There are several foods that we know are totally safe for humans, but are toxic to dogs. Grapes (and raisins, which are just dried grapes) are one of those foods that we have known can be very dangerous. While veterinarians have learned a lot about what the toxic effects of grapes are and how to help dogs who eat them, despite many years of research no one has had luck identifying the actual toxin contained in them – until now!
What We Know (and Don’t Know) About Grape Toxicity
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) has maintained a database for many years that tracks toxin exposure cases in animals, helping veterinarians recognize clinical signs and provide appropriate treatments for different toxicities. In the late 90’s, the APCC started to notice a trend in cases and was the first to connect many cases of dogs who had eaten grapes or raisins and all developed acute kidney failure. This condition is potentially deadly, and so quick and appropriate treatment can be important to protect them or help them recover from the toxic effects. Today, dogs can make a complete recovery from this dangerous toxicity because of the treatments veterinarians and researchers have found.
One challenging part of grape toxicity that we know about now has been that not all dogs who eat grapes or raisins will suffer these dangerous effects. Dogs of different sizes and breeds have been reported to eat different amounts of these fruits and have different results ranging from the most severe to very little. Not knowing the exact toxin contained in grapes that causes the problem means we can’t measure it, and so we can’t always predict which cases will be mild or unnoticed and which will be deadly. For years, the search has been on to find out the identity of this mysterious toxin – they’ve looked for pesticides, heavy metals like zinc and lead, toxins from fungus, and many more.
What Could This Mystery Toxin Be?
The APCC has reported news of a potentially big break in the case with a statement in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association! They noticed that several reported cases of dogs exposed to cream of tartar had a huge amount of similarities to what happens to dogs who have eaten grapes or raisins. Cream of tartar (scientific name potassium bitartrate) is a dry, powdery, acidic byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine that is used in certain baking recipes, for things like making fluffy meringue or tangy snickerdoodles. Cream of tartar is derived from tartaric acid, which is present in high concentrations in grapes and it can be found in different concentrations depending on the species and varietal of grape (there are thousands – just think about all the types of wine made from them)!
How Does Knowing the Toxin Help Us Help Dogs?
Veterinarians and researchers can now do the work to confirm this exciting news! If tartaric acid is the true culprit, then the varying amounts found in different grapes could help us explain why some dogs have suffered severe toxicity while others have not – they could have each eaten grapes with different amounts of the toxin in them. This means we could also measure the amount of the toxin in different grape species and varietals to help us predict the effects of different grapes or raisins that our pups could get their paws on.
As an example of how this helps, veterinarians know the toxin that makes chocolate dangerous for dogs (theobromine) and the amount of that toxin found in different types of chocolate. That information helps them make smart, targeted decisions about how to best treat each dog who has gotten into somebody else’s chocolatey treats. We can all be excited to know that we may have even better ways to recognize and treat our dogs for this scary toxin ingestion in the future!
What Should You Do If You Know or Suspect Your Dog Has Eaten Grapes?
Until we know more about this toxin in grapes, it is still very important to take all known or suspected ingestion of grapes by your dogs seriously. If you know or think that your dog may have ingested something that is toxic, like grapes, you can call your veterinarian right away for advice and to get your pup care if needed. Depending on the situation, your veterinarian may also direct you to the resource we all trust (and the one even vets rely on as the experts on all toxins), the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). The APCC operates a hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for all animal poison-related emergencies. You can check out their website for more information about this service and other information about toxicities from the leaders in the field.