Toxin Tuesday: Avocado Toxicity in Dogs

Are Avocados Toxic to Pets?

I’m going to hedge a bit on this one as the answer is sort of yes, and sort of no. However, generally speaking the fruit of an avocado tree is considered only a mild toxin in dogs. Other animals (horses, rabbits, birds) will experience more substation toxicity effects, which are compounded if they eat other components of the tree (bark, leaves, pits, stems). 

In addition, Persin can impact milk output in production animals and Avocado ingestion in livestock can have financial implications for those raising goats or cattle. Let me explain further. 

Avocados Contain Potentially Dangerous Toxin Called Persin

Avocados contain Persin. Persin is a toxin that kills fungus (a fungicide) and also has the potential to damage other cells. Interestingly enough, it appears to be a defense mechanism that the plant has developed to protect against predators, such as insects and fungi. Studies have shown that the presence of Person in the plant deters insects from feeding on it (Rodriguez-Saona et al. 1998). 

Are Avocados Harmful to Dogs and Cats?

Technically yes. But practically, not really. 

In general, dogs and cats are not particularly sensitive to Persin, the toxin present in Avocados. In addition, the most often ingested component of the plant is the actual fruit of the tree, which also has the lowest levels or Persin. As a result, possible side effects are limited to vomiting and diarrhea. 

Avocados do have the potential to be harmful in other ways. Avocado pits can be mistakenly ingested by an overzealous garbage grazer (anyone have a yellow lab?). If ingested the pits can act as a mechanical obstruction in the stomach or intestines – something we call a gastrointestinal foreign body – which may require surgery to remove. 

In addition, some dogs are predisposed to inflammation of the pancreas, a condition called pancreatitis. In these dogs, fatty foods can sometimes trigger an episode, triggered by abdominal pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. 

Other Species are More Sensitive to Avocado Toxin

While dogs and cats will exhibit mild, if any, effects from ingesting avocado, other species are more profoundly impacted. In particular, birds, horses, ruminants and horses are more profoundly impacted by avocado toxicity. The toxic effects of Persin in various species is described below.

In bids, small amounts of Persin ingestion can cause weakness and depression, agitation and feather pulling. When consumed in larger amounts, Persin can be even more harmful, causing life-threatening cardiovascular damage, pulmonary edema and respiratory distress. 

In ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats, we see a wide range of symptoms relating to Persin ingestion. Inflammation of the mammary glands and subsequent decrease in milk production can create a financial burden for animals used for milk production. In additional, more serious cases involving heart problems and fluid accumulation in the chest can be life threatening.  

Use of Persin in Human Medical Research

Interestingly enough, the fact that Persin targets mammary tissue in animals led researchers to explore the impact it has on human breast tissue. In particular, whether the toxin would specifically target human breast cancer cells. Early research is promising, showing that Persin may trigger the death of breast cancer cells and has a synergistic effect when paired with other treatments for breast cancer. 

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