Avocados and Pets
Is This Fruit Toxic to Dogs, Cats and Birds?
Christine Gowen, Pet HealthZone Editor
My yellow Labrador retriever, Shelby, is nuts about avocados.
At a certain time of year, Shelby would make a habit of disappearing around the side of a neighbor’s house, then heel to us grudgingly while licking her chops.
Upon further investigation, we once discovered her down on her elbows beneath the neighbor’s avocado tree, her paws griping one of its fallen ripe fruit while she gnawed on the thick skin enthusiastically. She then put up a long chase before relenting and giving up her treasure.
At the time, we were alarmed; we had been told that avocados were poisonous to dogs and cats.
A dog park debate ensued: Was it the avocado leaves, the pit or the skin that was toxic? Someone had heard that avocados were toxic to birds, too. But wasn’t avocado an ingredient in pet food?
We wanted to know: What’s the truth about avocados and pets?
An avocado—rich in potassium, fiber and the “good” fat—is native to Central Mexico but can be cultivated in tropical and Mediterranean climates. A single avocado tree can produce more than 500 avocados each year.
Known as the “fertility fruit” by Aztecs, an avocado dating back to 10,000 B.C. was discovered in a Coxcatlan, Puebla, Mexico cave. Clearly, this fruit was popular long before it became a staple at Super Bowl games and summer barbecues.
Interesting facts: An avocado yields 60% more potassium than a banana and is also called an alligator pear and butter fruit in other parts of the world.
Is An Avocado Toxic to Dogs and Cats?
This much is true: Parts of an avocado contain an oil-soluble toxin called persin. Specifically, the fruit’s seed, bark and leaves are composed of this toxic, fatty acid derivative.
But is persin poisonous to our dogs and cats?
“Despite the rumors, avocado is not poisonous to dogs, nor likely to cats,” says Dr. Justine Lee, a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and author of two popular books on pets.
“Dogs and cats don’t seem to be affected by persin,” explains Lee. “However, birds and large animals (such as horses and cattle) have issues with persin toxicity, as it can be deadly in these species.
“The bigger risk to dogs and cats is the foreign body obstruction that can occur when the avocado seed is ingested—it’s a large seed and can get stuck in the esophagus, stomach or intestinal tract.”
So, while avocado is safe for our dogs and cats to eat, the best bet is to limit their access to the fruit itself. This can prevent accidental choking as well as unexpected emergency surgery to remove the golf ball-sized pit from within your pet’s body.
Pet birds, however, should never be fed avocado.
Avian and Avocado Toxicity
According to Lee, birds such as canaries, parakeets, cockatiels and large parrots are extremely susceptible to persin toxicity.
Owners should avoid feeding their birds fresh avocado or even packaged, ready-to-serve guacamole.
Symptoms of persin toxicosis in birds includes the inability to perch, respiratory distress, congestion, fluid accumulation around the bird’s heart and lungs and liver and kidney failure.
If caught in time, your bird can receive treatment for avocado poisoning; however, due to a bird’s high metabolic rate and unique anatomy (including air sacs), many birds do not survive once exposed to avocado or other dangerous poisons.
Concerns about Poisons and Pets
Most veterinarians would recommend that we use the “better be safe than sorry” approach when it comes to feeding our pets table scraps and foods usually reserved for our dinner plates.
If you have concerns about fruits, vegetables and other foods that you might considering feeding your pet, make sure to discuss first with your veterinarian to avoid any accidental poisoning or gastrointestinal issues. There are numerous foods that have proven to be toxic to our pets.
One step to ensure my pet’s safety? Making sure that my adventurous—and insatiably hungry—Labrador can no longer rummage for a snack in my neighbor’s yard.
Return to the Health Zone
Christine Gowen, managing editor of the Pet HealthZone, has enjoyed a menagerie of pets throughout her lifetime, including dogs, cats and exotic critters such as guinea pigs, hamsters, black-hooded rats, a mouse, and even a chicken. Along with her husband, she is the proud parent of three kids—two of which are her beloved Labrador retrievers.
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