Raw or cooked, garlic and onions are toxic for dogs

Q: Whenever my partner and I treat ourselves to roasted garlic on warm French bread, our dog begs for some. Is garlic safe for dogs?

A: No, so please don't let him snack on it. Garlic, onions and related vegetables are members of the genus Allium, and all are toxic to dogs.

Garlic is more toxic than onions, which are more toxic than shallots, leeks, scallions and chives. In general, the Allium species with the strongest odors and flavors are the most toxic.

These vegetables are dangerous to dogs, raw or cooked. Garlic powder, onion powder and other dehydrated versions are the most concentrated and therefore the most toxic.

Garlic, onions and related vegetables damage the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the dog's body. Several days after ingestion, the red blood cells disintegrate.

This red blood cell destruction is called hemolytic anemia. "Hemo-" is Greek for blood, and "-lytic" means to break apart. Anemia is the resulting deficiency of red blood cells.

Clinical signs can include pale pink or yellow gums, lethargy, weakness, rapid breathing and heartbeat, jaundice and red-to-brown urine.

This process doesn't occur in humans who eat garlic and onions because our red blood cells contain much more of the erythrocyte catalase enzyme that protects the cells from damage, and the human enzyme is substantially more active than the canine erythrocyte catalase enzyme.

If your dog ever does manage to wolf down some garlic or onion, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Q: My cat, Margie, was coughing, so I took her to the veterinarian who X-rayed her chest and diagnosed asthma. The vet prescribed an oral steroid and said she plans to transition Margie to Flovent, the same inhaled steroid I use for my own asthma. Please educate me about asthma in cats.

A: Feline asthma is a lung disease characterized by constriction and inflammation of the airways with excess mucus production. The condition, which is usually diagnosed in young to middle-aged cats, resembles human asthma.

Clinical signs range from mild to severe. Mild asthma is characterized by intermittent coughing that's sometimes confused with throwing up hairballs, except no hairballs are produced. You may also hear wheezing.

At the other extreme, a life-threatening asthma attack is marked by severe respiratory distress with rapid, open-mouth breathing and exaggerated abdominal movements. If this happens, get Margie to a veterinarian immediately.

These attacks can occur for no apparent reason or be triggered by allergies, smoke or aerosol sprays.

Treatment focuses on reducing airway inflammation and constriction. Most cats start therapy with an oral steroid and sometimes a bronchodilator, and many transition to a steroid delivered through a metered dose inhaler like the Flovent you use. The cat inhales the steroid through an Aerokat or similar device, modeled on the spacer and face mask designed for human infants with asthma.

Keep Margie indoors to minimize exposure to pollens and other common allergens, and don't smoke in your home or use spray products near her. In addition, choose a dustless cat litter and replace your home's furnace filters regularly.

Fortunately, feline asthma carries a good prognosis.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at