“Can dogs eat ice cream?” Dr. Tara McCoy looks a little apprehensive about how she should answer. “I’d never tell someone to give ice cream to their dog. Then again, I doubt that a little lick here and there would do anything bad.” She thinks for a second before adding, “As long as the dog isn’t allergic or diabetic.”
That’s about as straightforward as you’ll get to an answer. Most healthy dogs can eat small amounts of ice cream. But giving your pup desserts full of sugar and dairy fat could cause problems.
Before you decide whether your dog can eat ice cream, you should weigh the pros and cons. Also, you should learn about some alternatives with lower risks.
The Potential Problems With Giving Dogs Ice Cream
Veterinarians and medical doctors know that ice cream contains several ingredients that contribute to health problems.
Considering that most dogs are smaller than humans, you can assume that the animals face even more potential health problems by eating ice cream.
Many Dogs Have Lactose Intolerance
Not many adult animals have the proper enzymes to digest milk. Even 65% of humans have difficulty digesting dairy.
The American Kennel Club saves that dogs can have milk in small quantities. Most dogs can’t digest milk well, but they enjoy the flavor. A few tablespoons of milk, therefore, can make a nice treat.
When you give your dog more than a small amount of dairy, you can expect unwanted results like:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose stools
The adverse reaction will depend on how much dairy you give your dog and your dog’s level of intolerance.
To keep ice cream safe, let your dog lick your spoon or empty bowl. Don’t provide a full serving. If you do, you’ll probably have a mess to clean within a few hours.
Ice Cream’s Calories Can Contribute to Weight Gain
Just like humans in the United States, pets face an obesity epidemic. According to the organization Pet Obesity Prevention, 55.8% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. That comes to more than 50 million overweight or obese dogs in the country.
Remember that you control what your dog eats, so you have control over its weight.
Why should you care whether your dog packs on pounds? Because overweight and obese dogs have higher risks for several serious health problems like:
- Heart disease
- Torn ACL (the ligament right above the knee)
Overweight dogs also face higher risks of death during anesthesia.
Even if you manage to forget about the health risks of obesity, you can’t ignore the low quality of life that overweight dogs experience. Remember how much fun your slim dog had playing in the backyard? Fat dogs don’t have that much energy. Many of them struggle to perform normal activities like walk up and down stairs.
The amount of calories in ice cream varies a lot between brands. The typical scoop of vanilla ice cream, however, adds about 145 calories to your dog’s diet. If you go for a richer, more decadent ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, you can expect to add more than 200 calories to your dog’s diet that day.
Too Much Sugar Could Contribute to Diabetes
Dogs that consume too much sugar can get diabetes. Unfortunately, the number of dogs with diabetes has grown rapidly over the last decade. In 2006, 13.1 in 10,000 dogs had diabetes. In 2015, the most recent data available, 23.6 in 10,000 had the disease. That’s a 79.7% increase within less than 10 years.
Uncontrolled diabetes in dogs can cause health problems that impact your pet’s quality of life and may lead to an early death. Diabetes isn’t something to ignore. Common effects of the disease in dogs include:
- Kidney failure
- Cataracts that lead to blindness
- Enlarged liver
- Ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition
Some dogs have genetic factors that make them more likely to get diabetes. The majority of dogs, however, develop the disease through bad diets and lack of exercise.
If your dog develops diabetes, you may have to get it daily insulin shots to keep the animal healthy.
How do you know whether your dog already has diabetes? Look for symptoms like:
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination.
As the disease progresses, your dog may show symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
If you suspect that your dog has diabetes, visit your veterinarian immediately. The sooner you start treatment, the easier it is to prevent the disease’s worst symptoms.
One thing is certain, you need to stop letting your dog eat sugary treats. Every bite contributes to the progression of diabetes.
Saturated Fat May Contribute to Health Problems
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a half-cup serving of vanilla ice cream contains about 4.48 grams of total saturated fat. That’s about 22% of the recommended daily saturated fat for a human who eats 2,000 calories per day.
Medical researchers still have a lot to learn about the health effects of saturated fats. No one has found definitive proof that consuming saturated fat contributes to health problems like heart disease.
Multiple studies, however, show that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats lowers the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
The good news is that saturated fats don’t harm health as much as trans-fats do. When it comes to your dog’s health, though, why take the risk at all?
