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Allium (Onions and Garlic) are Dangerous!

Onions, garlic, leeks, and chives bring flavours, fragrance, and colour to our everyday cooking, but did you know these common ingredients can be deadly to pets?

What is Allium toxicity?

Garlic, onion, leek, chives are part of the Allium genus of plants. They are commonly used in day-to-day cooking; however, they are toxic to pets because they contain a toxin called N-propyl disulphide which is an organic compound containing sulphur. The sulphur containing oxidants break down red blood cells, causing haemolytic anaemia.

Who is affected?

Dogs and cats of any age and breed can be affected by Allium toxicity. Although both dogs and cats can be affected, cats often develop more severe symptoms. According to PetSure data during the 2020 calendar year, dog less than 1 year of age had a higher prevalence of Allium toxicity than older dogs. This may reflect the behaviour of puppies who can be more inquisitive and more likely to nibble on things they shouldn’t. Cats can also be affected by onion toxicity; however, the incidence is lower, likely because cats are less attracted to the pungent smell of Allium compared to curious puppies!

According to PetSure data (across 2020 calendar year), onion toxicity is most prevalent in the following breeds:

BreedPrevalence
Dalmatian0.29%
Shiba Inu0.20%
Bull Arab0.14%
Samoyed0.14%
Swiss Shepherd0.13%
Bichon Frise0.11%
Bull Terrier0.11%
Shetland Sheepdog0.10%
Japanese Spitz0.08%
Australian Shepherd0.08%

Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.

Signs of Allium toxicity

Depending on the pet and quantity of toxin eaten, the signs of onion/garlic toxicity may occur shortly after they have eaten the offending item or may take several days to develop. Gastrointestinal upset is not uncommon with vomiting being a common presenting sign. Signs associated with anaemia can include weakness, panting, pale skin and gums (or areas of the pets’ body that are normally pink) or discoloured (red to brown) urine. It can also be possible with a haemolytic anaemia (which means the red blood cells have broken down) for pets to become jaundiced or have a slight yellow discolouration to the pink parts of their skin or the white (sclera) of their eyes. Kidney damage can also occur secondary haemolysis. In severe cases, pets may collapse or die suddenly. If you suspect your pet has ingested food containing onions, garlic, spring onions, leek, or chives, contact your Vet for advice.

Management of Allium toxicity

Allium toxicity is potentially fatal, therefore, prevention is better than cure. Always ensure Allium is kept out of reach of your pets, any trimming of Allium from cooking to dispose of quickly, and any food containing Allium should not be fed to your pets.

In the unfortunate event of your pet ingesting any Allium, your pet should be presented at your Vet as soon as you can. Treatment of Allium toxicity would depend on how much your pet has ingested and how much time has passed between ingesting the toxin and presentation to the Vet. If caught early, the Vet may recommend that vomiting is induced in the clinic to clear out the food and toxin from the stomach.

As there is no specific antidote available for Allium toxicity, treatment is largely symptomatic. Intravenous fluid therapy is generally initiated to help prevent kidney damage. Activated charcoal may be administered to help soak up the toxin from the pet’s stomach. Blood transfusions and oxygen therapy may be required in severe cases of anaemia.

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data from 2020 (calendar year), the average, single treatment cost relating to Allium toxicity is $371.00, with the highest, single treatment cost being $3,909.00.

Is Allium toxicity covered by pet insurance?

Allium toxicity is generally covered by Comprehensive Accidental Injury and Illness pet insurance policies administered by PetSure (check our brand partners at petsure.com.au/partners), unless related to a pre-existing condition or exclusion. Refer to your policy documents including a Certificate of Insurance and Product Disclosure Statement for more information on whether this condition is covered under your policy.

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.

Reference:

  1. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/onion
  2. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/can-dogs-eat-onions/#:~:text=Onions%20contain%20a%20toxic%20principle,your%20dog’s%20red%20blood%20cells.
  3. https://firstvet.com/us/articles/the-truth-about-onion-and-garlic-toxicity-in-dogs
  4. Gwaltney-Brant, S, 2021, MSD Veterinary Manual, Allium spp Toxicosis in Animals, accessed 08/11/2021
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