The word “can” in the title of this article is a little misleading. Anyone licking a vanilla cone near a dog knows canines definitely can eat ice cream—and stealthily. But should dogs eat ice cream? Probably not. For some of the same reasons many humans should steer clear of the stuff (lactose intolerance, high sugar content), dogs are better off without ice cream for dessert.
The argument against ice cream for dogs
The American Kennel Club notes that after puppies are weaned from their mother, ingested milk doesn’t sit right with their digestive systems. Ergo, eating ice cream could give them painful (and very smelly) gas bubbles, diarrhea or vomiting. It could also back up their system, making bathroom breaks frustrating for both you and your pup. If your dog shows even a slight discomfort after ingesting milk or cheese, it’s wise to stop feeding her dairy products altogether. Some dogs refuse to eat until an upset stomach or bloating has dissipated, which could lead to malnourishment.
It’s also no secret that ice cream is full of sugar (basically a curse word in nutrition land). Excess sugar tends to lead to obesity or, at the very least, weight gain, which can cause significant health problems for dogs down the line. One infamously poisonous sweetener found in so-called “sugar-free” treats is xylitol. This ingredient is a sugar alcohol found naturally in many foods; it’s harvested from birch wood to use in products like gum and candy because it sweetens like sugar but contains fewer calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels—great for people, but super toxic for dogs. Xylitol can cause liver damage and hypoglycemia in pups.
Some ice cream flavors also hide little goodies in their recipes like raisins, chocolate chips and macadamia nuts, all of which are harmful to canines. Coffee and green tea are other ingredients to look out for in sweet frozen treats. Again, delicious for humans, toxic to dogs.
On top of all that, according to one study, dairy and beef products are the two most common allergens in canines. So, even if your dog has the lactase enzyme necessary to break down lactose products, she may still be allergic to milk. (If your dog starts itching like crazy or develops regular skin or ear infections, these symptoms could indicate a food allergy.)
The argument for ice cream
Truth be told, there isn’t much of an argument for dogs eating ice cream. If your dog doesn’t have a negative reaction to ice cream, the general consensus is a single lick here and there won’t do much harm. When possible, go for dog-friendly treats (and by dog-friendly, we mean treats that have been manufactured for canines).
Alternative treats to ice cream
There are plenty of treats out there formulated specifically for dogs, with their delicate systems in mind. Frosty Paws Treats emulate ice cream but are actually filled with vitamins and minerals to keep your pup healthy. Pooch Creamery makes a powdered mix that mimics ice cream when added to water and frozen; it comes in peanut butter, vanilla, carob and birthday cake flavors. Finally, never underestimate the power of a frozen banana (a dessert both you and your dog can eat without feeling guilty about it).
Plus, the AKC recommends plain unsweetened yogurt in lieu of ice cream for pups who can safely digest dairy. Plop it in the freezer for a bit and your dog won’t know the difference! Stuffing a Kong toy with peanut butter and cooling it in the freezer is also always a delicious alternative to sugary snacks.
What to do if your dog steals your cone
Uh-oh. Did you turn away for two seconds and your dog saw her opportunity to snatch that vanilla ice cream cone right from your hand?! Don’t freak out yet. If your dog slurped up some plain vanilla ice cream, chances are the worst that will happen is some vomiting or urgent pooping. However, if your dog ingested any of the ingredients mentioned above (macadamia nuts, chocolate, raisins or artificial sweetener), you should get in touch with an animal poison control center right away to assess the situation.