We all know things like chocolate, Xylitol and caffeine are toxic to dogs, but then there are avocados. The avocado has been a source of debate for decades. Many say it’s toxic and dogs shouldn’t eat it. Yet, I worked for a public relations firm years ago and the owner’s lab used to go out to the avocado grove she had, climb the trees, and eat the fruit. Aside from being a bit chubby, he was is in good health.
So – Is it safe to feed your dog avocados?
To answer the question we went to four sources:
- The ASPCA’s Poison Control Center
- VetVine – a growing online community for veterinary medical professionals and a resource for pet owners seeking pet health information. This website is vetted by veterinary specialists and is the “go-to” destination for trusted and expert-authenticated information for both veterinary professionals and pet owners. VetVine is an accredited Continuing Education provider for veterinary professionals and also offers informational webinars for pet parents.
- Dr. Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA, Chief Medical Officer at JustFoodForDogs. Formerly, he was Director of the Animal Health Science vetertinar technology program at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He remains an adjunct faculty and professor of canine clinical nutrition.
- AvoDerm Natural Dog Food
ASPCA’s Poison Control Center Data
Let’s start with the poison control center, who probably has the most data on the subject of toxicity in pets.
According to their database on Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants, Avocado is toxic…to some animals.
Toxicity: Toxic to Horses
Toxic Principles: Toxic to horses, cattle, goats, and birds. Avocado leaves, fruit, seeds and bark may contain a toxic principle known as persin. The Guatemalan variety, a common one found in stores, appears to be the most problematic. Other varieties of avocado can have different degrees of toxic potential.
According to Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center:
Avocado ingestion can cause stomach upset in some dogs. The pit is the biggest worry, if ingested it can cause an obstruction. We do not see the heart or reproductive problems in dogs and cats that we can in other species.
We then asked her where their data came from for their plant lists. Wismer answered that their data comes from two sources:
The first is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. At the call center we have fielded hundreds (if not thousands) of avocado (plain, guacamole, etc.) exposures in dogs and cats. Other than the aforementioned pit foreign bodies, we only see mild stomach upset.
The other source has been from pet food producers. Avocado-containing food manufacturers have tested avocados for persin (the toxic component). I have personally only seen the data from one of these companies and the persin levels have been below the level of detection. Persin is high in the leaves and unripe fruit. By the time the fruits are used for pet food, the levels have disappeared.
She went on to explain that the species that seem to have issues with avocados (birds, horses, ruminants), all have more complex GI tracts than humans, dogs, or cats.
Since one of the ASPCA’s sources are food manufacturer’s that use avocado in their pet food, we went direct to the source and interviewed a member of the AvoDerm Natural staff to ask, “Why avocados?”
Why was avocado chosen as a ingredient in your dog food?
While some new product discoveries come from an “aha” moment in the laboratory, AvoDerm was created by a chance encounter with an avocado grower. A local co-op had an excess supply of avocados one season and asked the company if it would be able to use the fruit in its dog food since their dogs loved the taste.
People have been enjoying the benefits of avocados for many years. Common knowledge was that avocados were great for human health high in monounsaturated fat, which is a “good fat” that may help lower cholesterol. They are also high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins and many other essential nutrients. In 1982, the line of AvoDerm dog and cat food was launched and quickly became the company’s best selling products due to how successful the products were in improving skin and coat issues with dogs and cats.
What studies did you conduct or what third-party sources did you use, to deem them safe for dog food?
In the over 30 years since Breeder’s Choice first introduced this product line, millions of dogs and cats worldwide have consumed AvoDerm Natural® with no negative reactions from avocado oil or meal.
AvoDerm Natural has test fed its products for extended periods which is how we know that our product improves skin and coat health.
The avocado meal and oil used in the AvoDerm Natural pet products comes from the meat of the fruit and does not contain leaves, bark, skin or pit of the fruit. The oil is extracted from ripened fruit in which the meat pulp has been separated from the skin and the pit. Because we know our dogs are our family, we also have our avocados tested for persin. Concern has been expressed by animal organizations and on internet sites about the toxicity of avocados, but that is strictly the persin which is only in the leaves, bark and stems of the trees.
What is the benefit of Avocados?
Quality pet foods need the right balance of protein, fat, nutrients and other ingredients to supply the nourishment for good health. Symptoms such as hair loss, thinning coats, dullness, dry skin, thickened skin, matted hair, infections and odors can usually be traced back to either a shortage or an excess of a specific nutrient.
Avocados are a natural superfood, full of nutrients, crude fiber and contain vitamins A, C, and E, as well as B6. Avocados are rich in folate, potassium, niacin, essential fatty acids crucial to good skin and coat health as well as good overall health. Ounce for ounce, the avocado is simply one of the most nutritious fruits there is and is a core ingredient in Avoderm food.
Sheri L. Berger, DVM, DACVO of VetVine Specialty Consulting Service, is in agreement with AvoDerm and the ASPCA, citing that while a dog may suffer an upset stomach if they eat the avocado flesh or peel (in large quantity), it is not toxic to dogs.
“Avocados are high in fat – so, in theory, if a dog ate a lot of the avocado flesh, there also could be issues relating to the fatty food that it consumed (such as the development of pancreatitis),” Berger explains.
The main concern, she says, is actually the risk of choking or obstruction from the pit (which, again, is something the ASPCA notes as well).
“Even if a dog crushes the pit and swallows it in pieces, this can be potentially dangerous as the pit is not easily digested and could create an obstruction – similar to any other type of foreign body that might be swallowed,” she cautions.
A Few Reservations
Out of the sources, only one of them had any real reservations about avocados. Dr. Chavez of JustFoodForDogs believes pet owners should be cautious when it comes to feeding their dog avocados.
He reports that avocados have been suspected of toxicity since the early 1900’s and in the 40’s there were reports of its toxicity.
However, he went on to say that “reports of toxicity in dogs are lacking and now some suggest that it is okay to feed dogs the fruit.”
Dr. Chavez warns, however, that dogs should not be allowed to chew on any of the plant material (leaves, bark, sticks) or the pit (for the same reason Dr. Berger notes regarding choking).
He also thinks dog owners should never feed any of the Guatemalan varieties, including Haas, Anaheim, and Wurtz to name a few, or any of the Guatemalan/Mexican hybrids, including Fuerte, Bacon, and Zutano because, like the ASPCA Poison Control Notes, these are the ones that cause the most problems.
Why? He sees it as a “better safe than sorry” situation.
“You don’t want your dog to be the first case report of cardiotoxicity in dogs, so feed only at your own risk,” Dr. Chavez warns. “If you choose to give your dog avocado, do so only in small amounts.”
The Bottom Line
So, while not technically toxic, you do want to keep your pets away from the plant material and pit. In addition, as Dr. Chavez suggests, it can’t hurt to avoid feeding any of the above listed Guatemalan or Guatemalan–mix avocados, just to be safe. Based on the research and testing, dog food containing avocados appears to be safe (though you may want to check what type of avocado they use, if you are really concerned).
Finally, don’t forget that avocados are high in fat! And even though it is a “good fat” your dog can still gain weight if you let him eat too many.
As with all things, moderation is a good rule to follow.