Can I Give My Dog Ice Cream?
For many families, the summer season means one thing: ice cream. While this sweet, dairy-based treat is by no means a health food, many of us place it smack dab in the middle of the “not so great for the body, but fantastic for the soul” square on our food pyramids. We understand that ice cream is not good for us or our kids, but we make the decision to consume it in moderation. When it comes to our pets, though, we are a little more wary—after all, dogs can’t eat chocolate.
So, what’s the deal with ice cream? We are aware that ice cream probably is not going to boost our dog’s health, but is it okay to give them as an occasional treat? Can dogs have ice cream?
The answer: feeding your dog ice cream is not recommended. While this creamy dessert is not toxic to dogs in the same way that grapes, chocolate or tomato vines are, it can have some negative effects on your dog’s health. Even giving them small, infrequent servings is inadvisable. This is not a food your dog should eat, even in moderation. You are better off keeping this food out of your dog’s diet altogether.
Ice cream really has no redeeming qualities. Though some types of ice cream contain small amounts of protein and calcium, those small health benefits are overshadowed by the negative effects of the sugar, fat, and lactose found in dairy ice creams. Lactose, a type of sugar, can only be broken apart (digested) by a very specific enzyme found in the stomach of breastfeeding mammals. If lactose is not broken down, it often ferments, causing gastric distress. This is what happens to your lactose intolerant friends when they drink a milkshake.
In fact, dogs should not eat any dairy foods. This includes those that many of us have been taught to view as ‘healthy’, such as cottage cheese and yogurt. The vast majority of dogs can’t properly digest lactose. This makes sense when you consider the evolutionary history of dogs—their ancestors, the gray wolves, were probably not drinking cow’s milk in the wild! Humans are the only animals that drink the milk of another species.
Once mammals are weaned, production of the enzyme that digests milk, lactase, decreases dramatically. This makes dairy foods, including ice cream, a recipe for disaster. Dogs who eat dairy often end up with an upset stomach and diarrhea, which can be life-threatening in severe cases. Symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs include excessive gas, bloating, loss of appetite, lethargy, and vomiting.
Things to Keep in Mind
Bloat is an especially dangerous condition in dogs—in many cases, if left untreated, it can be fatal. Dog bloat occurs when your dog eats or drinks something that creates a lot of gas. This gas builds up in the stomach, causing it to inflate. The swollen stomach presses against your dog’s other organs, which can create difficulty breathing or cut off blood flow to stomach tissues and other organs. In extreme cases, your dog may suffer from tearing in the stomach wall.
Bloat’s most dangerous complication is a condition called gastric dilation volvulus, which occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes twisted. This prevents blood from flowing out of the stomach tissues, which can result in shock. Early symptoms of bloat-related stomach problems are restlessness, a swollen stomach, excessive drooling, anxiety, and dry heaving. If left untreated, your dog may experience shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, fainting, weakness, and even death. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms after eating ice cream, take them to the veterinarian immediately.
Though vegan (or dairy-free) ice creams are without lactose, they usually contain high amounts of sugar, plus fat from coconut or soy sources. So, don’t opt for dairy-free ice cream with the idea that it will be dog-friendly. Purchasing sugar-free ice cream can be dangerous, too, because many zero-calorie sweeteners are toxic to dogs. One of the most common (and most dangerous) low-calorie sweeteners is xylitol, which is extremely toxic to our pets. Xylitol poisoning can cause seizures, low blood sugar, diarrhea, liver failure, and death.
If you absolutely must give your dog a frozen treat, there are several canine-friendly options. Some companies sell ice creams specially formulated for dogs, such as Purina Frosty Paws. You can also purchase 100% fruit sorbet, or create an at-home ‘ice cream’ using frozen fruit and a blender. When considering frozen treats for dogs, remember to avoid toxic flavors such as chocolate and raisin!
Though we love our pets, and though we love ice cream, these are two loves that we should keep separated. Ice cream offers no nutritional value for dogs, who have difficulty digesting dairy products. Instead of giving Fido a scoop of caramel ribbon ice cream, opt for frozen fruit, sorbet, or cold treats formulated specially for dogs.