Can Dogs Have Cranberries?
Berries are among the most popular, talked-up fruits in the world of health and fitness. While blueberries and strawberries are eaten more frequently, as the holidays roll around, many of us turn to festive, flavorful cranberries. We make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, we bake cranberries into breads and bowls of oatmeal, and we sprinkle them into healthy dishes for a burst of flavor. Dried cranberries are one of the best ways to turn a salad from mundane to exciting and seasonal, after all!
But tearing open a bag of dried cranberries often conjures up four furry legs, a twitching nose and a lolling tongue; your dog heard the sound of food packaging, and now he wants a taste. While you’re certain that your wallet could handle sharing your stash of these festive fruits, you are not so certain that your dog’s stomach could handle it. As a cautious pet owner, you have come to realize that many of your favorite foods are downright dangerous for your dog. You are all too aware, for example, that raisins can be deadly for dogs.
But what about cranberries? Can you give your dog cranberries? Do these tart little berries carry the same risk of kidney damage as raisins? Can I use them to treat my dog’s urinary tract infection?
Feeding your dog cranberries probably will not necessitate a visit to the veterinarian, but it probably will not improve their health, either. Though many of us have eaten dried cranberries or drank cranberry juice for medicinal or nutritional reasons, most experts put these fruits on the ‘not recommended for dogs’ list. While not necessarily toxic like raisins and grapes, cranberries do not offer many proven health benefits for your dog. In fact, some believe that consuming cranberries or cranberry juice in excess may only upset your dog’s digestive and urinary systems even more.
Though no one will argue that cranberries should be a staple in a dog’s diet, some suggest that there may be some health benefits. The biggest supposed benefit of cranberries? The same one we think about when considering our own health: treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections. There is a small amount of evidence suggesting that cranberry juice may help treat UTIs in humans, which has led many people to believe that it works for dogs, too. Most of the evidence in favor of the cranberry juice treatment for dog UTIs comes from anecdotal reports and very small studies, but if your dog is particularly prone to these infections, it may be worth a shot.
If cranberry juice does help treat urinary tract infections, it does not do so by making urine more acidic, which is what many people believe. The research suggests that cranberry juice may help fight infections by preventing harmful bacteria from rooting themselves to the walls of your dog’s bladder. Since the bacteria can’t anchor onto anything, they float around until they are expelled in your dog’s urine. This may be beneficial in treating and preventing minor infections, but if you suspect your dog has any sort of infection, make sure you consult your veterinarian before you attempt the cranberry juice treatment. It’s not a substitute for antibiotics!
Pure, fresh cranberry juice is also high in antioxidants, which destroy the free radicals that may cause cell damage, heart disease, cancer, and other forms of chronic illness. It also helps lower the risk of developing blood clots and blocked arteries, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. There is some thought that cranberry also lowers the incidence of gum disease and cavities the same way it fights urinary tract infections—since the microbes can’t stick to your dog’s teeth, they can’t do as much damage.
Things to Keep in Mind
Despite these health benefits, cranberries remain one of the least practical, least beneficial berries you can feed your dog. Most dogs do not like the taste of fresh cranberries or pure cranberry juice. Though they may enjoy dried cranberries or sweetened cranberry juice, these products may damage their health—both dried berries and cranberry juice cocktail are often high in preservatives and added sugars that can wreak havoc on your dog’s health. Dried cranberries are also significantly lower in vitamins and antioxidants, which means that they become empty calories for your dog. In addition, feeding a dog cranberries often results in upset stomach and diarrhea.
Though some pet owners report success in banishing urinary tract infections with cranberry juice, the science behind it is very weak. Most dogs don’t enjoy raw, unsweetened cranberries, and many dogs suffer from stomach upset and diarrhea after they eat cranberries. Cranberries are not toxic to your dog like some foods, so giving them a handful of cranberries every so often will likely not hurt their health in any lasting way, but they are still not recommended for your dog’s health. There are other, more dog-friendly fruits that will make Fido healthier and happier.