When a Big Dog Eats Human Food
By Dr. Glenn Kalick, D.V.M. / August, 2011

I received a phone call from a friend of mine in Lake Worth over Memorial Day weekend that Jessie, his two-year-old Labrador Retriever, just ate everything on the kids' table at a picnic, including four plates of barbeque, chips, hot dogs, burgers and watermelon.

My friend has seen Jessie do this before. But the argument that ensued between the adults was that one of the plates had cheese, pickles, onions and relish on it and one of the guests knew that onions were toxic to dogs and the kids didn't eat any of the onions. I asked how much of the onions could Jessie have possibly eaten and they said maybe a couple of teaspoons at the most. I told my friend not to worry and not to feed Jessie anything more until tomorrow.

The following day, Jessie seemed to be feeling the effects of the picnic. I was told that she vomited her breakfast and was having a loose stool since the picnic. Onion toxicity caused hemolytic anemia and I had my friend look at her gums, which were bright pink, so I figured that the vomiting and diarrhea were due to the dog's ingestion of four plates of food.

I was concerned about the dog's dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhea and her lack of water consumption. But my friend was not able to bring in Jessie to the hospital because of an out-of-town commitment. I told him that pancreatitis was a possibility, due to the consumption of a high-fat meal, and not to feed Jessie until she was brought in the next day.

Jessie had a terrible night. She vomited water every time she drank it. She would eat a small amount of food, but vomited it up within thirty minutes, completely undigested. The diarrhea stopped, but she constantly asked to go outside to defecate. She would get into position but nothing substantial would be produced.

Since Jessie is an overweight Labrador, abdominal palpation is impossible. She had a slightly elevated temperature and dry gums, so I was very concerned about dehydration. Her CBC confirmed her dehydration. Her white blood count was elevated, pointing me toward the possibility of infection. With a normal red blood cell count, the ingestion of onions was not her problem. Her blood chemistry also confirmed dehydration and her abnormal electrolytes were probably due to the vomiting. Pancreatitis was ruled out with normal pancreatic enzymes.

I told my friend that I would like to keep Jessie in the hospital to at least give her an IV to help her with dehydration and give her some medication for her upset stomach and vomiting. I also told him that I would like to take an X-ray to be complete in our examination. He asked me if barbeque food looks different from other foods, especially since they didn't eat anything with a bone. I told him that food looks like food, but all dogs with vomiting without pancreatitis need radiographs.

While my friend was calling his wife, my technicians took the radiographs and placed an IV catheter in Jessie. We gave her injectable Pepcid for her upset stomach and injectable Cerenia for her vomiting. My friend got off the phone and came to the treatment room to say goodby to Jessie, when I pulled him into my radiology room and asked him what kind of vegetables were eaten at the picnic.

He told me that the adults had baked beans and the kids had corn. I asked it if was corn nibblets or on the cob, but I knew the answer and pointed out two corn cobs in Jessie's intestines. That afternoon, we took out the two three-inch corn cobs from Jessie and she left the hospital the next day on a diet of soft, bland food. My friend thanked me and told me the family will be more careful in the future. But he was sure that Jessie had learned her lesson. I laughed, not knowing if he was serious or not, and told him, "Once a counter surfer, always a counter surfer."

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