Leeks are an age-old vegetable that have been found in archeological sites in ancient Egypt. Timeworn texts also show they were grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. Which means that leeks have been a part of human life for roughly as long as domesticated dogs.
While they don't look like their bulbous cousins, the leek is still very much as flavorful and pungent as onions and garlic. Their long, cylindrical stalk is a mainstay in many Western pantries, which is why many dogs just might encounter leeks while nosing around kitchens and in gardens. So are leeks healthy for dogs to eat?
Can dogs eat leeks?
No, dogs cannot eat leeks. Leeks are toxic and pose a significant health risk to both dogs and puppies, who risk hemolytic anemia when they eat too many leeks or eat them too frequently over an extended period of time.
The chemical compounds (sulfides) that give leeks their signature aroma and flavor are also potentially deadly to canines.
Causes of leek poisoning in dogs
Organosulfates are the primary vectors behind leek poisoning, also known as allium toxicity. One sulfate in particular, N-propyl disulfide, damages the oxygen-carrying substance found in red blood cells called hemoglobin. N-propyl disulfide causes hemolysis by rupturing the hemoglobin, which ultimately leads to anemia. In extreme cases anemia may lead to organ damage, organ failure and even death.
Signs and symptoms of leek poisoning in dogs
The severity and persistence of leek poisoning symptoms will vary depending on a dog's size, age and medical history, as well as the number of leeks eaten and the frequency of contact. For example, a 25-pound dog who eats a bowl of potato and leek soup will most likely only present with minor symptoms that may dissipate in 1-2 days. Whereas a 15-pound dog who nibbles on leeks growing in the garden for several days will present with multiple and severe symptoms of leek poisoning.
The most common signs and symptoms of a dog who is suffering toxicity after eating leeks are:
- Bad Breath
- Difficulty Breathing
- Elevated Heart Rate
- Excessive Drooling
- Jaundiced Eyes
- Loss of Appetite
- Reddish Urine
Consult your veterinarian if your dog displays any of these symptoms after eating leeks. It's important that toxic poisoning is diagnosed quickly.
How to diagnose a dog with leek poisoning
Bringing a sample of the leek that your dog ate will help veterinarians determine the level of risk, as different varieties of leeks have differing rates of toxicity. A veterinarian will make a diagnosis based on medical history, amount of leeks eaten, physical symptoms present during examination and the results of a battery of blood tests.
A veterinarian may also give a dog suspected of leek poisoning a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, urinalysis or x-ray to assist with a diagnosis and rule out any other causes of illness.
Treatment for dogs with leek poisoning
Upon diagnosis of leek poisoning, a veterinarian will need to decontaminate, hydrate, monitor and treat your dog, which may include any, all or a combination of the following:
- Absorbing toxins with activated charcoal
- Anemia Medication
- Blood Transfusions
- Induce Vomiting
- IV Fluids
- Overnight Observation
- Oxygen Therapy
- Stomach Flush
The most difficult and potentially painful phase of anemia for dogs often comes several days after they consume leeks or any other toxic member of the Allium family. The veterinarian may hospitalize your dog or provide some form of home monitoring.
Leeks are available in an assortment of powders, dried mixtures, frozen packages and fresh offerings from both garden and grocery store. They are also an ingredient in many soups, doughs, breads, pastas, spice mixes and other pre-prepared food stuffs. All forms of leek pose a dangerous threat to curious dogs.
It's important that pet parents keep human food away from their dogs. Our canine friends explore the world with their noses and mouths, and they often cannot help but sample the flavors of intriguing foods people leave lying around the house.
While the risk of toxicity is mitigated by a dog's size, age and medical history, it's a good idea to contact a veterinarian for advice if you witness your dog eating a leek — even a small amount. Remember: Early diagnosis can save your dog from unnecessary suffering.