Onions are toxic to dogs. The toxicity is dose dependent, so the bigger the animal, the more onion need be consumed to cause a toxicity. Onion toxicity causes a Heinz body anemia. Heinz bodies are small bubble-like projections which protrude from a red blood cell and can be seen when the cells are stained. This “bubble” is a weak spot in the red blood cell and, therefore, the cell has a decreased life-span and ruptures prematurely.
If numerous red cells are affected and rupture, anemia can result. It is a form of hemolytic anemia. Onions are only one of the substances which can cause Heinz body anemia. Other substances such as Acetominophen (Tylenol) and benzocaine-containing topical preparations can also cause Heinz body anemia in the dog.
The toxic effect of the onions are the same whether the product is raw, cooked or dehydrated. The hemolytic episode usually occurs several days after onion ingestion (lowest hematocrit around day 5 post ingestion). Daily feeding of onions could have a cumulative effect due to ongoing formation of Heinz bodies versus a single exposure with a wide gap until the next exposure, allowing the bone marrow time to regenerate the prematurely destroyed red cells.
The cat is even more susceptible. Recently, Gerber began to add onion powder to all its meat baby foods. They are labeled as “better tasting”. Since baby food is often used in sick cats that are not eating (to stimulate their appetites), there was concern that the onion powder would cause a Heinz body anemia in these cats. Within a week or two of the change, there were numerous reports of Heinz body anemia in cats receiving Gerber baby food in their diets.
[I use Gerber 2nd Food Chicken or Turkey. It contains no onions.]
I strongly recommend NO ONIONS for dogs. There is no benefit and certainly the potential to cause harm.
Written by Dr. Wendy Wallner, DVM
NOTE: In moderation, garlic is safe for your dog and can help with conditions such as gas and flea prevention. It also has natural antibiotic properties.