A terrier wearing a bandana licks a vanilla ice cream coneA terrier wearing a bandana licks a vanilla ice cream coneA terrier wearing a bandana licks a vanilla ice cream cone
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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?

The basic ingredients of ice cream—milk, cream, and sugar—are not toxic to dogs. However, some other ingredients commonly added to ice cream can make it unsafe for your dog to eat. So before you indulge your pup, read on to learn 1.) common ice cream ingredients that are toxic to dogs, and 2.) how to feed your dog ice cream safely.

Can dogs eat chocolate ice cream?

You probably already know that chocolate is toxic to dogs. Here’s why: 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 these toxins, but in general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher their concentration. What about white chocolate? While white chocolate has fewer of these toxins, it’s higher in fat.

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 drinking and urination
  • Increased panting
  • Restlessness

You can probably guess where this is going: Never feed your dog ice cream that contains chocolate.

Can dogs eat ice cream that contains coffee or espresso?

Also on the no-no list: Ice cream that contains coffee or espresso, especially coffee and espresso beans—and not because they could give your dog the zoomies.

Coffee beans contain high levels of caffeine, which is one of the compounds that causes chocolate toxicity, so the symptoms are similar. 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.

Can dogs eat ice cream that contains Macadamia nuts?

This one may be less obvious, but macadamia nuts are unsafe for dogs. 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
  • Ataxia (impaired coordination)
  • Hyperthermia
  • Hind limb weakness

The high fat content of macadamia nuts can also lead to the development of pancreatitis, which is a painful inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing digestive enzymes. Bottom line: Steer clear of ice cream that contains macadamia nuts.

Can dogs eat sugar-free ice cream with Xylitol?

Short answer: Nope. Slightly longer answer: Artificial sweetener xylitol is added to many sugar-free food products, including ice cream. If eaten by dogs, xylitol causes a surge of insulin to be released, leading to a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels, which can cause weakness, vomiting, and seizures. Xylitol can also cause liver failure.

Always check the ingredient list of ice cream and ensure it doesn’t have xylitol.

Other concerns with feeding your dog ice cream

Even if your ice cream does not contain toxic additives, it typically will contain lactose, which is found in dairy. 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.

While lactose and sugar aren’t toxic by themselves, they could result in a period of discomfort for your best friend. Our advice: Avoid feeding your dog human treats with dairy and sugar.

A woman holds a cone of vanilla soft serve for her dog to lick.

What kinds of ice cream can dogs eat?

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, xylitol, macadamia nuts, or coffee beans. When in doubt, choose vanilla—even better, low-fat vanilla.
  2. Consider an ice cream alternative for your dog, including gelato made specifically for dogs or a homemade frozen treat made with dog-safe ingredients. (We share some ideas below.)
  3. 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.

Dog ice cream alternatives

It may not be the best idea for your dog to eat ice cream, but luckily there are many other cool treats they can enjoy. Try these ideas:

  • Fill ice cube trays with one of the following and freeze:
    • Low-sodium chicken broth
    • Plain canned pumpkin with no spices or seasoning
    • 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 something homemade, like these frozen peanut butter banana pupsicles from Good Housekeeping.

Do you have other questions about what your dog can eat? We put together a dog nutrition guide that walks through tips every dog owner should know. One thing is for sure: Even if you don’t share your ice cream with your dog, you can find plenty of ways to treat them all the same!