In the summer months, nothing sounds better than fresh strawberry rhubarb pie. But did you know that the leaves of rhubarb are toxic to humans and dogs? Just like you, your dog can eat the stalks of rhubarb without any issues. But the leaves can cause serious health concerns.
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pup eats a large number of rhubarb leaves. Other resources include the nearest emergency vet and the ASPCA Poison Control Center.
In this article, we’ll get into some of the history and facts of the plant itself, as well as how and why rhubarb can be dangerous to your dog’s health.
Rhubarb Nutrition and Fun Facts
Rhubarb is a tart, crunchy vegetable that comes from an herbaceous perennial plant that is also called rhubarb. The edible parts are the fleshy stalks, while the triangular leaves are quite toxic and inedible. There are about five cultivars of culinary rhubarb and countless other varieties for other uses.
In Europe and the United States, rhubarb stalks are commonly cooked with fruits and into desserts. They range in taste from tough and tart to tender and sweet.
The roots of the rhubarb plant are also an herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine. Several species of rhubarb roots have been used as laxatives for thousands of years.
Here are some of the most notable nutritional values found in 100g of raw rhubarb stalks, according to the USDA:
- Water 93.6g
- Fiber 1.8g
- Potassium 288mg
- Trace amounts of vitamin A, C, K, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus
Can Rhubarb Be Bad for Dogs?
Rhubarb has the potential to be seriously harmful to dogs. It should not be a cause for concern if your dog eats the stalks of culinary rhubarb, but the leaves pose dangers.
Toxicity and Kidney Failure
Unlike the stalks, rhubarb leaves are highly toxic to dogs. They contain large amounts of soluble calcium oxalate crystals. The reason for the toxicity of these crystals is the nephrotoxin oxalic acid and oxalate salts present in them.
Ingested oxalate salts will bind to a dog’s calcium and remove this essential mineral from their bloodstream. Low levels of calcium in the blood can ultimately cause kidney failure.
Oxalic acid is toxic due to its high acidity and can corrode tissues and cause burns to the gastrointestinal tract. It is also very toxic to the kidneys.
Consumption of soluble calcium oxalate in single large doses or smaller ones over a long period can cause kidney stones, acute kidney failure, and death.
Rhubarb toxicity symptoms include:
Rhubarb leaves are very bitter, so it is unlikely that a dog would eat enough of these to be in serious danger. However, if your dog consumes a large number of rhubarb leaves call your veterinarian immediately. If it is outside of office hours go to your nearest emergency vet.
You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for more information and advice on how to proceed.
Possible Health Benefits of Rhubarb Stalks for Dogs
Due to the toxicity of rhubarb leaves, we do not suggest feeding rhubarb stalks to your dog just to be on the safe side.
But if your pup gobbles up some stalk scraps while you’re making pie, there’s no need to worry. The stalks may even provide some fringe health benefits.
As you can guess from their crunch, rhubarb stalks are a good source of dietary fiber. Proper amounts of fiber in their diet can add bulk to a dog’s stool, as well as regulate and smooth out the digestive process.
Like celery, rhubarb stalks have incredibly high water content. Hydration is a key part of any creature’s health, including that of their digestive system. All that water in combination with the good fiber content is great for promoting regularity of bowel movements.
The relatively large amounts of potassium in rhubarb stalks sure won’t hurt your pup either. Potassium is an essential nutrient that regulates the body’s fluid levels and acidity, nerve signals, and muscle contractions.
Healthy levels of potassium in your dog’s diet can help reduce water retention and high blood pressure. It can also protect them from osteoporosis, strokes, and kidney stones.
All that being said, we don’t recommend feeding rhubarb stalks to your dog.
For folks that need a quick and concise answer: rhubarb leaves are incredibly toxic, but rhubarb stalks are safe for dogs to eat. However, we think it’s safer to be cautious and recommend that you do not allow your dog to eat any rhubarb — period.
You never know when a neighbor may decide to grow some culinary rhubarb, or if your dog may come across it in the wild while exploring solo. Better to not encourage your pup to eat rhubarb stalks at all and remove the possibility of emergency vet visits, costly bills, and a very sick pup.
Featured Image Credit: Nadezhda Nesterova, Shutterstock