Upon eating spicy foods, the substance causes a warm, burning sensory experience that the most daring among us crave! Different people experience spiciness on different levels- some of us relish in the idea of biting into a habanero, while others can barely handle a mild chicken wing!
Have you ever wondered if your canine companion can experience spiciness too? Do dogs undergo the same intense sensations that we do when they bite into a hot pepper? Let's explore this hot topic in more detail!
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Signs of a Dog Tasting Hot Spice
One important factor to distinguish is that the experience of spiciness isn’t actually a taste! Upon consuming something spicy, it is actually a nervous system response that takes place.
The body’s pain fibers respond to the chemical capsaicin which results in a warm, burning, and intense sensation. Thus, spiciness is more of a feeling or experience. Just like humans, dogs can experience this sensation to a degree. The substance that triggers the response, capsaicin, is an irritant to mammals across the board.
Though spiciness isn’t a taste, spicy foods do tend to have bitter or sour flavors. In general, dogs have less sensitivity to these tastes because they have only about a sixth of the taste buds that we do. The taste buds that recognize bitter and sour flavors are located on the back of a dog’s tongue. That being said, it may take a bit longer for a dog to recognize the unpleasant taste and they likely don’t experience it to the same extent as humans do.
When a dog comes across these tastes and the spiciness that accompanies them, it is unlikely that they will enjoy it. Signs of your dog reacting to spicy food may include lip licking, whining, pacing, head shaking, backing away, and excessive water drinking. The spiciness can also irritate the gastrointestinal tract leading to diarrhea, vomiting, gas, and stomach upset.
Though most spicy food is not toxic to dogs, it can cause them discomfort and should be avoided. As always, contact your veterinarian if your dog shows prolonged signs of discomfort, pain, or sickness.
Here are some signs you may notice if your dog is experiencing spiciness:
- Lip licking
- Excessive water drinking
- Head shaking
- Gastrointestinal upset like discomfort, pain, or gas
- Heaving or vomiting
History of Dogs Tasting Spicy Food
Today’s dog evolved from the grey wolf approximately 20,000 years ago. Necessary to survival in the wild, their sense of taste developed shortly after birth.
Along with smell, dogs relied on their sense of taste in the wild to determine what was safe to eat and was dangerous. Generally, any item that tasted unpleasant was potentially hazardous. Thanks to this evolutionary adaptation, dogs tend to avoid ingesting things that are bitter or sour, like many spicy foods.
Not naturally a part of their diet, spicy foods have been known to cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs. Additionally, they experience the same burning and intensity that we do from ingesting spicy foods. As in humans, responses to spiciness can vary from dog to dog. Some people have reported their dogs avoiding spicy food at all costs, while others claim their dog keeps coming back for more.
For example, one owner accounts that her chihuahua loves spicy food! Whenever her dog ingests it, he licks his lips, takes a drink of water, and returns to her side begging for more! On the contrary, another owner reported his dog running away and hiding after simply smelling a spicy pepper offered to him.
Whether or not your dog seems to enjoy the experience of eating spicy food, it is best to avoid giving them any. The capsaicin it contains can irritate their gastrointestinal tract and lead to unwanted symptoms, like diarrhea, vomiting, and discomfort.
Science of Dogs Tasting Spicy Food
Dogs are able to experience the spiciness of foods for the same reason we are. The capsaicin that "hot" foods contain stimulates the pain fibers that typically respond to heat. These pain receptors, known as polymodal nociceptors, typically respond to extreme temperatures and strong mechanical stimulation, like cutting or pinching. In the case of spicy foods, however, these receptors are tricked into responding to chemical stimulation.
The capsaicin derived from spicy peppers signals a neural response that causes the warm, burning sensations that accompany spicy foods. As mentioned earlier, this is more of a feeling than a taste. The bitter flavor that tends to accompany spicy foods is tasted by dogs, but to a lesser extent than we taste it, as they have significantly fewer taste buds.
Still, dogs experience the spiciness, taste the bitterness, and tend to react to the spicy foods with symptoms that indicate dislike.
Can You Train Dogs to Eat Spicy Foods?
In humans, a tolerance to spicy food can be acquired. Some people love it and others hate it, but in general, the more you are exposed, the more tolerant you are to the spiciness. Whether or not this applies to dogs as well is uncertain and should not be attempted!
Spicy foods have been consumed by humans for more than 8,000 years. As a species, we have had the benefit of a more evolved diet that has exposed us to spicy foods. While we have been able to grow accustomed to consuming spiciness, canines have not.
Their senses alert them to stay away from things that don’t smell or taste appealing, like bitter or sour foods. Having never evolved to eat spicy food, those food items probably fall into that same category of things to avoid. Of course, every dog is different and some may be less discriminant than others, especially if it means they get their paws on the coveted human food! However, your dog showing interest in your spicy chicken doesn’t mean it is a healthy option for them. Treating dogs as though their diet evolved the same way as ours did can be detrimental to their health and wellness.
While feeding your dog spicy food should be avoided, small quantities are not likely to be harmful and are sometimes used in training. For example, a small quantity of hot sauce can be used when training a dog not to accept treats from strangers.
This can be done by putting a small amount of the spicy substance on a generic dog treat and having a helper offer it to your dog. When they accept it, firmly say “No!” With continued practice, the dog should associate the undesirable flavor and the firm verbal warning with the unknown person and begin to understand the concept. All and all, spiciness should be used sparingly as a training tool.
How to React If Your Dog Is Having an Adverse Reaction to Spicy Food
Make sure plenty of water is available.
Monitor the dog for signs of gastrointestinal upset.
Administer famotidine, commonly known by the brand name Pepcid, under the supervision of a veterinarian.
If diarrhea, vomiting, or reduced appetite persists, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Safety Tips to Prevent Adverse Reactions to Spicy Food
Avoid keeping or growing peppers with a high capsaicin content, like ghost or habanero peppers.
Don't let your dog lick your plate if you've had a spicy meal.
Air on the side of caution and never offer spicy food to your pet!