Few treats bring quite as much glee as ice cream. That’s something humans and our dogs can agree on. But if you’re thinking about sharing a cone with your furry family, it’s worth asking: can dogs eat ice cream?
The answer? Yes. Dogs can eat ice cream but they’re better off with something else. As with many “people'' foods, it’s not necessarily the healthiest treat you can give your pooch. Let’s dig deeper.
There’s plenty to enjoy in an ice cream cone, but just as many reasons why you probably shouldn't let your dog have a lick.
Like most mammals, dogs are weaned off milk once they stop suckling and start eating solid foods. Their digestive system produces less lactase, the enzyme that helps break down dairy. Most adult dogs are lactose intolerant as a result. That doesn’t mean ice cream will be toxic to your pooch, but it could have uncomfortable side effects.
Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Medical Officer at the American Kennel Club, explains that most dairy products can cause dogs to experience “anything from severe to mild gastrointestinal discomfort… loose stools, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or gas.”3 He also warns about the dangers of high-fat dairy, which can lead to pancreatitis.
Other factors to consider include:3
- Food allergies: If your dog is allergic to milk proteins, it could add skin rashes to the list of unpleasant side effects.
- High sugar content: We love ice cream because it’s sweet. That sweetness comes from loads of sugar. Just as with humans, too much sugar can contribute to diabetes in dogs. Sugar-free ice cream isn’t always going to be safe either. Most of those products use sweeteners like xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs.
- Toxic ingredients: It’s not just xylitol you need to worry about. Chocolate, caffeine, and hazelnuts can all cause life-threatening issues. Even if the flavor seems safe, there could be toxic substances buried in the ingredients list.
So, is ice cream bad for dogs? The answer is closer to “yes” than “no.” Even if you’re careful to avoid toxic ingredients, the dairy could cause your pooch problems. You should always talk to your veterinarian before giving any new foods to your dog. They can help you decide if it’s safe to let your dog have a lick or two.
Vanilla might seem like the safest flavor for your pup to sample, but looks can be deceiving. The alcohol in vanilla extract makes it highly toxic to dogs.4 That said, most ice cream doesn’t use vanilla extract, and it’s unlikely your dog could eat enough to be poisoned anyway, but there still could be other dangerous ingredients, like xylitol. So, while vanilla ice cream is definitely safer for your dog than chocolate ice cream, it’s still not a healthy option.
Your dog might be better off snacking on raw strawberries. Like vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream is going to be full of sugar. It’s also got the potential to contain more dangerous ingredients. Talk to your vet and pay attention to what’s in the strawberry ice cream before deciding if your pup can have some.
If you still want to give your dog a cool treat on a summer’s day, don’t despair! There are dog-safe alternatives available:
- Frozen fat-free plain yogurt: Although it’s still dairy, plain yogurt has less lactose due to the fermentation process.3 That makes it easier for most dogs to digest. A small scoop of frozen yogurt is a much better choice than ice cream. Avoid commercial frozen yogurt, as it will likely be full of sugar.
- Homemade frozen banana purée: Bananas are one of the many fruits that your dog can safely enjoy. Blend the bananas into a creamy consistency and stick them in the freezer to create a fun and healthy frozen treat for your pooch. Just be sure to give in moderation, since bananas still contain sugar.
- Homemade strawberry sorbet: You can also make a doggy sorbet for your furry friend! Puree some strawberries, add water, and freeze. Strawberries are sweet enough, so don’t add any sugar or other flavors. Like bananas, keep frozen strawberries to an occasional treat.
- Pup cups: Believe it or not, ice cream for dogs does exist! You can usually find it at most pet supplies stores. Don’t forget to check the ingredients; some brands still include high amounts of sugar. You can also ask your vet for professional recommendations.
Otherwise, regular ice cream should only be given in small amounts (if at all). Start with just a spoonful and watch your dog for signs of gastrointestinal distress or allergic reaction.
If your dog vomits or has diarrhea, stop feeding them ice cream at once. If they develop a rash or symptoms continue or worsen, call your vet. Life-threatening reactions are unlikely, but possible, especially if there was a toxic ingredient. A dog insurance policy could help cover the cost of emergency treatment so there’s nothing between your pup and the help they need.2
When you stop and think about the pros and cons of ice cream for dogs, the answer is dead simple. Feeding your dog ice cream is always going to be a gambit. It might seem like intolerable cruelty, but it’s better for your pooch to forgo this frozen treat. The next time a heatwave hits, consider some of the healthier alternatives previously listed. If your dog does ingest ice cream, keep an eye on them for signs of distress. Don’t hesitate to call your vet.
The tragedy of all pets is that accidents do happen. Over 12% of calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center are food-poisoning related.5 Treatment can cost thousands of dollars.5 That’s why it’s important to have a serious plan in place if the worst does occur. MetLife Pet Insurance can give you peace of mind.1 How? Learn more by reading our guide to the pros and cons of pet insurance.