Do you know what country eats the most ice cream? If the United States first came to your mind, that's not a bad guess given around 90% of U.S. citizens have ice cream in their freezers. But the U.S. is second in the world, eating an average of 5.5 gallons per person each year. New Zealand actually consumes the most ice cream per capita, with an average of 7.5 gallons per person each year. So humans clearly eat a lot of ice cream, but what about our pups? Can dogs eat ice cream? Yes and no - find out exactly why here and five reasons to avoid ice cream for dogs.
Can Dogs Have Ice Cream?
It's best not to give your dog ice cream for many reasons. For starters, many dogs are lactose intolerant. Also, dogs should avoid consuming sugar and ice cream is full of it. Even low-sugar options aren't a good idea given they contain artificial sweeteners (Xylitol, for example, is toxic to dogs). In addition, many ice creams contain flavors or ingredients that are toxic to dogs, such as chocolate or raisins. Here are more details about why dogs shouldn't eat ice cream:
1. Lactose Intolerance
Most dogs have some degree of lactose intolerance. This is because their bodies are not design to digest milk once they are weaned. As puppies, canines have the enzyme (lactase) necessary to break down their mother's milk. But once weaned, their bodies cease to produce it. When adult dogs ingest milk products, it can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal discomfort and issues such as gas, stomach pain, loose stools or diarrhea and vomiting. Unfortunately, ice cream has a lot of milk and dairy. It takes three gallons or up to 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream - that a lot of potential for upset stomach in dogs who consume it.
2. High Fat Content
Ice cream also has a high fat content - at least 10% milk fat with some up to 20% - which can cause issues for dogs, such as gastrointestinal upset. In worst case scenarios, high fat dairy products can lead to canine pancreatitis. This condition tends to arise with no warning and can be life-threatening, so it's important to know the signs:
- Repetitive vomiting (several times within a few hours or over several days)
- Pain and discomfort of the abdomen (dogs typically show their discomfort)
- Distention or bloating of the abdomen
- Hunched back or posture
- Loss of appetite
If your dog exhibits one of these signs, monitor them. However, if they show multiple signs simultaneously and repeatedly, or you believe they have pancreatitis, seek veterinarian care immediately. If your vet is not open, you can go to an emergency vet clinic.
3. High Sugar Content
While dogs do need sugar of some sort, it's in the form of carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose. But excessive amounts of other sugar can have adverse effects for dogs. Ice cream typically contains 12–24 grams of added sugar in just a 1/2-cup, so it's loaded with the substance. Issues that can arise from too much sugar consumption in dogs include:
- Inflammation throughout the body
- Upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting
- Weight gain and obesity (which can lead to stress on the joints and arthritis, difficulty breathing or respiratory issues, lethargy, diabetes and heart disease)
- Metabolic changes due to increased secretion of insulin that can affect other hormones in the body, muscle tone, fat storage, immune system and energy levels
- Cavities and dental disease (e.g. as bacteria in the mouth uses sugar, it produces acids that can lead to loss of enamel and eventually dental issues)
- Depression or agitation
- Infections, such as urinary tract or kidney
4. Toxic Flavors And Ingredients
Beyond the high fat and sugar content, ice cream can contain other toxic ingredients. Because this sweet treat comes in many flavors and low-calorie options, there are lots of potential dangers to your dog. For example, opting for a low-sugar ice cream for yourself may be fine but it could contain Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. In addition, the second most popular flavor of ice cream after vanilla is chocolate, which is dangerous for dogs. This is because they don't have the ability to properly and efficiently process the theobromine and caffeine in it. Similarly, coffee flavored ice creams contain caffeine as well. And some flavors contain raisins and alcohol (both of which are toxic to dogs) as well as nuts, some of which are toxic and many of which are high in fat.
5. Food Allergies
Lastly, many dogs suffer from allergies, including food ones. They may be allergic to milk or dairy, which is different from lactose intolerance. As aforementioned, lactose intolerance occurs because of a lack of lactase to break down dairy. Milk or dairy allergies occur when the immune system reacts negatively to proteins found in those products. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes that are red and itchy.
Safe Alternatives to Ice Cream
If you want to give your dog a frozen treat, there are several safer alternatives than ice cream:
- Use fat-free plain yogurt - Yogurt is fermented and thus contains less lactose. That being said, there is still lactose, so your dog still may not tolerate well. Just make sure to freeze it yourself as pre-packaged frozen yogurt often contains added sugars.
- Make your own dog "nice cream" with bananas - You've heard of "nice cream" for humans, well you can do this for dogs too. Blend bananas until creamy (you can either freeze them then blend or blend then freeze). Bananas will also provide some nutrition, as they are high in potassium, other vitamins and fiber. They do, however, contain sugar naturally so feed in moderation.
- Buy special made-for-dogs frozen treats - There are a handful of non-dairy frozen treats created specially for dogs that you can boy. Ben & Jerry's is one company that created one using sunflower seed butter.
- Create your own sorbets - Though not creamy like ice cream, you can mimic the frozen treat with more sorbet-like consistency. Try our frozen blueberry popsicle treat recipe or create your own. Again, fruit naturally has sugar so feed in moderation.