Food is a fundamental part of life, and it can be hard at times to stop yourself from sharing something that you find delicious with your dog. After all, everyone sneaks scraps under the table every once in a while. Your dog certainly doesn’t seem to mind the occasional bit of human food! A lot of people believe that as long as you keep your dog away from chocolate, the occasional human-food treat can do no harm. In many cases, this is true. Several different types of human foods may even benefit your dog when delivered in moderation, but in just as many cases, human food can be problematic for a dog’s digestive tract. Among the more problematic human food options are spicy foods, including the versatile and (relatively) mild jalapeno. Here’s why it might not be a good idea to let your dog snack on such a spicy treat!
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The Root of the Behavior
Though you might enjoy spicy foods, you and your dog have a vastly different set of taste buds. Humans have on average approximately 9,000 unique taste buds, which allow us to distinguish beef from chicken and pork, for example. The human sense of taste is estimated to be 5 or 6 times more powerful than a dog’s sense of taste. Dogs, who have only approximately 1700 taste buds at their disposal, probably could not tell the difference between beef and chicken in the same way that you might be able to. That being said, dogs have still been shown to register and have preferences within four major food qualities: saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and sweetness.
Although jalapenos register among the least spicy of the spicy peppers of the world, they can still be too spicy for a lot of humans! Spiciness tends to be perceived by the same taste buds that perceive sourness, and these taste buds are generally understood to exist at the back of a dog’s tongue. When dogs first lick something spicy, it takes a moment for the flavor to hit the back of the tongue. Since dogs do not experience as powerful of a sensation as humans when tasting food, the spiciness itself probably does not affect your dog. For this reason, some dogs might want more, and might give the impression that they like spicy foods. As with dogs who seem to like chocolate, if your dog doesn’t immediately show signs of discomfort, that doesn’t mean that he should eat all the jalapenos he can.
You might watch for an initial reaction to the spiciness of the pepper, but it is your dog’s gastrointestinal tract that is really going to let you know whether or not feeding him the jalapeno was a good idea. Dogs that eat jalapenos can experience stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, foul-smelling gas, and can show signs of dehydration or excessive thirst. Some dogs will hesitate at the smell of jalapenos, simply because dogs do not seem to prefer bitter or sour foods, but others will leap at the chance to try jalapenos simply because their owners like them. Even if your dog is begging for a jalapeno, it is your responsibility as a dog owner to make sure that the only things going into your dog’s digestive system are part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is best not to feed your dog jalapenos or any foods that are generally considered spicy foods. The effects that these foods can have on your dog’s gastrointestinal tract may be devastating if consumed repeatedly. If your dog gets into the jalapenos once or twice, and only has one or two, there is probably no immediate or long-term concern. Simply watch your dog and make sure that he passes the peppers in due time. Expect some diarrhea, along with general signs of discomfort. If your dog begins to show signs of severe discomfort, take him to the veterinarian immediately, as the problem is most likely an allergy or preexisting condition made worse by the peppers.
As a beneficial, healthy alternative to jalapenos, you might consider treating your dog with bell peppers instead of jalapenos. Bell peppers are classified as sweet peppers, which have been shown to offer some minor benefits to dogs. Many dog owners incorporate vegetable-based treats into a dog’s meal after training sessions or walks, similar to the way that you might add a salad to a past dinner. As with all things, moderation is key. Given enough bell peppers, dogs may experience some of the same symptoms and signs of discomfort as they would with spicy peppers, although most likely not to same degree.