One thing is certain: a full serving of ice cream has too much saturated fat for most dogs. Unless your dog weighs 150 pounds or more, it has no business consuming the same amount of saturated fat as the average human.
Additional Dangers of Ice Cream
The above material assumes that you plan to give your dog vanilla ice cream. You can run into other dangers when you choose different flavors.
Chocolate sits at the top of the most dangerous ingredients. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine that can poison your dog. The caffeine in chocolate can also make your dog ill.
You should also be wary of toppings and flavors that add more sugar or fat to ice cream. No matter how much your dog begs for a bite of Ben and Jerry’s Brownie Batter Core or Boom Chocolatta Cookie Core, resist its advances!
The Ice Cream Consensus
After looking at the medical evidence, it becomes obvious that ice cream can harm dogs. The amount of ice cream that you give your dog, though, affects the severity of potential health problems.
The consensus is that you should not give dogs full servings of ice cream. A few licks of the frozen dessert, however, probably won’t do any harm.
When it comes to dogs and ice cream, extreme moderation is key!
Ice Cream Alternatives for Your Dog
If you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t have to deprive your dog of tasty, frozen treats. Instead, you can choose ice cream alternatives for your dog.
Some ice cream alternatives are healthier than others. Make sure you understand the risks to your dogs before you let them consume more than tiny amounts of these treats. Anything in excess can cause problems.
Dog Ice Cream
Several companies make dog ice creams that don’t include some of the worst ingredients in regular ice cream. For example, Purina makes a product called Frosty Paws that doesn’t contain any sugar or milk.
Ask your local pet store about its selection of dog ice creams. You’ll probably find an alternative that doesn’t pose as many health problems for your pup.
Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert
Non-dairy frozen desserts have gained popularity as more people try to reduce the amount of milk they consume. Non-dairy frozen desserts don’t contain the lactose that can upset your dog’s stomach. Most of them, however, have a lot of sugar.
Think of non-dairy frozen desserts as a slightly healthier alternative to regular ice cream. Don’t assume that all of them are healthy, though.
Frozen Greek Yogurt
Some dogs can digest dairy without any problems. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog with dairy-digesting enzymes, then you can give it frozen Greek yogurt as a treat.
Frozen Greek yogurt will cool your dog on hot days, but it won’t add the sugar that you find in ice cream.
Greek yogurt also has a high level of protein that should fit into your dog’s healthy diet.
Eating dairy frequently can increase health risks for any dog. As long as you don’t go overboard, though, it shouldn’t hurt your dog. Just keep it as an occasional treat.
Frozen Bananas (and Other Fruits)
If you want to avoid all dairy and added sugars, throw some fruit in your freezer. Many dogs love the flavor and consistency of frozen bananas.
Other frozen fruits your dog may love include:
- Apple slices
Does giving your dog fruit seem strange? Despite what many people think, dogs aren’t carnivores that only eat meat. Like humans, dogs can thrive on omnivorous diets that include fruits, vegetables, and grains.
The Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University even says that dogs can lead healthy lives while eating carefully designed vegan diets. It takes a lot of planning, so please don’t deprive your dog of meat unless you’re willing to talk to your vet about developing a meal plan that meets its nutritional needs!
Make Your Own Frozen Treats
The internet is full of recipes for frozen dog treats that don’t contain dairy or sugar. One pupsicle recipe includes:
- Organic chicken broth
- Unsweetened apple sauce
- Ground flax seed
- Chicken and rice baby food
- Garlic powder
- Fresh mint
Search the internet for frozen treat recipes that you think your dog will love. As long as you avoid excess sugar, fat, and sodium, your dog should tolerate the treats well. You may even improve your dog’s diet when you choose high-quality ingredients.
Pet Insurance Makes Your Dog’s Healthcare More Affordable
If you have been giving your dog ice cream for years, you may have already noticed some health problems like obesity and symptoms of diabetes.
Caring for those conditions can cost a lot of money. Every visit to the vet forces you to spend more. When a dog gets sick, the bills can become outrageous. Insulin shots for dogs don’t come cheap! Surgeries can easily set you back thousands of dollars.
Don’t let your dog’s veterinary services cause financial stress. You can make vet visits, services, and medications more affordable by purchasing a pet insurance policy.
Pet insurance works similar to your health insurance. In exchange for a monthly premium, you get discounted services and medications.
Make sure you get the best deal possible by comparing quotes from several pet insurance companies.