Ice cream is the perfect treat on a hot, summer day, isn't it? It's refreshing, sweet, and it cools you off when the temperatures are soaring. So, does it come as any surprise that like you, your canine friend also enjoys this tasty treat? Dogs, maybe not so surprisingly, enjoy a lot of the same foods we do. It's why they beg us for bites of our meals. Or in the case of those hot summer days, why they beg for licks from your ice cream cone. Not shockingly, dogs like food. And if you like to spoil your canine friend, you might have given them a dollop or two of ice cream from time-to-time. A lot of people like sharing food with their dog -- but is it healthy for them? Should you give ice cream to your dog?
The answer: It depends.
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are natural scavengers, and loving food - any food - is a survival instinct. But even if your dog has a full bowl of yummy dog food sitting there waiting to be eaten – not to mention plenty of tasty treats -- he or she may still beg for a bite of yours. Including your own little sweet treat. Why? Well, because they know that what you're eating is far yummier than what's in their bowl. Part of the reason for that is your own behavior toward the food you're eating. Dogs are smart and pick up on social cues – such as when you're enjoying a delicious treat like ice cream. You savoring it and smile, making sounds that indicate it's really tasty -- these are all signs your dog picks up on and it piques their curiosity. The end result is they want a taste of what you have too, because obviously what you're enjoying is so much better than what's in their bowl. Because in their minds, if their dog food was that good, you'd be eating it too. A study published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE recently examined whether or not dogs make choices based on human cues. The study offered the dogs two plates -- one with one piece of food, the other with six.
Obviously, when given a choice, the dogs went to the plate with more food on it. Who wouldn't? The exception though, was when a human showed a preference for the single piece of food. Just by showing interest, it seemed to change the dog's decision from going after the plate with more food to the one with less. If a human acted passively toward the plate with one treat on it, it didn't affect their choice at all – the dogs went to the plate with more. It was only when the human was actually interested in the single piece -- over the six pieces – that it changed the dog's behavior. So, not only does it come down to taste, but how you respond to the ice cream. Obviously, you enjoy it, so your dog wants to enjoy it too!
Makes sense when you think about it, doesn't it?
Encouraging the Behavior
But should you let your dog eat ice cream? It's probably best not to. Just because it tastes good and you love it, doesn't mean it's best for your furry friend. In fact, most dogs are lactose intolerant, which means they can't properly digest the lactose in dairy. Lactose intolerance often causes constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or vomiting. They may enjoy it while they're eating it, but afterward, they'll be pretty uncomfortable and we don't want that for our canine friends. So, how do you get your dog to stop begging for your ice cream cone and other sweet treats? Make sure they have dog-friendly treats of their own, and act excited about them too. Make a big deal out of feeding them and showing interest in their food. In fact, if you feel guilty about indulging in ice cream around your dog and not sharing, there are plenty of doggy ice cream products that are safe for Fido. Check them out at pet stores or even in the frozen section of some supermarkets. They specifically spell out that it's ice cream for dogs. Having dog-friendly treats available is both safe and fun for your pup. Indulge in your ice cream without feeling like you're denying your pooch. Win-win!
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you just HAVE to share some of your ice cream with your dog though, please remember that it's not just dairy that causes problems in canines. Some flavors and additives can be downright dangerous - chocolate, raisins, Xylitol (a sugar-alcohol), and nuts are commonly found in ice cream and in some cases, can kill your pooch. Sugar isn't the best for them either, but if you must feed your pup ice cream, do not give them the sugar-free options as they likely contain Xylitol, which is extremely toxic to animals. If you can't deny your pooch your frozen treat, it would be best to go with straight up, vanilla ice cream. Or better yet, freeze some plain yogurt. It still has dairy, but if there are no additives or flavoring in it, it's less likely to poison your pooch. Still, the best option would be to avoid ice cream altogether, or to give them ice cream made specifically for dogs.
In the end, we are their owners, the ones who make the decisions. And we need to make the right decisions for our canine companions. That includes the treats we feed them. Just because your dog likes ice cream and other human food, sometimes it's best to err on the side of caution and give them food and treats specifically made for them. Stick to doggy ice cream and you won't have to deny your best friend a yummy, summertime treat.