Can dogs eat ice cream?

Whether you’re enjoying a cone of soft serve on a hot day or a bowl of frozen custard in front of the television, chances are good that your pooch is by your side begging for a lick. But, is ice cream safe for dogs to eat?

There is no clear-cut answer to this question because it depends on the ingredients of the specific ice cream you’re eating. The basic ingredients of ice cream—milk, cream, and sugar— are not toxic to dogs. There are a number of other ingredients, however, that can be added to ice cream that can make it unsafe for your pet to eat.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains two compounds—theobromine and caffeine—that make it one of the most common toxicities treated at veterinary hospitals. Different types of chocolate contain varying amounts of the toxins, but in general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher the concentration of toxic ingredients. Ice cream that contains chocolate in any form—flavoring, chips, chunks, or swirl—is strictly off-limits to dogs. Chocolate toxicity can lead to:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased heart rate

  • Muscle tremors

  • Increased body temperature

  • Hyperactivity

  • Restlessness

  • Cardiac arrhythmias

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Heart failure

  • Death

Coffee or espresso beans

 Coffee beans contain high levels of caffeine, which can cause symptoms similar to those of chocolate toxicity. A few licks of coffee-flavored ice cream probably won’t contain enough caffeine to cause toxicity, but if it contains coffee beans (or, even worse, chocolate-covered coffee beans), your pet could be in real danger. High levels of caffeine can lead to seizures, collapse, and death.

 

Macadamia nuts

Occasionally added to ice cream, macadamia nuts can affect muscle and nerve function in dogs. Although toxicity is generally mild to moderate, affected pets may exhibit:

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Muscle tremors

  • Hind limb weakness

The high fat content of the nuts can also lead to the development of pancreatitis a painful inflammation of the pancreas, which is the organ responsible for producing digestive enzymes.

Xylitol

An artificial sweetener, xylitol is added to many sugar-free food products, including ice cream. If ingested by dogs, xylitol causes a surge of insulin to be released, leading to a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels. The resulting hypoglycemia can cause weakness, vomiting, and seizures. Xylitol can also cause liver failure.

Other concerns with feeding ice cream

Even if your ice cream does not contain toxic additives, it typically will contain lactose. Dogs are not commonly fed cow’s milk products, so they don’t produce the enzymes to digest it. Eating a significant amount of ice cream is likely to cause indigestion and diarrhea. Ice cream is also high in sugar, which is not healthy for your pup.

Tips for feeding your dog ice cream

Can’t resist those puppy dog eyes? If you want to share your ice cream with your dog, follow these tips:

  1. Only give your dog ice cream that does not contain chocolate. Plain vanilla is a safe bet.

  2. Never share sugar-free ice cream, since it could contain xylitol.

  3. Make sure your ice cream does not contain macadamia nuts or coffee beans.

  4. Don’t feed your pet a large amount of ice cream. Giving your dog a lick or two is OK, but feeding a whole bowl is probably a bad idea.

Alternative cool treats for your dog

here are many other ways you can treat your dog to a cool delicacy. Try these ideas:

  • Fill ice cube trays with one of the following and freeze:

    • Low-sodium chicken broth

    • Canned pumpkin

    • Peanut butter and mashed banana (be sure to use peanut butter that does not contain xylitol)

    • Fruit mixed with plain lowfat yogurt

  • Fill a hollow rubber KONG-type toy with a mixture of dog food and peanut butter and freeze. This provides a stimulating enrichment activity as your pet works to get the frozen mixture out.

  • Purchase frozen treats made specifically for pets, such as Purina Frosty Paws.

Make your own frozen treats

If you really want to treat your pup, you can make homemade frosty goodies for her. Try this tempting recipe from Good Housekeeping:

Frozen banana peanut butter pupsicles

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups plain lowfat yogurt

  • 1 large banana

  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter

  • Coconut oil or olive oil cooking spray

  • Small dog treats for the popsicle “sticks”

Instructions:

  1. Blend yogurt, banana, and peanut butter in a blender.

  2. Place small cups in a rimmed baking pan and spray with cooking spray.

  3. Fill cups half way with yogurt mixture, then stick a dog treat into each cup to serve as an edible popsicle stick.

  4. Transfer pan to freezer and freeze for 2–3< hours.

  5. Remove a “pupsicle” from the freezer, peel away cup, and hold on to the stick as your furry friend enjoys her treat. Once the frozen portion gets to be a manageable size, your dog can enjoy the treat on her own.