Are Grapes Safe to Eat for my Dog or Cat?
The Wrath of Grapes
Tippy & Alfred Say: If your pets are searching for something
by Charlotte Means, D.V.M.
Back to Animal Poison Control Center
Magoo was a big, playful Labrador retriever who often got himself
into some sticky situations. Usually, his escapades were
harmless. But one day, he managed to snag a box of raisins from
the pantry and ended up eating an entire pound of the sweet
treats. Other than being exasperated by Magoo's behavior, his
guardians didn't think much about it. They knew that lots of
people shared grapes with their dogs and often used raisins as
training rewards. So it hardly seemed the kind of emergency that
required a call to the veterinarian. In fact, if Magoo's parents
had called the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) just a
few years ago, they would have been told not to worry about it.
Through the Grapevine
Enter the APCC AnToxTM database, a computerized system that
contains nearly 500,000 animal-related medical conditions and
that enables veterinarians to quickly identify toxic-substance
exposures, recognize clinical signs and administer proper
treatment. By tracking cases in this registry, similarities in
animal medical conditions nationwide can be logged and syndromes
can be identified.
Around 1989, the APCC began noticing a trend in dogs who had
eaten grapes or raisins: Nearly all developed acute renal
(kidney) failure. As more cases were reported, enough data was
generated in the database to help veterinarians identify and
treat dogs at risk. In all of the cases, the ingredients for
potential acute renal failure were the same. Whether the ingested
grapes were purchased fresh from grocery stores or grown in
private yards didn't seem to matter, nor did the brand eaten. And
the ingested amounts varied considerably, from over a pound of
grapes to as little as a single serving of raisins. The cases
weren't from any specific region, but instead came from across
the United States.
The database showed that dogs who ate the grapes and raisins
typically vomited within a few hours of ingestion. Most of the
time, partially digested grapes and raisins could be seen in the
vomit, fecal material, or both. At this point, some dogs would
stop eating (anorexia), and develop diarrhea. The dogs often
became quiet and lethargic, and showed signs of abdominal pain.
These clinical signs lasted for several days -- sometimes even
When medical care was sought, blood chemistry panels showed
consistent patterns. Hypercalcemia (elevated blood calcium
levels) was frequently present, as well as elevated levels of
blood urea nitrogen, creatinine and phosphorous (substances that
reflect kidney function). These chemistries began to increase
anywhere from 24 hours to several days after the dogs ate the
fruit. As the kidney damage developed, the dogs would produce
little urine. When they could no longer produce urine, death
occurred. In some cases, dogs who received timely veterinary care
still had to be euthanized.
Why did the fruit cause the dogs to become ill? No one knows.
Suspect grapes and raisins have been screened for various
pesticides, heavy metals (such as zinc or lead), and mycotoxins
(fungal contaminants) and so far, all results have come back
negative. In the cases where the grapes were grown in private
yards, owners confirmed that no insecticides, fertilizers or
antifungals had been used on the fruit.
"Raisin" the Success Rate
Even though the exact cause of the renal failure is unknown, dogs
who ingest grapes and raisins can be treated successfully to
prevent its development. The first line of defense is
decontamination. Inducing vomiting in recent ingestions and
administering activated charcoal helps prevent absorption of
potential toxins. Dogs should be hospitalized and placed on
intravenous fluids for a minimum of 48 hours. A veterinarian
should monitor blood chemistry daily for at least three days
following the ingestion. If all blood work is normal after three
days, it's unlikely that kidney failure will occur. If a dog
shows evidence of renal failure, fluids must be continued, and
other medications should be used to stimulate urine production.
Some dogs may need peritoneal dialysis, a process where the
peritoneum (the membranes surrounding the abdominal organs) is
used to filter waste products that are normally filtered by the
Thanks in part to the AnTox database, grape or raisin ingestion
can be easily identified and treated. Today, a dog can make a
complete recovery from this potentially fatal condition.
Dr. Means is a veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA's Animal
Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois.
Reprinted from ASPCA Animal Watch, Summer 2002, Volume 22, Number
2, with permission from The American Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals, 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY
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