Acorns are one of autumn’s most beautiful signs of the season change, however what happens if my dog likes to eat them?. A typical fall sight, acorns attract dogs who curiously sniff around in wooded areas. Although they might seem inoffensive to you, the dog parent, acorns, together with oak leaves, pose a potential threat to your dog’s health. If your dog consumes either, a prompt intervention is essential in order to prevent more dangerous cases of poisoning and to facilitate recovery.
Since acorns ripen and begin to fall from oak trees in September (or even sooner, due to climate change), it is time for you to learn all about acorn poisoning in dogs and the ways to prevent such accidents from happening.
Acorn Poisoning and Tannins
Acorn (or Quercus) poisoning occurs when dogs ingest substantial oak leaf and acorn quantities. The main reason for acorn poisoning resides in its components, namely tannins, a chemical substance derived from phenolic acids (i.e., micronutrients found in plants) that deter herbivores from consumption. Tannins are contained in a high percentage within oak leaves and acorns right before they become ripe, thus keeping unwanted animals away. However, once the acorns become ripe, tannin levels drop, and the risk of acorn poisoning decreases. Nevertheless, keeping your dog away from ingesting any acorns is imperative.
Tannins act by binding with proteins, cellulose, starches, and minerals. Once the binding process is complete, the resulting substances become insoluble and resistant to decomposition. Therefore, you must be careful and keep your dog away from water sources exposed to oak leaves and acorns. The binding process renders tannins resilient enough against the drying and freezing processes, making oak leaves and acorns dangerous even after the fall season - another reason to keep your yard oak leaf and acorn-free!
Symptoms of Acorn Poisoning
Acorn poisoning will not be dangerous to your dog’s long-term health as long as you intervene quickly. Statistically speaking, approximately 75% of dogs show poisoning symptoms after ingestion of acorns, primarily localized in the stomach, kidneys, and liver. Once your dog shows signs of acorn poisoning, a visit to the veterinarian is critical.
Different types of tannins will cause different health issues for your dog. Tannins are divided into two categories: hydrolyzable (i.e., dissolvable) tannins, or HTs, and condensed tannins, or CTs. HTs lead to protein denaturation and cell death in the kidneys and liver, while CTs damage the gastrointestinal mucosa and disrupt nutrient absorption.
Your dog’s size can determine the seriousness of acorn poisoning, as well. Larger breeds may escape with only a mild digestive upset, while smaller breeds, such as Maltese, Chihuahuas, Schnauzers, Poodles, and Yorkshire terriers, suffer more from acorn poisoning due to their reduced size. They frequently develop hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, so smaller breeds require extra careful attention during the Autumn season.
The primary acorn poisoning symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Polydipsia (i.e., excessive thirst)
- Polyuria (i.e., excessive need to urinate)
- Constipation followed by hemorrhagic diarrhea
Acorn poisoning can lead to gastrointestinal (GI), hepatic, and renal dysfunction in more severe cases. Only in extreme cases, acorn poisoning can be fatal.
Choosing a Proactive Approach to Prevent Acorn Poisoning
Acorn poisoning calls for a preventive rather than a reactive approach. After all, dogs do put things in their mouths; it’s in their instinct. Therefore, the danger of ingesting an acorn or an oak leaf is always present; although you might be careful and remove the acorn from your dog’s mouth on time, the risk doesn’t vanish. Instead of being on your toes at all times, you can teach your dog an easy yet invaluable command to prevent acorn or oak leaf ingestion - the “Leave It” command.
Teaching the “Leave It” command to your dog calls for patience and dedication, but after a few short training sessions, your dog should begin to pick up on the command and no longer surprise you with animal droppings or other unnecessary objects on your doorstep. Here’s a simple guide that was put together by our founder, Wendy Volhard, to help you teach the “Leave It” command to your dog in no time!
Teaching the "Leave It" Command
Step #1: Hold a treat between your left hand’s index and middle fingers while covering it with your thumb. Keep your hand pressed against your leg.
Step #2: Show the treat to your dog. As it tries to inquire into the treat, say “Leave It!” Right afterward, close your hand into a fist and turn it towards the ground.
Your reaction will intrigue your dog and cause it to further investigate your hand. Nuzzling and nibbling your hand or barking may accompany the process.
Step #3: Await for your dog to break its focus from your hand while remaining silent. At this time, your dog will probably turn its head to the right or the left, showing disinterest in continuing its inspection.
Step #4: Reward your dog with praise and a treat once it no longer focuses on the hand.
Repeat these steps until your dog breaks its attention from your hand each time you give the command. However, remember that you are teaching your dog to forget about an object, not to turn its head. In this case, your dog might be trying to receive its treats as soon as possible by turning its head from your hand only momentarily, before returning its interest to your hand once again. This reaction, however, does not equate to a complete apprehension of the command. More learning steps will need to be taken.
Step #5: Repeat step #1 without turning your hand. If your dog breaks its attention from your hand, reward it with praise and treats. Repeat the process if otherwise.
Once your dog learns to ignore the treat in your hand, you can diversify the technique by placing it on the ground and touching it with your index finger or leaving it unattended. Gradually, your dog will master the “Leave It” command and refrain from bringing you unwanted objects. If you hit any bumps in the road, make sure that you check out Wendy Volhard’s book for an extensive explanation of the learning steps.
Types of Edible Nuts for Dogs
Acorns aside, can nuts, in general, be added to your dog’s diet? Nuts are not a familiar presence in the canine food bowl, nor do dogs receive the same nutritional benefits from nuts as humans or other animals. If you are thinking about enhancing your dog’s diet by adding some nuts as snacks or training treats, be sure to focus on the following varieties:
Although not toxic, almonds are not easily digested in the dog’s stomach. They also represent a choking hazard, regardless of the dog’s size, so be sure that you feed small, unsalted (salt tends to upset the dog’s digestive system) almonds to your dog.
This rich omega-3 fatty acids and fiber source is ideal for humans, and your dog will definitely enjoy chestnuts too! Add chestnuts to your dog’s food bowl in moderation (not without removing the shell, of course). Their salty and starchy composition can cause gastrointestinal distress and impede the digestive system’s function.
Their high fat and protein composition can lead to severe medical issues, such as pancreatitis, so be sure that you feed no more than two at a time to your dog. Feed everything in moderation.
Remember that nuts are not always a welcome addition to your dog’s food bowl. Aside from the choking hazard and possible digestive issues if fed in excess, specific nuts, such as peanuts, serve as perfect environments for aflatoxins (i.e., toxins produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus) to sneak their way into your dog, which can cause liver damage and death in extreme cases. Unfortunately, nuts can contain aflatoxins even if no mold traces are visible; therefore, avoiding nuts altogether might prove to be the safest choice for your dog, if you are unable to source wholesome, locally produced nuts.
Ensure that your dog avoids the following varieties of nuts as they are entirely unsafe for dogs to eat and could cause serious harm even if ingested in small quantities:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Pecan nuts
A Parting Reminder
Numerous autumnal dangers, such as acorns and oak leaves, may lurk in your own backyard, but as always, overall health through regularly feeding natural, fresh food and proper training will help you keep your canine companion healthy, happy, and safe. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us or check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!