Dogs don’t always eat what’s good for them, and sometimes, they may actually eat what is directly harmful to them. When it comes to people food, there are lots of foods that humans and dogs both enjoy. Some are okay to feed your pup, and some are not. Nuts are one of those foods that are potentially toxic, but it’s hard to know which nuts are okay and which are not. Why do some dogs like some nuts and not others? Which are okay to give your dog? What could happen if your dog got into some nuts they weren’t supposed to have?
The Root of the Behavior
Nuts are a great snack for people—full of healthy fats
and proteins, and a great source of energy. But that isn’t the case for dogs.
In fact, most nuts are directly harmful or toxic to dogs. Salt on packaged nuts,
for example, is bad for your dog because the resulting water retention can lead
to other problems. Some nuts just pose choking hazards. And the toxic ones can
Which nuts are the most harmful? Macadamia nuts are one of the most toxic to dogs. In addition to being high in fat, which may lead to obesity, macadamias also have a toxin that can cause neurological problems in dogs. Walnuts and hickory nuts also contain a toxin that can cause seizures or other neurological symptoms. Almonds may cause stomach and other gastrointestinal problems, as they are not easily digested. Pecans, in addition to causing upset stomach and related problems, can also cause seizures. Some nuts, when not properly broken down in a dog’s stomach, can become an obstruction in the digestive tract and require expensive veterinary treatment.
If you have access to whole, unshelled nuts, be
particularly careful not to let your dog chew on the shells or husks. In
addition to sharp splinters that may possibly tear or obstruct your dog’s digestive
tract, some shells or raw nuts contain highly toxic chemicals. So which nuts are safe? Peanuts and peanut butter, in
moderation, and free of added sugars or salt. Cashews can also be an infrequent
treat for your dog, but be aware that too much can cause stomach pain. Also
make sure that the cashews are roasted or cooked, since raw cashews contain a
toxin. And hazelnuts, also in moderation, can be safe as an occasional treat
for your dog. Just be careful with smaller dogs, as they may be easier to choke
Encouraging the Behavior
While some nuts can be considered technically
safe for your dog, the extra fat may lead to increased risk of obesity and
extra weight gain. Treats like peanut butter can be a great motivator during
training. Some toys like the Kong are available for purchase that can be filled
with kibble and topped with peanut butter or something similar, for a treat
that keeps your dog occupied for a while. Just don’t rely on peanut butter all
the time, as the extra fat isn’t healthy for your dog.
If your dog doesn’t like nuts or peanut butter, it may be that they’ve already learned their lesson.
Most dogs know to avoid
harmful things. Since their noses are far more sensitive than a human’s, dogs
may smell some kinds of toxins. Dogs can smell expired kibble, for example, and
may know not to eat it by that smell alone. If your dog refuses to eat an
offered nut, maybe they know it’s not good for them. Or, maybe they associate
the smell with a bad experience or feeling, since dogs can memorize many more
smells than a human can. They store those scents as a kind of memory—an association
with a positive or negative experience. A dog who has gotten sick on something
before may be less likely to eat it again in the future.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While peanut allergies are increasingly common in humans, allergic reactions to nuts are less likely in dogs. But allergic reactions to peanuts can happen. If your dog stars behaving strangely after eating peanuts, you should contact your vet. There are some other seeds, like shelled, unsalted sunflower seeds, that are safe for your dog to eat. You can also substitute peanut butter for some other nut or seed butters like cashew butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter, sesame seed butter, and pumpkin seed butter. They should all be used sparingly so your dog doesn’t gain too much weight, but an occasional high-reward treat is fine.