Like people, dogs have a serious sweet tooth. But as most of us know, some desserts — like chocolate — can be toxic to dogs. So, are any desserts safe for your dog? And what about everyone’s favorite dessert — can dogs eat ice cream?
Well, it depends. Many types of ice cream are safe for dogs. For instance, your standard strawberry or plain vanilla ice creams don’t usually contain ingredients that are harmful to dogs.
But some types of ice cream do contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs — chocolate ice cream, for instance. But chocolate isn’t the only ice cream ingredient that could hurt your dog.
If your dog eats the wrong type of ice cream, the results could be much worse than an upset stomach. Many ice cream ingredients could be deadly, and if your dog consumes them, they’ll need to be rushed to the vet for emergency medical care.
To avoid this frightening and sometimes fatal scenario, pet parents need to know which ice cream ingredients are safe for dogs and which ones aren’t. We’ll explain the ingredients you should avoid and the health problems that can make this dessert a bad choice for some dogs. Plus, we’ll share a recipe for dog-friendly ice cream that your four-legged friend will lap up.
So, When Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream and When Can’t They?
To decide if it’s safe to give your dog a bite of that ice cream in your freezer, you need to consider two things: the ingredients and your dog’s current health. Every dog owner should read the entire ingredient list before sharing a new type of ice cream with their pet. And if your dog has any pre-existing health conditions, you should talk to your vet before introducing any new human food into your dog’s diet.
We’ll explain the ice cream ingredients and canine health conditions to be most concerned about.
Which Ice Cream Ingredients Are Harmful to Dogs?
When you read the ingredient list on that package of ice cream, keep your eyes out for these ingredients. Each is toxic to dogs and can be fatal if consumed in large amounts. If you know your dog has eaten one of these ingredients, take them to the vet or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
Most people know that chocolate is bad for dogs, and the same goes for chocolate ice cream. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are poisonous to dogs and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, excessive panting, and in severe cases, seizure, and heart failure.
Chocolate is poisonous in different amounts, depending on the size and sensitivity of your dog. To be safe, you should treat any amount of chocolate as potentially deadly for your dog and take action immediately.
This flavor of ice cream is also potentially poisonous. Like chocolate, coffee contains caffeine but in even higher amounts. If your dog consumes coffee, it can lead to caffeine toxicity, which has similar symptoms to chocolate toxicity and requires immediate medical care.
While macadamia nuts aren’t a common ingredient in ice cream, you will find them in some gourmet ice cream flavors. These fatty nuts are toxic to dogs, and they can cause symptoms that include muscle weakness, vomiting, tremors, and hypothermia.
Pet parents might think that sugar-free ice cream would be healthier for their dog, but often the opposite is true. Sugar-free ice cream replaces real sugar — which is safe for dogs in small amounts — with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include vomiting, muscle weakness, seizures, and coma. Xylitol poisoning can lead to kidney failure and death if your dog doesn’t receive prompt treatment.
This ingredient is especially common in low-carb and keto ice creams, but you may also see it in low-fat ice creams because ice cream makers include more additives in low-fat ice cream to try and recreate the flavor and texture of full-fat ice cream. To be safe, look for xylitol in the ingredient deck of any ice cream you’re considering sharing with your furry friend.
Which Dogs Should NEVER Eat Ice Cream?
So, if you avoid those dangerous ingredients, is ice cream bad for dogs? Well, it’s never healthy for dogs — just like it’s never healthy for humans. But it’s only really bad for dogs with certain pre-existing conditions. If your dog has one of these health problems, you should permanently take ice cream off the menu.
Pancreatitis in dogs is a potentially life-threatening condition where enzymes in your dog's body are released too soon, causing your dog’s pancreas to begin to digest itself. High-fat foods, like ice cream, are one of the main causes of pancreatitis. So, dogs who suffer from this condition or who have had the condition in the past should avoid eating fatty foods and should never eat ice cream.
Dogs with diabetes need to avoid sugar. Foods with a high sugar content — like ice cream — can cause hypoglycemia, or an unhealthy drop in blood sugar that can lead to exercise intolerance, muscle weakness, tremors, collapse, and seizures. Over time, repeat episodes of hypoglycemia can damage the organs, blood vessels, and nervous system. So, you should never give ice cream to a diabetic dog.
Obesity puts dogs at an increased risk of developing diabetes, pancreatitis, and other serious health conditions. Because ice cream is a high-calorie snack with a low nutrient content, it can lead to additional weight gain, exacerbating the risk of obesity and the associated health-problems.
Even in dogs that are a healthy weight, ice cream can lead to unhealthy weight gain if it’s fed too often or in too large of quantities. Save ice cream for a sometimes-snack. And make sure ice cream and all other dog treats combined don’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake.
If your pooch is already overweight, avoid feeding ice cream altogether.
Dogs can be lactose intolerant, just like people. While some dogs can comfortably digest milk, other dogs lack the enzyme lactase, which their digestive system needs to break down the sugars in milk. When your dog is missing this enzyme, they’re lactose intolerant.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance include flatulence, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If you've noticed any of these symptoms when your dog has consumed other dairy products, like cheese, they are likely lactose intolerant and shouldn’t eat ice cream.
However, your dog may still be able to enjoy some ice cream alternatives. Frozen yogurt has significantly less lactose than ice cream, so this could be a good choice for dogs with only a mild sensitivity to lactose. Coconut and soy-milk based ice creams are also good options for lactose intolerant dogs, as long as they don’t contain any of the no-go ingredients listed above.
A Healthy Doggy Ice Cream
As long as your dog doesn’t have one of the health conditions listed above, then they can eat ice cream as an occasional sweet treat. But, human ice cream is still a high-fat, high-sugar food that isn’t good to feed your dog on a regular basis. Instead, look for doggy ice creams in your local grocery store — many grocers carry them in the freezer section — or make your own.
Here’s an easy dog-friendly ice cream recipe to get you started.
- 1 cup plain yogurt (or coconut yogurt)
- 1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter
- 1 Tbsp honey
- Put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
- Place this mixture into a piece of Tupperware or divide it evenly between individual ice cube trays.
- Freeze for at least 24 hours.
- Feed your dog a small scoop (or one ice cube’s worth) of homemade ice cream as a special treat.
For more frozen treats you can share with your dog on a hot day, check out these additional dog-friendly ice cream recipes:
- Frozen Watermelon Beef Bites
- Homemade Pupsicles
- Coconut Pumpkin Homemade Dog Treats
- SuperGreen Probiotic Dog Ice Cream
- Strawberry Banana Frozen Pet Treats
- 7 Frozen Dog Treat Recipes for Summer
Life Is Sweet
Your dog makes life sweeter, so they deserve a sweet treat from time to time. Ice cream can be that treat as long as you check the label for ingredients that are harmful to dogs, like chocolate, coffee, macadamia nuts, and xylitol.
While not all flavors of ice cream are safe for dogs, strawberry ice cream, and plain vanilla ice cream are usually good options. Just make sure you read the ingredient list first — you never know when an artificial sweetener, like xylitol, is going to sneak in there.
And if your dog has a pre-existing health condition, check with your vet before sharing a new human food. Ice cream is bad for dogs who suffer from pancreatitis, diabetes, obesity, or lactose intolerance.
For all other dogs, ice cream isn’t the healthiest choice, but it isn’t harmful either. You can create a healthy but still delicious alternative by making dog-friendly ice cream at home.
For fun, dog-friendly recipes, check out the Native Pet blog.