Many common human foods, such as garlic, are not safe for pets. While garlic may be a great way to add flavor to a dish, it can be toxic to dogs at amounts that are normally used in cooking.
Find out what effect garlic has on dogs, symptoms of garlic poisoning that you should watch for, what to do if your dog eats garlic, and how your vet can help.
Why Is Garlic Bad for Dogs?
Garlic, whether raw or cooked, is toxic to dogs. If a dog eats enough garlic, it can eventually kill them if they do not get medical treatment.
Garlic, onions, and leeks are all in the Allium genus of plants. Dogs are not allergic to plants in this genus, but the plants contain N-propyl disulfides and thiosulfates. When these are metabolized by the pet’s body, it causes damage to their red blood cells.
Red blood cells transport oxygen to tissues. When a pet ingests garlic, it causes damage that disrupts the absorption and delivery of oxygen to the body, and it can also cause hemolysis, or destruction of red blood cells.
Consuming as little as 2 grams per pound of your dog’s weight can cause observable changes in a pet's stomach, and larger amounts can damage the blood. For reference, each garlic clove weighs an average of 5 grams. For a medium-sized dog weighing around 25 pounds, treatment will be needed if they ingest 50 grams of garlic—approximately 10 cloves, or half of a garlic bulb.
Can Dogs Have Garlic Powder or Garlic Salt?
Garlic salt and powder are more concentrated forms of garlic. This means that smaller amounts of these substances can lead to toxic effects for your pet. Most toxicities noted in pets are caused by garlic used in these forms in food.
Can Dogs Eat Garlic Bread?
Dogs should not have garlic bread, since it contains a toxic ingredient, and the butter and fat are not good for your dog, either.
Garlic toxicity depends on how much garlic was consumed compared to the size of the pet. Garlic bread typically contains a lower amount of garlic compared to foods cooked with garlic or garlic salt/powder and is therefore less toxic.
While garlic is the only toxic ingredient typically used in garlic bread, it also has ingredients like butter and cheese, which are both high in fat and salt. Pets are not accustomed to eating rich foods such as this, and it may lead to vomiting, diarrhea, or pancreatitis.
Why Do Some Dog Foods Have Garlic?
Garlic contains many healthy components, such as amino acids, sulfur, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins. At very low doses, garlic can be beneficial for your pet’s health. Most pet foods have very low concentrations of garlic and have been tested by pet food manufacturers with no toxic effects observed.
But remember that these foods have been tested, and it is not the same as giving your dog garlic at home.
Can You Give Dogs Garlic for Fleas?
Some pet parents may think that giving a dog garlic can help with flea control. The theory is that if your dog eats garlic, it changes the smell and taste of the pet to the fleas, thus making the pet a non-appetizing host.
There is currently no scientific evidence that this reaction occurs. It is not recommended to use garlic for controlling fleas on your dog. Many safe prescription medications are available to help control pests on your pet. Talk to your vet about which is best.
Signs of Garlic Poisoning in Dogs
See your vet right away if you see these signs of garlic toxicity in dogs:
Ataxia (lack of coordination)
Vomiting and/or diarrhea
Increased heart and/or respiratory rate
Red or brown urine
Cyanosis (blue gums/skin)
What if My Dog Ate Garlic?
If your pet eats a large quantity of garlic, do not to wait to see signs of illness. Some symptoms of garlic toxicity can be delayed for a few days and will require extensive and expensive treatment if not treated immediately.
If your dog eats garlic, contact a veterinarian, veterinary consulting service, or poison control. These professionals can determine if the amount of garlic consumed by your pet requires medical treatment or if you can watch your pet at home for symptoms of garlic poisoning.
If your dog eats a small amount of garlic (less than 1 clove) or a piece of chicken cooked with garlic, they will likely not experience any symptoms, and you may only need to watch your pet for signs of illness. However, always contact a veterinary professional to ensure that no further treatment is needed. While basic treatment at home can be performed, such as inducing vomiting, this is not recommended due to the potential risks of side effects if not performed under veterinary supervision.
If your pet has consumed garlic bread, call your veterinarian about the next steps. Depending on the amount of garlic consumed, the veterinarian may direct treatment. If the amount of garlic was low, they might tell you to observe your pet for signs of stomach upset, and to bring them in if you see vomiting or diarrhea. If your dog ate a large amount of garlic bread, they may want to induce vomiting and possibly keep your dog overnight.
How Do Vets Treat Garlic Poisoning in Dogs?
Garlic poisoning is typically treated based on the amount of garlic consumed and the types of symptoms your dog is having when they get to the hospital.
If the consumption was within the past 2 hours, vomiting will likely be induced to remove the stomach contents, and then your vet will administer activated charcoal to bind any toxins not removed during vomiting.
The veterinarian may then perform a standard blood and urine test to ensure that no signs of toxicity—such as electrolyte abnormalities, damage to the blood, or liver damage—are present. If the pet is already showing symptoms of advanced garlic toxicity, then hospitalization, blood transfusions, and oxygen therapy may be needed to help your dog recover.
The prognosis is good for pets with mild symptoms or those that are treated early for garlic toxicity. Pets that have developed severe side effects have a more guarded prognosis, but they typically recover with adequate medical care.
Featured Image: iStock.com/IURII BUKHTA
Lee, KW, et al. Hematologic changes associated with the appearance of eccentrocytes after intragastric administration of garlic extract to dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2000;61(11):1446-50.
Tang X, Xia Z, Yu J. An experimental study of hemolysis induced by onion (Allium cepa) poisoning in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2008;31(2):143-49.
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