Garlic is a staple in many cuisines and cultures. It’s one of our favorite ways to season foods, and it’s no surprise why. Garlic tastes delicious, and the aroma of garlic may be even better. There are also numerous health benefits for humans when eating garlic.
So it may be a surprise to you that garlic is very dangerous for so many different creatures, including dogs, cats, horses, birds, reptiles, sheep, goats, and cattle. What makes this vegetable and its close relatives so toxic, and why can’t our canine friends digest it?
Today, Spot Pet Insurance is here to help. We’re diving into all the details around garlic so you can confidently approach your pet parenting responsibilities to help keep your dog healthy and safe.
Garlic, onions, and other members of the allium family
First, let’s establish some background.
Garlic is part of the Allium genus, a group of flowering plants with a huge variety. The word Allium means garlic in Latin, but there are plenty of other recognizable names within the group as well, including onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallot.
Most alliums feature an edible bulb, which is the part we recognize when we talk about garlic and onions, for example. In some alliums, such as garlic, the stem is also edible.
Is garlic safe for dogs?
However tempting those puppy eyes may be, it’s essential that you know exactly what’s on your plate and whether it’s appropriate for your dog to eat before letting them have a bite.
So can you feed your dog garlic safely? The answer is a resounding no.
Some dogs may not be poisoned by eating a small amount of garlic. The ingestion of large amounts of garlic, however, can be very toxic – even deadly.
Since each dog reacts differently and the potential consequences are so severe, the safest approach is not to give any dog garlic in any form.
If your dog does consume garlic, you should contact a professional pet poison service. Prompt diagnosis and treatment have the power to save pet lives.
While there’s no question that garlic is an unsafe food for dogs, you’re probably wondering why this is the case. Let’s look a little deeper at the details.
Why is garlic dangerous?
Several plants in the Allium genus are toxic to dogs, but none more so than garlic.
The Pet Poison Helpline rates Garlic as a moderately toxic substance for dogs (it’s even more dangerous for cats), so it’s not quite as dangerous as antifreeze or laundry detergent.
It is, however, exceptionally dangerous for dogs amongst human foods, even though the benefits of garlic are rife for humans. In fact, garlic is five times more toxic than other alliums such as onions.
The key toxic agent in garlic is called thiosulfate. This chemical is safe enough for humans, but most animals cannot safely consume it.
Garlic toxicity can cause gastrointestinal upset, but the true danger of thiosulfate from garlic is that it can cause oxidative damage (hemolysis) to red blood cells.
Like for most creatures, your dog’s red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, especially to vital organs. As these cells are destroyed, the vital organs aren’t able to receive sufficient oxygen, which can lead to hemolytic anemia.
A low red blood cell count is known as anemia. Anemia is often synonymous with lethargy since, without enough oxygen, your dog’s energy levels will inevitably drop significantly. There are, however, many symptoms to look out for, which we will expand upon a little later.
Anemia is the most dangerous result of garlic poisoning. If left untreated, it could lead to kidney damage (which is often irreversible), collapse, or even death.
What are the symptoms of garlic poisoning?
Knowing the symptoms of garlic poisoning could be life-saving for your dog.
Gastrointestinal upset symptoms are the most common and likely will be the first to manifest if your dog has eaten garlic and reacts adversely.
Vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, drooling, rapid breathing, dehydration, loss of appetite, and even depression are all symptoms of garlic poisoning. These symptoms are uncomfortable at best and could risk further problems for some dogs.
In more severe cases, where thiosulfate causes anemia, symptoms include pale gums and mucous membranes, lethargy, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, weakness, avoidance of exercise, jaundice, dark-colored urine, and collapse.
How quickly symptoms appear tends to scale with the amount of garlic eaten. With large amounts, symptoms could appear within the first 24 hours. Symptoms caused by smaller amounts of garlic might take longer, up to a week, to show.
What amount of garlic is dangerous?
The amount of garlic a dog could eat before becoming poisoned and showing symptoms can vary depending on the dog.
Minor symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset could occur with relatively small amounts. However, for oxidative damage, studies have shown a dog would need to consume around 15 to 30 grams of garlic for every kilogram of their body weight.
For a dog that weighs 10 kilograms, a potentially life-threatening amount of garlic would range from 150 to 300 grams, excluding factors such as other conditions and the dog’s individual reaction to garlic.
To put this in perspective, a clove of garlic is generally 4-8 grams. A head of garlic often contains around 10-15 cloves, which means they tend to weigh 40-60 grams.
It would take a large amount of garlic to lead to anemia for most dogs, but some factors could make a dog more at risk.
Garlic poisoning can also build up through regular feeding of garlic, even in small amounts. You should never intentionally feed your dog garlic, but if they do accidentally consume a small amount, chances are they will show little to no symptoms.
What forms of garlic are dangerous?
All forms of garlic can cause poisoning, so there is no safe way for a dog to consume garlic. All forms of garlic contain thiosulfate.
Although we don’t typically eat raw garlic, if you’re keeping raw garlic around for cooking, it’s essential to ensure that it is safely out of reach from your dog. Although raw garlic isn’t technically more toxic than other kinds of garlic, it’s usually found in larger amounts, making it more dangerous.
Cooked garlic, dried garlic, powdered garlic, and even liquid garlic (as might be found in soups) are just as bad for dogs as fresh garlic and should be avoided.
Your dog is most likely to encounter garlic mixed into other types of human food as a seasoning or ingredient. In these cases, it’s unlikely there is a high enough concentration of garlic to truly threaten your dog’s health. Still, since there are numerous variables that can make garlic more or less toxic to each dog, it’s best to avoid giving these human foods as treats.
Most such foods also contain other ingredients that are generally unhealthy or even toxic to dogs. For example, garlic bread contains butter, salt, and carbohydrates that can have adverse health effects on our canine friends.
Are some dogs more at risk than others for garlic poisoning?
As with most toxic foods, younger and older dogs may be at more risk than healthy adult dogs. Puppies are especially vulnerable to garlic poisoning and should never consume this vegetable in any form, in any amount.
Certain Japanese dog breeds, including the Akita, Shiba Inu, Spitz, and Japanese Chin, are also more vulnerable to garlic toxicity than other dogs due to genetic predispositions.
Pre-existing conditions, such as a disease called lupus which weakens the immune system, or chronic anemia, also leave a dog more vulnerable to garlic poisoning.
What to do if your dog eats garlic
If your dog does eat garlic, a very small amount is not likely to be problematic, although your dog may show some signs of gastrointestinal upset and abdominal pain. A larger amount of garlic could be much more dangerous.
The best course of action is to contact professional help as soon as possible. A pet poison service or trusted veterinarian can help you determine a response plan.
If your dog requires medical treatment, it will likely involve induced vomiting, followed by the application of activated charcoal to protect the gastrointestinal tract.
The prognosis for garlic poisoning is generally very positive. Cases are rarely fatal, but you must always take precautions to continue this positive trend.
Alternatives to garlic
Thankfully, there are plenty of healthier alternatives to feeding garlic to your pup snack on top of their standard dog food.
Fruits such as blueberries, cantaloupe, and mango are excellent sources of nutrition. You can mix them with plain greek yogurt (with no artificial ingredients) and even some veggies such as carrots or peas for a super healthy parfait!
At Spot Pet Insurance, we’re dedicated to walking with you along your pet parent journey. From helpful resources like this one (and more, found in our Blogbowl) to top-of-the-line pet insurance, there’s help around every corner.