Dogs have a very interesting, love-hate relationship with lemons with more of the latter than the former. They are fascinated by their shape and texture and curious about their unique and vibrant smell but at the same time strongly put off by it and lemon's sour taste. This makes them act very weird and incredibly funny around them, bouncing back and forth with subtle attempts of biting them or hitting them with their paw. The interaction can be entertaining to watch, hence why so many pet owners have shared videos online of their four-legged buddy trying the citrus fruit. Unfortunately, the viral craze is not as innocent as it may seem and can be actually putting dogs at risk.
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The Root of the Behavior
If your dog truly likes lemons - he’s among the minority. Thankfully most dogs don’t like lemons and with good reason. It is not only because of their intense, overpowering odor. Certain citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, contain essential oils as well as a substance called psoralens in them, both of which are poisonous for dogs and can cause gastrointestinal distress and even liver failure. Even just a slice of lemon is too acidic for some dogs to handle and can cause vomiting and diarrhea. This is why the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has lemon listed on its list of toxic plants and it is also why certain dog-repellents are citrus scented. It is very rare for dogs to like lemons, most often than not the dog's curiosity is mistaken as their fondness. But just because our canine companion pounces at the lemon or hops around it in circles and attempts to bite it doesn’t mean he likes it. Quite the opposite, the cute behavior could actually be him circling around an enemy, trying to get rid of it without actually eating it. Thanks to their nose's ability to identify certain smells as edible or dangerous, this self-preservation trait allows your dog to reject scents and items that they know might be bad for them. Most dogs find lemons highly repulsive and that is one of the reasons they act so odd around them. Even if your dog's nose led him astray and your dog licked or bit into a lemon he has since surely learned that it is disgustingly sour. It is not typical for dogs to enjoy citrus fruits and most have a natural aversion to them. However, if your dog does actually like lemons and tries to eat it when he sees one it is best to take him to the veterinarian for a check-up. He is most likely not vitamin C deficient, as a dog's body can create it on its own under normal conditions, but it could mean your dog is lacking something else in his diet.
Encouraging the Behavior
Given the above, you should not be encouraging your dog's love of lemons. Though there are a few veterinarians who believe that small quantities of lemon won’t hurt your dog, the majority of veterinarians are highly against taking that risk. The minor benefits a lemon can have are entirely outweighed by the health risks associated with them. If your dog likes fruits there are several dog-friendly ones that you can encourage for him to eat instead, such as cantaloupe or watermelon. Encouraging your dog to eat lemons would put him at great risk for developing stomach problems and even liver failure. If your dog seems adamant about his citrus preference make sure to not only discourage it but also prevent him from having access to any lemons. Accidental ingestion can lead to symptoms such as weakness and loss of coordination, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as lethargy and drooling. If you notice any of these symptoms or notice your dog acting odd and suspect him having eaten a lemon, make sure to give him activated charcoal and take him to the veterinarian immediately. Depending on your dog's situation and after a urine and blood test have been completed, the veterinarian will be able to recommend a treatment plan for the lemon poisoning.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In addition, citrus fruits affect blood levels in diabetic dogs due to the vitamin C in them as well as high sugar levels and should be avoided even more in such cases. Even if you think your dog won’t eat the lemon and will just play with it like a ball, don’t risk it. Even without eating the entire lemon, biting the outer rind can be harmful enough as it contains high concentrations of vitamin C which are difficult for a dog's body to break down and digest. Instead, give your dog a yellow ball to play with, or if that doesn’t work get him a lemon-shaped toy and see if that will help him lose interest in real lemons.
While for most dogs a single whiff is enough to spark their natural and life-long aversion to citrus fruits, there are dogs that need help in that department. It is important for dog owners to prevent their dogs from eating lemons and to restrict any access to them for their own good. Otherwise, the substances in the lemons can leave dogs feeling pretty ruff.