Spicy foods are divisive among humans. While some people love to munch on spicy foods, others avoid peppers and other sources of heat at all costs. Capsaicin, the substance that causes the sensation of spiciness, can feel different to different people, which explains why some people seem to handle the heat better than some other people.
When it comes to spiciness, can our dogs experience it the same way we do? Do dogs feel the heat from peppers? Dogs have fewer taste buds than humans, which leads many people to believe that dogs can’t taste spicy foods, but is that true?
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Signs that Hot Peppers Affect Dogs
When it comes to spicy foods, your dog is not immune from feeling the heat. In fact, your dog is likely to feel the heat much more intensely than you do, which means that a pepper that is only slightly spicy may cause your dog to feel a lot of pain. This reaction is a nervous system response that the brain sends to the mouth. Dogs, like humans, can experience spiciness in the mouth and throat, and sometimes, spicy foods may cause gastrointestinal distress.
The discomfort that capsaicin causes to your dog can lead to a variety of different symptoms. When dogs feel this type of heat, they may cough or sneeze, drool, or foam at the mouth. The heat may also cause your dog to paw at their face and pant. Some cases will cause the eyes to water. In the case of extremely spicy foods, your dog may gag or dry heave.
If you notice that your dog has eaten a hot pepper or other spicy food, you should call your veterinarian. To provide temporary relief, you can give your dog a little milk to sip on.
- Watery eyes
- Coughing and sneezing
- Gagging and dry heaving
- Pawing at the mouth or face
- Foaming at the mouth and excessive drooling
History of Dogs Feeling the Heat from Peppers
A dog’s sense of taste has evolved from the taste buds of wolves in the last 20,000 years, especially since their domestication. In the wild, a dog would be able to taste its food starting shortly after birth. Since dogs don’t have a great sense of taste, they rely heavily on their sense of smell to help them determine what to eat, too.
Dogs used their sense of taste in the wild to determine what foods were safe to eat and what ones were potentially dangerous. Foods that tasted bad to dogs were potentially hazardous. Due to this type of evolution, dogs usually avoid items that taste bitter or sour to them, which is how many spicy foods taste.
Since spicy foods are unfamiliar and not part of a healthy diet for dogs, these types of foods, including peppers, can cause gastrointestinal distress in your dog. Some dogs will completely avoid any type of spicy food, but others tend to like it. Much like people, a dog’s ability to tolerate heat varies from dog to dog.
Even if your dog seems to like spicy foods, you should avoid letting them eat these items, as capsaicin can cause diarrhea and vomiting for your pup.
Science Behind Dogs Reacting to the Heat from Peppers
While humans have around 9000 taste buds, dogs only have about 1700. This has made many people think that dogs don’t taste heat the same way we do. Well, that is partly true. Spiciness isn’t a taste. It is a reaction that we have to capsaicin.
So, while dogs don’t taste spiciness, they can be affected by the heat that comes from spicy foods. In fact, dogs are much more sensitive to the heat from peppers and other foods, which means that something that doesn’t feel at all spicy to you could be very painful for your beloved pooch.
Dealing with Your Dog Eating a Spicy Pepper
If your dog has consumed a spicy pepper, you are bound to notice. Try to find the source of the pain your dog is feeling. It is always better if you can tell a veterinarian exactly what your dog has ingested. For example, a jalapeno is much less spicy than a habanero, which could affect how your veterinarian proceeds with treatment.
To help your dog in the short-term, you can give them a little drink of milk to soothe some of the burning sensation that they are feeling in their mouth and throat. Wipe down their paws to prevent any pepper oils from being transfer to the face. You may also want to wipe their face with cold water if you notice that your dog’s eyes are watering or that they have pawed at their face already.
Even if your dog likes peppers or other spicy foods, try to prevent them from ingesting these items, because they can cause stomach problems for your pup.
It is a good idea to restrict access to peppers. If you have a garden, you should find a way to prevent your dog from getting into the garden and snagging a pepper. For those who keep peppers in their kitchen often, keep them out of reach of your pup. Peppers do better in the refrigerator, and it is hard for most dogs to retrieve a pepper that is stored in the refrigerator.
If you happen to drop a pepper, you will want to get it picked up before your dog can get ahold of it. It is a good idea to implement a “leave it” command in your dog’s bag of tricks. This could help you prevent accidental pepper ingestion.
Safety Tips for Dogs Around Peppers:
Prevent access from peppers both in your home and garden.
Teach your dog a "leave it" command to keep them from picking up undesirable objects like peppers.
Consider keeping all hot peppers in a drawer in your fridge.