Some dogs will eat anything they can snatch off the floor or scavenge in your garden. Most food types are pretty harmless, but onions and onion powder can be really dangerous to a dog’s health.
Whether your dog dug up some onions that sprouted in your backyard or they managed to grab a pack of onion powder from the pantry, when your dog has ingested onions, you need to take the appropriate action. Or your pet pooch may not survive their culinary adventure.
Can Dogs Eat Onion Powder?
Dogs can’t eat any members of the allium family. This family includes onions, garlic, leeks, and chives. When your dog eats any of these vegetables, they will suffer toxicity that can prove fatal.
While raw onions are not healthy for a dog to eat, onion powder is a more concentrated and more toxic form of onion. Onion powder should, therefore, never be fed to dogs. Your pooch should never be allowed to eat any product that contains onion or onion powder.
A slice of onion that falls to the floor while slicing and dicing in the kitchen may not prove fatal to a medium to large breed dog. However, if your lapdog grabs a fairly large section of onion, they may be in serious danger of developing fatal toxicity.
Which Parts of an Onion Can a Dog Eat?
Dogs can’t safely eat any part of the onion plant because it is saturated with toxic organic compounds that cause toxicity and death. The leaves, bulbs, roots, and flowers are all toxic to dogs and should be avoided at all cost.
Even dried-out onion bulbs or sprouting onions are toxic, and these shouldn’t be planted in a garden where dogs are known to dig or chew on plant material.
Processed food such as some baby foods may also contain dried onion, so be wary of feeding non-dog foods to your dog. Puppies are especially susceptible to the damage caused by allium ingestion.
Some dog owners feed their pets garlic flakes as a blood tonic, though this is a risky proposition for dogs and cats. Even in dried or processed form, garlic and onions are toxic to all dog breeds and all cat breeds. Simply put—don’t feed ANY part of an onion (no matter the type of onion) to your dog.
Why Is Onion Powder Even More Toxic to Dogs?
Onion powder is produced by desiccating (dehydrating) raw onions. The result is a powdered version of onions that doesn’t contain any of the water content of a raw onion. Due to this, onion powder contains a concentrated form of N-propyl disulfide, making it even more toxic to dogs.
The problem is that onion powder is often added to other processed food. A simple snack like potato chips may contain onion powder (desiccated onion), which can build up in your dog’s blood, causing anemia and finally death.
By the time you notice your dog is unwell, they may already have reached a toxic level of consumption and require serious treatment by your vet.
What Happens If a Dog Eats Onion Powder?
When a dog ingests onion and especially onion powder, they are exposed to a compound known as N-propyl disulfide. Dogs that consume this toxic compound suffer oxidative damage to their red blood cells. One of the first effects of this is a sudden onset of anemia.
Dogs become anemic due to the compound binding to the oxygen molecules that form part of the dog’s red blood cells.
The red blood cells become unable to carry the heavier oxygen molecules, and as a result, the red blood cells are seen as foreign particles by the body’s immune system. In a systematic process triggered by the dog’s own immunity known as hemolysis, their red blood cells are destroyed, causing hemolytic anemia.
The compound (N-propyl disulfide) that causes the damage to the dog’s red blood cells is also responsible for the sulfur odor of onions and other alliums. Garlic is even more toxic, with the N-propyl disulfide levels reaching one gram per five pounds of garlic. With onion powder, the toxicity may be even higher since the toxin is more concentrated in a dehydrated form.
While onions are safe for people to eat, dogs (and cats too) have a differently shaped red blood cell. This allows for more of the toxic compound to attach to the cells, leading to greater toxicity and damage to the red blood cells.
You may defend your past feeding choices by stating that your dog ate a whole onion ring and was perfectly fine, but this simply means your dog hadn’t consumed a sufficient amount of onion to reach toxic levels of N-propyl disulfide exposure. Risking your dog’s health over a questionable treat isn’t worth it. The fact is—onions in any form are bad for dogs.
What to Do If My Dog Eats Onion Powder?
If you suspect your dog has eaten any plant of the allium family or onion powder, it is important to watch them carefully for signs of anemia. If they start showing signs of lethargy and illness, it means they have had a toxic level of exposure, and it is important to get them to a vet as soon as possible.
Prevention is better than cure, so when you see your dog playing with an onion or chewing on an onion plant, you should immediately remove the plant. Most dogs aren’t that interested in eating a raw onion, unless you are working with one while cooking. They may then eat the bits that fall to the floor, believing it to be yummy human food.
The real danger for exposure to the N-propyl disulfide compound comes from food that has been processed and contains onion powder. Snack foods like chips, pies, pizza, savory treats, and rich food like Italian or Greek cuisine may be especially laced with onion powder.
If you hadn’t believed it to be dangerous to feed human food to a dog, then the threat of exposure to onion powder should convince you to refrain from feeding your dog non-veterinarian approved food. Dogs will always beg to eat with us. After all, our food smells yummy to them.
Best advice is to not feed human food to dogs as human food often contains flavorings like onion powder and dried garlic. A few potato chips may be harmless, but when this builds up in your dog’s system, it can soon reach toxic levels.
Once your dog has consumed 0.5% of their body weight in onions, they will have received a toxic dose of N-propyl disulfide. For a 20-pound dog, this is a mere ¼ cup of onions or a few spoonfuls of onion powder. And it can prove toxic in a matter of minutes.
How Do I Know My Dog Has Eaten Onion Powder?
The most obvious way to know your dog has eaten onion powder is if you see them eating it. However, in the event that your dog has eaten onions or onion powder (or other members of the allium family), there will be signs that will show they are unwell and have eaten something toxic.
Common signs that your dog has eaten onion powder include:
- Lack of appetite
- Pale gums
- Pale or yellowish inner eyelids (if the liver has been compromised due to lack of oxygen)
- Wine-colored urine
- Vomiting (if the onions have upset the dog’s stomach lining)
- Panting (from lack of oxygen)
Treatment for Onion Powder Toxicity in Dogs
The first step for treating onion powder toxicity is to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.
Explain to the vet you suspect that your dog has eaten a substantial quantity of onions or onion powder. Your vet may do a blood smear test to check for Heinz bodies on the edges of the red blood cells in your dog’s blood. These indicate that there has been oxidative damage to the red blood cells.
Your vet will prescribe supportive treatment to help your dog get through this illness. Rest and iron-rich foods will be supportive to help your dog’s bone marrow make more red blood cells. In time, the toxins will be flushed from your dog’s system.
If you could see your dog eat the onions, then your vet may take steps to help your dog empty their stomach by either inducing vomiting or pumping your dog’s stomach. This will help limit the amount of N-propyl disulfide your dog metabolizes.
In worst case scenarios, your dog may have sustained so much damage to their red blood cells that they may require a blood transfusion. A matching blood donor is required to help circulate oxygen molecules around your dog’s body since their own red blood cells are no longer able to do so.