Unsafe Foods for Dogs: Whole Foods & Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

by Sarah Seward-Langdon on February 09, 2024

Unsafe Foods for Dogs: Whole Foods & Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

Written by: Sarah Seward-Langdon

Published on: 02/10/2024

One of the key responsibilities of parenting, whether for a human child or a furry canine companion, is ensuring they receive proper nutrition for optimal growth and health. Recently, it’s more common to see pet owners enriching their dogs' diets with cooked meals, raw diets, or by enhancing kibble with whole, fresh food components.

However, it's crucial to discern which whole foods are safe and which pose risks to dogs. Incorporating whole foods into your dog's diet can offer additional nutrients, yet it's important to navigate the delicate balance between beneficial and potentially harmful items.

If you're interested in improving your pet's nutrition, you've come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll discuss unsafe foods for dogs, helping you identify what to avoid. While some foods may appear harmless to share with your dog, they could introduce significant health risks.

Harmful Ingredients for Dogs: Whole Foods

When supplementing a dogs' diets with whole foods for enhanced nutrition, it's paramount to know which ingredients are beneficial and which could be harmful. Even if you're not intentionally incorporating these supplements—for instance, you can’t refuse those big, begging eyes at the dinner table—awareness is key.

Beyond the widely recognized dangers of onions and chocolate, here are 5 other whole and human food ingredients you should avoid giving your dog:

1. Grapes and Raisins

Perhaps one of the most surprising toxic foods for dogs, grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in some dogs. The exact substance that causes this reaction is unknown but just a small amount of grapes or raisins can make a dog sick, so it’s best to avoid them entirely.

Look for continuous vomiting as a symptom. You may also notice your dog getting sluggish or depressed within a day [1]. Seek veterinarian advice as soon as you know your dog has ingested grapes or raisins!

2. Avocado

Avocados contain persin, a fungicidal toxin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. While the risk is more significant in large amounts, it’s best to keep your dog away from this fruit, including the pit, which poses a choking hazard.

Are you a green thumb growing your own Avocado trees? It’s still a good idea to keep your dog away from your plant as persin is found in the leaves, seed, and bark in addition to the fruit [1]!

3. Macadamia Nuts

Your dog should never eat macadamia nuts! These nuts can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors, and hyperthermia in dogs. Symptoms usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last 12 to 48 hours [2].

4. Xylitol

This sugar substitute is found in many sugar-free products, including gum, candy, and some peanut butters. Xylitol is toxic to dogs and can cause a rapid release of insulin, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, or even death. Avoid at all costs [3]!

5. Dairy Products

Avoiding dairy is dependent on your dog. It’s important to understand that while not all dogs are lactose intolerant, many have difficulty digesting lactose, which is present in milk and dairy products.

Feeding your dog milk or cheese can lead to unnecessary digestive upset and diarrhea. If you do want to try and feed your pup dairy products, make sure they’re plain (ex. Plain yogurt) or are specialty products like raw goat milk [4].

Read the Label on Kibble: Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

When optimizing your dog's diet—whether you're feeding kibble, raw, or home-cooked meals—it's crucial to be mindful of the dog food ingredients you should avoid.

Once you get to the pet store to buy your puppy's food, make sure none of these dog food ingredients are on the labels:


These chemical preservatives are found in some pet foods to extend shelf life. Studies have raised concerns about their potential carcinogenic properties, making them ingredients best left out of your dog's diet.

You may not need to buy your pet’s food as often, but you’re putting their longevity and overall health at risk. Many of these nasty preservatives are known to cause liver or kidney failure, or lead to other serious health problems [3]

2. Propylene Glycol

Used in some dog foods and treats to maintain moisture, propylene glycol is a chemical additive that's also found in antifreeze. Though it's considered less toxic than ethylene glycol (used in automotive antifreeze), its inclusion in pet food is controversial and potentially harmful [5].

