Monday, October 3, 2016

Grapes and dogs: Are these snacks really deadly?

Liam the pug in front of grapes

Liam the pug and I live deep in the heart of Oregon's pinot country. Our summer days are warm but not hot, and our evenings are cool but not cold. That means grapes just love growing here. And while I'm not a winemaker, I love having a few grapevines around. They provide abundant fruit for jams and jellies, and what I won't eat or use, the birds will happily snap right up.

Unfortunately, there's another creature in the menagerie that will also snap up discarded grapes.

Yup, Liam the pug is a grape fan. And I found out about it accidentally.

Grapes on the vine

These grapes grow on an arbor that winds above the backyard gate. The majority of the grapes are on the outside of the gate, as that's where the majority of the sunlight sits during the long summer days. But this summer, when hubby harvested the grapes for jelly, a few fell from the vines onto the ground on the dog side of the gate.

We're not talking about 100 or 1,000 grapes. We're talking about maybe 10 or 15. But Liam was right there to hoover them up. And in all of the days that have followed, he's made a beeline from the back door to the garden gate to see if there are more grapes to eat.

Liam the pug is stubborn

Liam is a very stubborn pug, especially when there is food involved. And he's losing his hearing, so he can't always hear me hollering out commands. It's a double whammy when he's in the yard. He doesn't want to listen, and he can't really listen anyway.

So he ate about 5 grapes over about 48 hours. He was totally fine every time.

I thought it was just annoying, until I went online and saw all of the scary headlines. You've seen them: "Grapes can KILL" and "Grapes are TOXIC" and "Grapes are DEADLY."

At first, I got scared. Should I whip him in to the emergency vet? Even though it had been 48 hours and he seemed fine?

Here's the thing. When I dug deeper, I wasn't convinced grapes are killers. Maybe Liam didn't get sick because what I was seeing in those inflammatory headlines wasn't entirely true.

When people talk about grapes and their dangers, they often cite this Web MD article, which contains no real sourcing. The writer says toxicity is "well documented," without providing any documentation at all. Those citations are missing, as The Dog Place points out, because the studies are missing. There is no research that pinpoints what chemical or compound would cause toxicity in a dog that eats grapes. No one knows WHY grapes would be dangerous and how much a dog might have to eat in order to get sick. No one knows. It could be that there is something going on in a dog gut that hasn't been studied yet, or it could be that dogs who eat grapes take in toxins that are used to fertilize or harvest grapes. No one knows.

The research is so thin, in fact, that suggests that the toxic grape thing can only be mildly supported. That puts it only one step above urban myth.

I'm not willing to use my dog as a test bunny to prove that grapes are safe. I don't think he should eat anything before I have a chance to wash it and approve it first. That means we'll be using a drop cloth to harvest grapes in the future, and we'll prune baby grapes up from the ground, so they can't be nibbled off the vine. But I also won't be taking out my plants entirely or whipping him to the emergency veterinarian if he manages to eat one.

In other words, I'll be careful without panicking. And I'll always call my veterinarian with questions, rather than heading online to find out the truth.

So what should you do if your dog eats grapes? Don't read things online. Ask your veterinarian for advice. Explain what type of grape your dog ate, how much your dog ate and how your dog seems now. Then follow the advice.

There's so little we know about dogs and grapes. Maybe I have a variety that isn't toxic, while a variety your dog is eating is different. Maybe the soil plays a role. Maybe the fungus that grows on the grapes makes dogs sick and I don't have it here. Maybe it's something else altogether. Call and ask, is my advice.

Have your dogs been exposed to grapes? And what did you find out about it? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I's good advice to refer to your vet. So many things on the internet can make humans panic.

  2. Wow, thank you for this! I have heard so much about the toxicity of grapes for dogs that I never went online to research it. I don't feed grapes to my dogs, but some of our late dogs used to eat them ALL the time. I so often wondered about this, but mostly I just felt guilty that I had given them to my dogs and didn't know they could be toxic! I will still not give them to my current dogs - like you, I will always err on the side of caution, but at least now I feel less guilty! I think there are other things like this - and that moderation might be key in many cases.

  3. Very interesting. We grow concord grapes and we had a dog named Thora that used to love them. She was never affected by them and lived a long life.