up the bulk of modern pet foods and because of that are highly damaging to both cats and dogs. As pet foods, grains contribute enormously to inflammation, the development of damaging sticky substances in the blood called “Advanced Glycosylated End Products or “Ages” and they form the perfect food on which cancers are able to feed. They promote epilepsy, arthritis and diabetes. The list of problems caused by grain-based pet foods is endless. Bottom line? Avoid grain-based foods when feeding dogs and cats. 

Cooked Bones

These can kill dogs. The T bone steak for example, once cooked represents a huge danger – to dogs particularly. Cooked bones can splinter and tear through a dog’s internal organs or set like concrete in the large bowel. By way of contrast, raw meaty bones are the “staple” food item in the evolutionary programme of nutrition for dogs and cats. The bones to feed dogs and cats are the soft raw bones from young animals such as chicken necks and wings.


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