Whether it is safe for dogs to eat vanilla depends on the form that the vanilla takes. Pods and pure vanilla are perfectly safe, although they offer minimal benefit and are prohibitively expensive for anything other than accidental feeding.
Extracts, on the other hand, use strong alcohol during the extraction process. The alcohol remains, and this means that you should never feed vanilla extract because of the high risk of alcohol poisoning. Foods containing vanilla should be judged on their own merit and according to their overall content, but it is processed desserts that most often contain this ingredient. These have dangerously high levels of sugar or, worse still, an artificial sweetener like xylitol that can be deadly for your pooch.
Pure vanilla is expensive, and pods include a very small amount of the spice, although its strong flavor means that a little does go a long way. Depending on the grade, quality, and original source of the vanilla, you may have to pay several dollars for a single pod. There are far less expensive alternatives out there.
However, while vanilla pods are expensive, they are also perfectly safe for your dog to eat. If your pup grabs the packet as you’re preparing food and eats the contents, they won’t get ill. Enough of any food could cause an upset stomach, but it’s unlikely that your dog will have access to a large enough quantity of vanilla to suffer gastrointestinal distress.
Can Dogs Have Vanilla Extract?
Some recipes, including those for natural dog treats, call for the use of vanilla extracts. Vanilla extract is made by softening the vanilla, typically using a mixture of ethanol and water. The alcohol extraction process leads to a liquid that contains at least 35% alcohol, and this can be very dangerous for dogs.
Alcohol Toxicity In Dogs
A dog’s liver is not designed to process alcohol, which means that even a small amount of ethanol can lead to alcohol toxicity. Signs include vomiting and diarrhea, dizziness and disorientation, dehydration and hypersalivation, and in severe cases, even collapse and seizures.
If you know that your dog drank alcohol, including alcohol found in vanilla and other extracts, you should get veterinary help as soon as possible. Signs can start within a few minutes of ingestion, but you shouldn’t wait—the damage may already be done by that point. Your vet will monitor the vital signs of your dog for signs of respiratory and other serious problems.
Treatment may include inducing vomiting, especially if your dog is not yet showing signs of alcohol poisoning. More serious cases may require more serious treatment, including IV fluids, intubation, and the administering of anti-seizure medication.
Image Credit: uihereDespite the serious risks, some owners still give treats that contain alcohol to their dogs. Some argue that because the vanilla extract is only added in very small quantities, that the alcohol is heavily diluted and causes no danger to dogs. But is it worth the risk? This is especially risky if you have a small or toy breed.
Alcohol-Free Vanilla Extract
Some forms of vanilla extract are labeled as alcohol-free extract. These tend to use vegetable glycerin, rather than ethanol, for the extraction process. This is a simple compound that is colorless, odorless, and non-toxic. It has a sweet taste, although this is unlikely to transfer to the foods you use it in because it will be present in very small amounts.
Vegetable glycerin is perfectly safe for your dog to consume barring any allergic reaction, and this means that vegetable glycerin based vanilla extract is also considered safe for canine consumption.
The solution is used in commercial dog foods, especially because it works as a binding agent and it enables food to retain a chewy consistency.
Another way that dogs might consume vanilla is in existing and prepared foods. It is most commonly used in sweet foods and treats, including ice cream and yogurts. It may also be found in cakes and biscuits. These foods need to be considered on their own merits and pitfalls, and you will need to thoroughly check the ingredients.
Determine the type of vanilla flavor that was added, and look at additional and supplementary ingredients.
Many sweet treats include sugar. Sugar is not toxic to dogs, but it can quickly lead to them putting on weight and may even cause behavioral complaints if fed regularly.
However, a worse ingredient than sugar is an artificial sweetener. One of the most common artificial sweeteners is xylitol.
- Related Read: Can Dogs Eat Rice Cakes? Are Rice Cakes Safe for Dogs?
Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs
Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs, and it only takes a small amount of this artificial ingredient to cause toxicity. It can lead to dangerously low blood sugar, seizures, and may even lead to liver failure and death in dogs. Xylitol is a common ingredient in foods that are labeled as “diet”, “low sugar”, and “no sugar”, and while the vanilla in foods like vanilla yogurt might not cause any damage to your dog, the xylitol certainly could.
Generally, you should avoid feeding your dog processed foods, because they contain ingredients like artificial sweeteners and other artificial ingredients.
Vanilla Health Benefits for Dogs
Vanilla does contain a lot of antioxidants, but it is used in such small quantities in recipes that it does not really offer any benefit to humans or dogs. While it is safe to feed to your dog, if it is straight from the pod or is an extract made from vegetable glycerin, there is no physical benefit to feeding it.
Safer Ways to Let Your Dog Try Vanilla
Vanilla extract has a strong flavor, and there is very little vanilla that comes directly from the pod. As such, using pure vanilla as a flavoring in a natural dog treat is the most common way to feed it to your furry friend.
A canine-friendly homemade ice-cream is one way to give this spice to your dog. Mix natural yogurt, peanut butter, and alcohol-free or natural vanilla together, place it in molds, and allow the mixture to freeze. This frozen yogurt treat will taste of vanilla and offer a refreshing treat that your dog will love, especially in the hot summer months when they want to cool down.
Is It Safe to Give Dogs Vanilla?
In its pure form, vanilla is perfectly safe for dogs to eat, although it offers very little health benefit. As an extract, you must avoid alcohol-based extracts and opt for those that use vegetable glycerin, instead.
You can use these extracts to make any of a range of sweet canine treats, including frozen vanilla yogurt. If your dog does consume extract containing alcohol, or processed foods containing xylitol, you should consult a vet as soon as possible to avoid serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.
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