Over the last few years, there has been an increasing trend for growing our own food and nothing beats being able to pick fresh herbs from a garden to add to your latest culinary masterpiece. Most herbs are harmless to your dog, if they decided to sample them. But what about chives? They look innocuous enough, but what happens if your dog helps himself to some from the herb border?
Can chives poison dogs?
When we talk about chives, we often think of the green leafy part only, but they are actually very similar to onions with a bulb that grows underground and the green leaves that show above the surface. While we humans can eat the whole plant, using the bulb like a mild onion and the leaves in salads, the same cannot be said for dogs. Just like other members of the Allium family (onions, garlic and leeks), chives contain chemicals called organosulphoxides. When these chemical compounds are digested and absorbed by a dog, they cause something called oxidative haemolysis, in other words oxidative damage to red blood cells resulting in them rupturing. As a result, the dog becomes anaemic (deficient in red blood cells).
What are the symptoms of chives poisoning in dogs?
The clinical signs of chive poisoning tend to start roughly one day after ingestion of chives, and begin with vomiting and diarrhoea, and sometimes loss of appetite. Subsequently anaemia may develop and this can take up to five days to become apparent. The typical clinical signs of anaemia are pale gums, a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, lethargy, weakness and collapse. In addition, a dog’s urine may be discoloured red or brown.
What are the causes of chives poisoning in dogs?
Dogs are naturally inquisitive and given the opportunity many of them will eat all sorts of things that they should not. After eating chives, the metabolism of chemical compounds called organosulphoxides found in the plants results in damage to red blood cells and thus anaemia. Cooked or dried chives are just as toxic because the cooking or drying process does not break down the organosulphoxides.
What's the diagnosis for chives poisoning in dogs?
There is no specific laboratory test for chive toxicity, so a veterinary surgeon will rely on an accurate history from you in the first instance. This should include what you think your dog has eaten (just chives leaves or the bulb too, for example), an estimate of the quantity that they have eaten and how long ago it happened. The veterinary surgeon will then perform a complete thorough clinical examination, taking particular note of any signs that might indicate that your dog is becoming anaemic, has pale gums or a rapid heart rate, for example.
Blood tests are the next step both for helping to confirm the diagnosis or reaching a diagnosis in a dog where the history is uncertain. It is likely that a vet will want to check blood biochemistry that looks at organ function and haematology, which looks at red and white blood cells. Haematology is especially important in cases of chive poisoning because the main clinical sign is anaemia. Moreover the anaemia associated with chives is what is known as Heinz body anaemia, owing to the distinctive looking “Heinz bodies”, which are visible in the red blood cells when they are examined under the microscope. There are other causes of Heinz body anaemia, but poisoning by chives and other members of the Allium family is the most common.
What treatment is there for chives poisoning in dogs?
If you think your dog may have eaten chives, contact a veterinary surgeon straight away for advice. If your dog has merely nibbled on a few leaves, there will probably be no need for any treatment, but if they have eaten a chive bulb or two, it could be more serious. Let a veterinary surgeon help you make this decision though.
An injection of a drug called apomorphine may be given to make your dog vomit. This takes 10 to 15 minutes to work and is usually very effective. It is only of benefit if the chives were eaten in the previous two hours or so. If it's been any longer than that, your dog’s stomach will have emptied already and vomiting will not help. This may be followed by oral administration of activated charcoal. This helps to reduce the absorption of toxins from the gut.
If clinical signs of chive toxicity have developed, then your dog will need further treatment. There is no antidote for chive poisoning, so treatment will be what is known as supportive – treating any clinical signs as they arise. This is likely to include intravenous fluids and medications to protect the lining of the intestines, if gastrointestinal signs have developed. If your dog is anaemic, they may need oxygen as well as blood transfusions in severe cases.
The good news is that the vast majority of dogs will make a complete recovery from the effects of chive poisoning. Yet as with all toxicities, the sooner veterinary advice and treatment is sought, the better.
What do chives do to dogs?
If chives are eaten by a dog, chive toxicity can result in a dangerous and potentially life-threatening anaemia. Somewhere in the region of 15-30g/kg is the weight of onion that will cause toxicity if eaten by dogs. The figure is likely to be similar for chives, so for a 20kg dog this would equate to 300-600g of chives. In reality your dog would have to eat a relatively large volume of chive leaves to develop adverse effects, and as long as they have eaten the leafy part of the plant rather than the bulb, the effects are not likely to be too serious. Having said that, it is always best to err on the side of caution and contact a veterinary surgeon for advice.
When should I see a vet?
Although chives are not one of the most frequent causes of toxicity in veterinary practice, they do have the potential to cause a life-threatening anaemia if eaten in large enough volumes. As such, it is always best to consult a veterinary surgeon for advice, even if your dog appears fine. The veterinary surgeon will be able to make a decision on whether treatment is required.
On some occasions owners are unaware that their dog has eaten something that they shouldn’t and the first sign of a problem is several days later when their dog starts to become unwell. Any unexplained symptoms in a dog should be checked by a veterinary surgeon, especially if the signs are getting worse rather than better. A full recovery is much more likely with prompt veterinary treatment.