What’s eating Gilbert Grape?

What’s eating Gilbert Grape? Better not be your dog!

By Dr. Kim Everson & Sarah Everson

 The many benefits of composting easily overshadow any negative aspects of maintaining a compost heap. Nevertheless a very real challenge some backyard composters face is keeping their beloved pet dog from eating the heap. This month’s article, co-written by a veterinarian and composter, offers a different perspective on how composting can affect the family dog.

Picking up dog poop has become a very interesting and unsettling experience for me lately. In an effort to reduce our landfill waste, my family has been setting aside produce scraps, coffee grounds and overripe fruit for our backyard compost heap. These organic “greens,” mixed properly with “browns,” such as old leaves and straw, do not tend to attract varmints (such as gluttonous yellowLabradorsnamed EdGrrr). However, having this week found dog poop consisting mostly of whole green grapes, I think something has gone awry with my compost heap.

The grape poop is concerning for a couple of reasons. The least of my worries is that one of my exuberant children is stocking the compost heap improperly, meaning the pile will not mature as quickly. More concerning is the fact that my dog is obviously gorging himself on a potentially toxic fruit – grapes.

In spite of the fact that some dogs have historically eaten grapes with no obvious ill effect, grape ingestion has been repeatedly and definitively linked with sudden kidney failure in dogs. No one knows for sure the exact number of grapes or raisins necessary to cause toxicity, but cases have been documented involving from over a pound of grapes to as little as a single serving of raisins!

Toxicities have been seen involving all varieties of grapes, home-grown and store-bought. Affected dogs usually begin vomiting within a few hours after eating the fruit and then develop diarrhea, tiredness, abdominal pain and decreased appetite. Partially digested grapes might be seen in the vomit or diarrhea. (Hmmm, the poop grapes I’ve seen are whole … maybe EdGrrr has been spared because he doesn’t chew? One can hope …) Kidney enzyme elevations are typically seen on bloodwork anywhere from 24 hours to several days after the grapes are eaten.

Immediate and aggressive veterinary intervention is crucial to give an affected dog its best chance for survival. As damage within the kidneys progresses to end-stage kidney failure, urine production stops completely and euthanasia is typically performed due to the grave prognosis for the pet. Fortunately, with early detection, decontamination, intensive-care hospitalization and monitoring, dogs can survive the immediate threat of grape and raisin toxicity.

Even if your dog has eaten grapes or raisins in the past with no obvious ill effect, the safest advice is to avoid feeding any grapes, raisins or other dried fruits to your pet until this toxicity is better understood. As for EdGrrr? I think he has once again dodged a bullet in his ongoing battle with dietary excess. And my family will need to fine tune our kitchen waste composting techniques.

It is always important to build a compost pile with the proper ratio of carbon and nitrogen. However, it is even more important to make sure food scraps added to a compost pile are thoroughly buried and covered. The best way to keep your dog out of the compost pile is to build your compost pile inside a bin, either store-bought or home-made. Then you can compost without worrying about which “ingredients” may harm your dog.

Sarah Everson is the business manager for Compost Joe’s Premium Soils and Organics, a private composting facility located between Fond du Lac and Oshkosh.  Sarah also offers seminars and private classes on composting.  

Dr.Kim Everson is a veterinarian and founder of St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center, N8545 Ridge Rd. (Old Cty. Rd. I), Van Dyne. For more information, visit www.petvet1.com or call her at 920.923.6608.

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