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Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream? (Treat or Terror)

It’s no secret that dogs like human food. It’s why they tend to chill out next to the dinner table while you’re eating. Theoretically, this love extends to the dessert course. While we know chocolate is a doggie danger, we may have no issues giving them ice cream. Should we?

It’s Not a Good Idea

It may be tempting to let your dog enjoy a few licks of ice cream during a sultry day. However, it’s probably a good idea to avoid this temptation at all costs. As a general rule, it’s ill-advised to give your dog ice cream or any dairy product.

However, the rationale behind this decision is not as black-and-white as you may think. Unlike other foods that are deemed to be toxic or poisonous to your pooch, there is a massive gray area surrounding ice cream that makes advising against its consumption more precautionary than concrete.

Dogs and Lactose Intolerance

The big issue with a dog eating ice cream – or any other dairy product, for that manner – relates to the infamous condition known as lactose intolerance. This, of course, is the condition that makes it virtually impossible to break down the sugars in dairy products. This results in various intestinal issues, like diarrhea or flatulence.

Lactose intolerance is essentially caused by a lack of what is known as lactase. This is the enzyme that is capable of breaking down lactose so the digestive system can absorb it easily. Most dogs cannot produce this enzyme, which is where the problem begins.

Most, But Not All

This is also where the gray area starts to form. While the vast majority of dogs are lactose intolerant, not all dogs have this condition. These lucky pooches can produce the lactase needed to enjoy ice cream – a trait that can sometimes be met with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Is There a Way to Find Out What Dogs Can Tolerate Lactose?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a concrete metric you can use to determine whether or not your dog is lactose intolerant apart from having him seeing how he reacts to dairy products. The condition is not particularly tethered to breed, age, or gender. It literally is a guessing game.

This is why it is generally advised to refrain from giving your dog ice cream or dairy products. Taking the “better to be safe than sorry” approach may seem a bit unfair when you’re indulging in a bowl of ice cream while your four-legged friend can’t do the same, but as a rule, it may be in his best interest.

If You Insist on Trying, Follow These Guidelines

Let’s say curiosity has gotten the best of you, and you simply need to find out whether or not your pooch can handle ice cream. If this is the case, you need to go about things very carefully, lest your dog suffers.

The most important thing you can do for your dog in this situation is to provide him with ice cream (or other dairy products) in small doses. If a dog has lactose intolerance, he’s going to respond to the “dosage” of lactose he’s receiving. The higher the amount of lactose ingested, the greater the likeliness of the response if he has the condition.

Ice cream does have one of the highest amounts of lactose in dairy products, as it contains 6 grams of the substance within a ½ cup serving size. By way of comparison, 1-ounce of cheddar cheese doesn’t contain any lactose. Milk, on the other hand, contains 11 grams of lactose within a 1 cup serving size.

In fact, pretty much all cheeses have zero to minimal amounts of lactose. As such, cheese actually can be a pretty terrific natural treat for your pooch. That could be something to keep in mind the next time you’re looking something “exotic” to stuff in his treat-dispensing chew or puzzle toy.

If your dog appears to be able to handle ice cream, consider yourself a lucky dog owner. Just be sure not to overdo things. Just because he may be able to handle it without disrupting his digestive system, that doesn’t mean it should be a go-to treat.

However, if your dog responds to ice cream ingestion with loose, runny stools or even vomiting, make that a hard, fast lesson learn and don’t try it again. Your pooch will not build up a tolerance to lactose, nor will the lactase needed to break down the enzyme suddenly become present. Just move on for the sake of your dog’s health.

Are There Any Alternative Treats to Ice Cream?

Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream 2

If you determine your dog cannot enjoy ice cream, you may be a little bummed – definitely more bummed then your dog, all things considered. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to cut the occasional sweet treat from his life altogether.

Indeed, there are quite a few treats that you can provide your pooch that he can enjoy, particularly when the temperatures rise. These include plenty of non-dairy popsicle treats that can come in sweet and savory flavors. You may think that a tuna pop is less than palatable, but your pooch may think it was sent straight down from heaven.

You can also make your own iced dog treats at home. In fact, you may even find this to be a bit beneficial, since you will have complete control over what kind of dietary content goes into the delights your dog is snacking on. And don’t worry if the treat is ice-based – the viral e-mail about dogs and ice cubes has been completely debunked.

He’s Your Dog, Not a Science Experiment!

They say curiosity killed the cat. While your own curiosity regarding your dog and ice cream won’t kill your pooch, it may cause a bout of nasty digestive voodoo that inevitably causes a bad experience for everyone involved. While it’s advisable to not go down this road of experimentation, be careful if you do.

Remember, at the end of the day, your dog is your dog, and you should do right by him. If he can’t take ice cream, continuing to give him some is clearly not doing the right thing.


Laura Harris

Dr. Laura Harris is our resident dog health expert. She started to fact-check dog health-related information for HerePup during her internship and contributes since then. Her expertise is in dog nutrition, senior dog care, especially critical care medicine and internal medicine.

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