3. Artificial Colors and Flavors

While these additives might make food more appealing to pet owners, they offer no nutritional benefit to dogs and can even be the cause of more serious issues. Possible problems for your dog could be as simple as allergic reactions or as serious as cancer [5].

4. Meat “Meal”

Food manufacturers often use meat meal to bulk up the "protein" content in dog food and treats. More protein is good, isn’t it?

Giving your dog more protein is good; however, not all protein is the same quality. “Meal” refers to meat that comes from animal scraps, sometimes diseased, and is processed by heating to strip away fat. While it might sound like a protein boost, the real nutritional value is a mystery without knowing its origin.

For your pup's sake, it's wiser to skip meat meal and go for options with real meat—ensuring they get the quality protein they deserve [3].

5. Corn and Wheat Gluten

These ingredients are often used as cheap protein sources or fillers in dog food. However, they can cause digestive upset and allergies in some dogs, and they offer limited nutritional value compared to high-quality protein sources [3].

Enhancing Your Dog's Diet: Top 3 Nutritious Additions to Their Bowl

While there are certain whole foods and dog food ingredients you should avoid feeding your dog, there are also many beneficial options you can safely add to their meals to boost their nutrition and overall health.

We’ve focused a lot on the negative, so let’s also explore some fantastic food options to add to your dog’s bowl as a booster!

One quick, important reminder: It’s important to consult your veterinarian or a certified canine nutritionist about your pet’s overall diet and changes to it.

1. Lean Meats

Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and beef are excellent sources of protein, essential for your dog's muscle development and energy levels.

Protein is a crucial component of a healthy dog diet, supporting everything from muscle maintenance to a healthy coat and skin. A small amount of lean meat mixed into your dog’s kibble can make mealtime more appealing and nutritious.

2. Fish—Omega-3 Rich for Healthier Coats and Skin

Fish, particularly fatty types like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties.

These fatty acids are beneficial for your dog's coat, promoting a shiny, healthy appearance, and can aid in reducing skin irritations. Additionally, omega-3s support your dog's immune system, heart health, and cognitive function [6].

For dogs that might not enjoy fish or when fresh options aren't convenient, omega supplements, such as those derived from camelina oil or flaxseed oil, can be excellent alternatives.

3. Vegetables

Incorporating vegetables into your dog's diet can offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, contributing to their overall health and aiding in digestion. Carrots, green beans, and pumpkin are among the dog-friendly vegetables that can be added to their meals [7].

Carrots and green beans, served raw or lightly steamed, make for a crunchy, nutritious snack. Pumpkin, on the other hand, is especially beneficial for digestive health, helping to regulate bowel movements [8].

Always introduce new vegetables slowly and in small quantities to ensure they agree with your dog's digestive system.

Balance Your Dog’s Bowl With Caution!

When it comes to feeding your dog whole foods, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Many human foods that are perfectly safe for us can be harmful to our canine friends. Avoiding these unsafe foods for dogs and sticking to dog-friendly alternatives is the best way to keep your dog healthy and happy.

By carefully selecting whole foods to add to your dog's bowl, you can enhance their diet in a way that's both safe and beneficial. Again, you should always consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog's diet, especially when introducing new foods or supplements.

By being mindful of the harmful ingredients and understanding the benefits of other foods, you can ensure your dog enjoys a balanced, nutritious diet without the risks associated with dangerous foods.

Follow us!

About Sarah

Sarah is a marketing specialist with a passion for anything creative! Her openness to working across industries and job opportunities has allowed her to gain enormous amounts of experience in graphic design, video production, and written content creation. Animals have a special place in her heart as she grew up with cats and now owns her own Alaskan Malamute. She has spent the last couple of years in Vancouver working with different companies within the pet industry and gained valuable knowledge about the ins and outs of the (alternative) pet food industry, supplementation, and various training methods. When she’s not digitally creating content for pet lovers to consume, she’s out eating great food, dancing at drop-in classes, or exploring the beautiful Canadian scenery with her fur-child Miso.