Renee F. DiPietro CVT, Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator
Veterinary Information Specialist
Fresh homemade bread is a comforting pleasure for many people. An even more gratifying experience comes when we have the opportunity to create this staple food from scratch yourself. Winter days provide ample opportunity for simple, yet primal projects that can bring immense satisfaction to the cold worn soul. A few simple innocuous ingredients (water, salt, yeast, flour) combine to produce a rising mass of dough that can be baked into any number of bread incarnations. Boules, baguettes, Italian loaves, pizza dough, rolls…there are numerous possibilities. For some of us, the rising of the dough is magical, an alchemy of sorts that never fails to thrill. When we strip away the Abracadabra we find basic science is the root of the transformation. It is in this basic science that an unexpected hazard for pets can be found.
Yeast are single celled fungi. They are the verbs of bread making. They are the action guys. These industrious organisms cause alcoholic fermentation. With the right conditions (moisture, warmth, nutrition) they consume sugars in the dough mixture. This consumption initiates the production of ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. As carbon dioxide is produced, gas forms in the dough which is what causes that lovely rise. During the baking process the alcohol in dough dissipates to only a small, non-harmful amount. It is in the raw dough that danger is found for our pets if they ingest it.
The problem with ingestion of raw dough is both one of toxic potential and mechanical issue. Clinical signs are often evident within an hour but can appear later. The rising of bread dough occurs rapidly, and the dough continues to expand in the warm and wet environment of the stomach. This ongoing expansion of material can cause bloat, foreign body obstruction, stomach torsion, hypovolemic shock, and in very severe cases stomach rupture. Affected pets will often have a distended abdomen, abdominal pain and be retching or vomiting unproductively. Discomfort can also be expressed as agitation, panting, or pacing.
In addition, the alcohol produced and contained in raw dough can cause alcohol toxicity for our pets. Symptoms such as lethargy, difficulty walking, vocalization, behavior change, urinary incontinence, blindness, and coma are possible. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is also a dangerous component of alcohol toxicity. These clinical signs can progress to both respiratory and cardiovascular collapse. Both the toxicity and mechanical risks can result in death as can the combined symptoms of both issues.
The above described condition is a horrible situation for a pet to endure. This scenario is also heartbreaking, stressful, and expensive for the pet owner. The problem is very easily avoided. It is as simple as rising your dough in a place where your pet will have absolutely no access. I much prefer to rise my dough in my living room by my woodstove as you can see in the image in this article. It adds to the ambience and satisfaction of the whole project. Typically, though, I make a different choice as my dogs often hang out in the living room. I can only use my favorite spot by the woodstove if I know my dogs will be outside or secure in another area of the house until the rising process is finished. I am fortunate to have a bread proofing option on my oven. Once I have prepped the dough for rising it goes into the oven. Once it has risen I take it out quickly to transfer it to the pan or stone I will bake it on, preheat my oven, and then it goes straight back in. I do not leave the dough unattended at all. I have a wily 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier who is not challenged by height and who would be all over that dough given only a split second of opportunity. For those without a proofing option in your oven it is important to find a secure space where no pet has access to the dough while it rises and before it is baked.
If your pet does manage to consume raw dough this is an urgent situation. Immediately contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. It is important to act quickly but don’t try any home remedies or treatments of any kind without the advice of your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as misguided treatments can make the situation worse.
Happy Bread Baking! Let’s keep our pets safe.