Balmy summer temperatures and long, sunny days make craving a cool lick of ice cream a common experience. This yummy frozen treat is probably one of your favorites, but can our dogs eat ice cream too?
The answer is yes and no.
“Many dogs can safely eat a little bit of ice cream every now and then,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM and veterinary advisor for askPETMD. “If you let your dog clean up your ice cream bowl when you’re done and his GI tract continues to function normally, you’re probably fine.”
And while some ice cream vendors offer dog-friendly sizes that come in cups or with cones, Coates says that the indulgence shouldn’t be an every-day treat. The biggest concerns most vets have about dogs eating ice cream? Problems with lactose intolerance, food allergies and obesity.
Ice Cream and Lactose Intolerance in Dogs
Yes, like humans, dogs can be lactose intolerant too. Lactose intolerance develops because some adult animals produce very little of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose (the sugar found in milk). When excess lactose reaches the large intestine, it draws in water causing diarrhea, and the bacteria there can use lactose as an energy source producing a lot of gas as a byproduct. Signs of lactose intolerance in dogs include gas, diarrhea, mucus in the stool, abdominal pain and sometimes vomiting
Food Allergies and Ice Cream
Dairy products are a main contributor to food allergies in dogs. In one study, an allergy to dairy products was identified in 55 out of 278 (or 20 percent) affected dogs, making dairy the second most allergenic food type, coming in behind beef at 95 out of 278 (or 34 percent). Dogs with food allergies typically have non-seasonal itchiness and recurrent skin and/or ear infections.
Concerns About Obesity
Just like it is for people, ice cream is relatively high in calories, fat and sugar and ultimately doesn’t have much nutritional value for dogs.
“Obesity is one of the leading diseases in pets that we see,” says Andrea Sanchez, DVM, senior manager operations support at Portland, Ore.-based Banfield Pet Hospital. “We don’t know if pets get addicted to sweets the way we’ve been able to prove in humans. Pets are prone to diabetes as we are. Too many sweets can lead to not only obesity, but diabetes in cats and dogs.”
Can Dogs Benefit from Eating Ice Cream?
There aren’t really any nutritional benefits of eating ice cream, but it can be a fun way for owners to share an experience with their pets.
Sanchez says the only time she would recommend treats like ice cream is as part of a behavioral reinforcement training program. If you’re having trouble getting your dog to perform a certain action, let’s say, come when called, you might want to use a treat they’ll really love—like ice cream—to reinforce that action.
Types of Ice Cream Dogs Should Avoid
Any flavor that contains raisins should be avoided since raisins are toxic to dogs. In addition, ice creams that are labeled sugar-free could contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is also poisonous to dogs.
“Xylitol can cause liver disease and liver damage, life threatening and immediate sometimes,” says Sanchez. “We also know it can cause glucose spikes that … can lead to severe hypoglycemia.”
Ice cream containing lots of macadamia nuts should also probably be skipped over, since dogs can develop weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia after eating them. And while chocolate has a well-deserved reputation of making dogs very sick, “the amount of chocolate in a few licks of ice cream won’t do any harm,” Coates says.
Other Sweet Options for Dogs to Enjoy
In place of ice cream, you can try feeding your dog frozen fruit in small quantities. Frozen bananas or blueberries are healthy snack options for dogs and provide a cool, frozen fix. Just make sure to avoid grapes and raisins of any kind, as they’re toxic to dogs.
Sanchez also recommends serving up some canned, plain pumpkin since it’s high in fiber, and it tastes sweet to most dogs.
In addition, dairy-free “ice cream” options that are specifically formulated for dogs can be found at most pet stores and provide a dog-safe summer treat.
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.