Can I Give My Dog Hazelnuts?
The hazelnut, arguably the most decadent nut on the food pyramid, is one of the great joys of adulthood. Once we grow old enough to expand our horizons beyond the limits of peanut butter and candied walnuts, we begin adding rich, refined hazelnuts into our trail mixes and our desserts for a unique burst of flavor. Our kids may not enjoy them yet, but what about our dogs?
After all, our dogs are just as enthusiastic about peanut butter as we were when we were children. Peanut butter is the stereotypical dog treat, and you have never known your dog to turn down a handful of roasted peanuts. But, while you’ve mastered the art of feeding your dog the occasional fruit or vegetable, you’re not sure whether or not hazelnuts would make a good addition to your dog’s diet. You know not to give your dog the chocolate hazelnut spread lurking in your cupboard—because, well, the chocolate is toxic—but what about the hazelnut? Can dogs have hazelnuts? Are nuts as healthy for our canine companions as they are for us?
The answer: NO, it is not a good idea to feed your dog hazelnuts, even if they’re chocolate-free and unsalted. While hazelnuts are not toxic to dogs the same way that pecans and walnuts are, they are very high in calories and fat, which can cause a lot of health problems for your dog. In addition, hazelnuts are too small to be chewed properly, but still big enough that they can become lodged in your dog’s intestinal tract, causing a blockage.
The potential for an intestinal blockage is the most immediate risk of feeding your dog hazelnuts. Hazelnuts are small enough to be swallowed whole and difficult to digest, which means they can work their way into your dog’s intestines mostly intact. If your dog swallows a hazelnut, it can easily get stuck somewhere in their intestinal tract (or possibly even in their stomach), resulting in gastrointestinal obstruction.
If the blockage occurs somewhere in the stomach, it can cause the food and drink your dog consumes to build up inside the stomach, resulting in symptoms like vomiting, gas, loss of appetite, dehydration (as a result of vomiting) and low energy. If severe and prolonged, this obstruction can also cause malnutrition and weight loss, as your dog is no longer able to process the food that they eat.
If the blockage occurs in the intestines, your dog may experience symptoms such as vomiting (which can deplete electrolytes and cause severe dehydration), diarrhea, loss of appetite, and again, weight loss. The blockage may also damage intestinal tissue, which can lead to infections and even sepsis. Gastrointestinal obstruction often requires surgery to remove the blockage, which can have long-term effects on your dog (and your wallet).
The other problems with feeding your dog hazelnuts are all related to the nutritional makeup of this decadent nut: hazelnuts are extremely high in fat and calories. While hazelnuts are a great source of healthy fats for humans, dogs’ bodies are really not designed to process them. If you regularly feed your dog hazelnuts (or any other type of nut), they may become overweight.
Hazelnuts’ high fat content can also result in a dangerous condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, which can range in severity from mild to life-threatening, occurs when your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed. Symptoms of pancreatitis include stomach bloat and discomfort, which may be evident if your dog becomes hunched up or if their abdomen is sore to the touch. Other symptoms include poor appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and sluggishness. If left untreated, pancreatitis can cause irregular heartbeat, breathing problems, and even hemorrhaging. Dogs who are already overweight are much more likely to develop this disease, so if your pug is already pudgy, don’t give them any nuts at all!
Things to Keep in Mind
Hazelnuts are not toxic to dogs. However, due to their high fat and calorie content and their high risk of becoming lodged somewhere along the digestive tract, they are not recommended for our beloved pets—even as a rare treat. Dogs did not evolve to get their fats from nuts. They do not chew them properly, which means that they often get ‘stuck’ somewhere between the esophagus and the end of the intestinal tract. In addition, their bodies are not equipped to process the high fat content, which can result in pancreatitis and excessive weight gain. If you want to give your dog a nutty treat, the best thing you can do is treat them to very small, very rare servings of unsalted, no-sugar-added peanut butter. Your dog won’t notice the difference!
If you must give your dog some small amount of hazelnuts, make sure they are unsalted, free of additives, and chopped into very small pieces. This will minimize the risk of blockage, but it may still result in weight gain.