Whether your pup is begging for scraps or just happened to get into the trash (again), you want to always be aware of the food they’re eating. Sure, in an ideal world, your dog would be able to eat whatever you’re having and recover easily from a deep dive into your leftovers. Unfortunately that’s not always the case.
Certain foods like chocolate are well-known no-nos for dogs. The risks of other foods are not as obvious, such as food that is on the spicier side.
Dogs are able to pinpoint foods that are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter (and they seem to have a particular affinity for cheese, cream, and butter), but can dogs taste spicy food? And if so, can dogs eat spicy foods?
Read on for everything you need to know about dogs and spicy food, as well as what to do if your pup isn’t feeling well after eating some.
Can Dogs Eat Spicy Foods?
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean they should eat spicy foods,” says Dr. Hunter Finn, a Texas-based integrative veterinarian.
Well-seasoned and fatty foods — which are often on the spicier side — can cause serious issues and even be toxic for dogs. So while it may not always be the actual spiciness of the food itself that’s harmful to dogs, dogs and spicy food generally do not mix.
Can Dogs Taste Spicy Food?
Yep, dogs can indeed taste spicy food, but in a slightly different way. “Similar to humans, dogs have the ability to detect capsaicin, the spicy part of peppers,” says Dr. Ashley Navarrette, a clinical assistant professor and director of primary care services at Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine.
When it comes to human favorites like salsa and chips or Indian food, studies suggest dogs may experience the hot scent of the peppers more than the spicy zing we love. That’s because, unlike us, a dog’s sense of smell is much stronger than their sense of taste.
While just how powerful a pup’s nose is can vary by breed, the average canine generally has around 125 million odor receptor cells. Bloodhounds — the reigning champs of super-sniffers — rock an astounding 300 million, according to research. Compare that to our measly 5 to 10 million, and it’s no wonder our canine companions taste more by sniffing. All in all, their sense of smell is about a thousand times more sensitive than ours.
“Due to a dog’s heightened sense of smell, they may actually experience the burning sensation just by smelling spicy foods,” says Dr. Navarrette.
But do dogs like spicy foods? As stated above, dogs can categorize tastes and have a strong sense of taste for water — a helpful adaptation for survival in the wild. However, there’s no proof they’re particularly attracted to hot peppers or tabasco sauce.
Is Spicy Food Bad for Dogs?
According to Dr. Navarrette, most spicy foods like those with pepper or chili powder aren’t toxic to canines. But whether dogs can eat spicy foods (and should eat spicy foods) is a different story.
Spicy food can irritate a dog’s mucosal linings (the moist, mucus-producing surfaces of the mouth and GI tract). This could lead to signs of distress like drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, a dip in appetite, upset stomach, and dark, bloody stool. Obviously, these are side effects neither of you want.
An even greater concern is other ingredients that also tend to be found in spicy foods, says Dr. Navarrette. For example, avoid feeding your dog treats that contain onion, garlic, and chives. This includes spice rack versions like garlic and onion powders. These ingredients can damage a dog’s red blood cells due to a disorder called hemolytic anemia. Warning signs to look out for include confusion, fatigue, and pale gums. This condition may also be associated with vomiting, dark urine, and/or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, mucous membranes, and skin).
High-fat foods are also major no-nos, so it’s best to ignore your pup’s pleas for a taste of your fried chicken or cheeseburger and just enjoy it yourself. Fatty foods are a leading cause of pancreatitis in canines, says Dr. Finn. Pancreatitis is a condition that can cause the pancreas to become inflamed and lead to potentially life-threatening damage to your pet’s intestines. Alarm bells should go off if your dog is vomiting uncontrollably. In this case, it’s time to get emergency veterinary care ASAP.
While a few chips here and there are unlikely to hurt your dog, high amounts of salt can be toxic to canines. Sodium ion poisoning is also cause for action and can look like excessive thirst, diarrhea, seizures, and vomiting.
As is always the case, you’re better safe than sorry when it comes to addressing concerns about something your dog’s eaten. If you’re worried that they’re not acting like themself or notice any of the above red flags, contact your veterinarian to determine next steps. Depending on the details of your situation, they may ask you to watch and wait or have you come in for immediate medical attention.
Dogs and Spicy Food: The Verdict
It’s best to avoid giving your dog spicy foods of any kind. The joy of sharing table scraps just isn’t worth the discomfort it could cause your pet or the cleanup afterwards. This is especially true considering many spicy foods also include ingredients that are toxic for dogs.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t treat your pup to some tasty human food from time to time. But stick with veterinarian-approved whole foods like certain fruits and vegetables in small portions. “If you wish to share some of your food, it’s best to stick to safe treats such as blueberries, slices of apple, carrots, or cucumber slices,” says Dr. Navarrette.
When in doubt, remember this mantra, courtesy of Dr. Finn: “The blander the food, the better for your pets.”