Can dogs eat caramel? Does my dog have a sweet tooth? These are questions that may have crossed the minds of many pet parents.
We can trust a good sweet treat like caramel to brighten our mood, but is it safe to share it with our furry friend who is the best at turning frowns into smiles? Find out as we discuss caramel and its potential effects on dogs.
So Can Dogs Eat Caramel?
Can dogs eat caramel? No. Caramel is not toxic, and won’t poison dogs. However, letting dogs eat caramel syrup or other forms is not advised as it is very unhealthy for them. Caramel is made almost entirely of sugar, and table sugar or refined sugar is not an ideal part of a dog’s diet.
While dogs need carbohydrates which the body breaks down into sugar or glucose, they should get the amount that they need from complex carb sources in their meals. This includes vegetables, fruits, or wholesome grains.
Refined sugar that is used in sweets like caramel provides calories that offer no nutritional benefits, and can only cause harm to a dog’s health and wellbeing. Too much sugar can upset a dog’s stomach, and cause obesity, diabetes, and dental problems.
Can Caramel Kill Dogs?
Caramel made from sugar won’t kill a healthy dog if ingested once or twice. However, if a dog eats caramel made from artificial sweeteners like xylitol then it could kill a dog, especially if a sizable helping was eaten. In such cases, seek veterinary help right away.
What if My Dog Ate Caramel by Accident?
If your dog eats caramel in small amounts, the dog should be fine provided that the caramel sauce or candy does include alternative sweeteners such as xylitol. Some artificial sweeteners are toxic to our dogs. However, frequent feeding of caramel even in small amounts can lead to multiple health problems.
If a large portion of caramel lollipops, caramel ice cream, caramel rice cakes, or any food that has a very high amount of sugar was ingested, contact your vet right away even if it contains no artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes.
Do Dogs Like Sweets?
Can dogs eat caramel and do they have a sweet tooth? Yes, they do and they can get a sugar rush as well. Just like humans, dogs’ sugar rush symptoms are increased energy, fatigue after the burst of energy, hunger, and cravings for sweets.
Being omnivores, dogs eat a combination of meat and plant-based food. The domesticated dogs’ wild ancestors get their carbs and fiber from the contents of their prey’s stomach or from eating some grass.
So yes, dogs do appreciate a sweet fruit like a banana or even the occasional ice cream in the summer. This is also why you can find a lot of dog treats made with blueberries, apples, bananas, sweet potato, and even flavored yogurt drops.
However, these “sweet” dog treats do not contain nearly as much sugar as sweets made for humans. They are safe for dogs as occasional treats unlike caramel ice cream or caramel popcorn.
Table sugar, refined sugar, or raw sugar, on the other hand, is not natural to dogs.
What is Caramel Made of?
The sugary sweet caramel can be found in various forms in cuisines around the world. How can something that tastes so good that it brings us instant joy, be possibly bad for our dogs? What does caramel have that we shouldn’t let a dog eat caramel rice cakes, caramel nuts, or caramel dip?
Sugar is the main, and sometimes only ingredient of caramel. You can make caramel from basically pure sugar and nothing else.
Unlike fruits that also contain naturally present sugar, caramel does not have vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help strengthen a dog’s immune system. The sugar in caramel has only empty calories.
Excessive sugar intake or sugar overdose can not only lead to inflammation in various parts of the body, but also weight gain, oral health problems, and many other conditions such as diabetes. It can also put a dog in a sugar coma which can involve vomiting, difficulty breathing, confusion, weakness, and dizziness.
Cream/ Condensed Milk
Certain recipes of caramel call for dairy products such as cream or condensed milk. Dulce de leche is a type of caramel sauce that is made from condensed milk. This type of caramel has one of the highest lactose content.
Many dogs are lactose intolerant so giving them caramel made with cream or milk could give them gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, and loose stools.
Butter gives caramel sauce a beautiful sheen. It also adds another layer of flavor to the caramel.
Butter is not toxic to dogs. However, some very sensitive dogs may still get an upset stomach when butter-heavy foods are ingested. This is due to the very high fat content, and the fact that it also contains lactose.
Most desserts like caramel candies, caramel popcorn, caramel fudge, and baked goods such as caramel cake and caramel pudding contain a very small amount of salt to help balance the flavors or enhance the flavors of certain ingredients. However, the same cannot be said about salted caramel. And looks like the salted caramel trend is here to stay.
Salted caramel has way more salt than regular caramel, as the saltiness is meant to cut through the sugar’s sweetness in a more pronounced way. One of the latest trends in desserts is a sprinkling of flaky salt on top of salted caramel dip, cookies, brownies, cakes, etc.
The game-changing addition of more salt in desserts is truly a delight for us humans. Unfortunately, salty foods are dangerous to dogs. The combination of a salty and sugary snack is one of the worst combinations for dogs. So if you are thinking of letting your dog eat caramel popcorn or salted caramel nuts, just save them for yourself or your human family members.
Too much sodium can cause poisoning in dogs. According to Dr. Larry J. Thompson of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, sodium poisoning can result in vomiting within several hours if a dog consumes too much salt. Other symptoms are lethargy, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and seizures.
Aside from salt poisoning, regularly feeding dogs foods that are high in salt can lead to kidney disease in the long run.
Artificial Sweeteners/ Sugar Substitutes
Artificial sweeteners are used in sweets that are supposed to be “sugar-free”. They come in different forms, but one of the most commonly used is a sweetener called Xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to our dogs. It is usually found in sugar-free peanut butter, gum, candies, syrups, baked goods, and other food products.
Xylitol can cause a dog’s blood sugar to drop to life-threatening levels (hypoglycemia). Ingesting food with xylitol can cause seizures, kidney failure, and liver failure.
While other forms of sugar substitutes such as erythritol, stevia, monk fruit, etc are not toxic to pets, some may still cause gastrointestinal upset if consumed in large amounts. Sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose are not toxic to dogs, but foods containing them can still cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other stomach problems.
To make caramel syrup or caramel fudge/ candies using sugar substitutes requires a pretty substantial amount. So if your dog ate a piece of sugar-free gum, caramel waffles, caramel corn, or any sugar-free sweets for that matter, seek veterinary advice right away.
Reasons Not to Feed Your Dog Caramel
Eating human foods with a large amount of sugar such as caramel can upset the balance of a dog’s gut microbiome. This can lead to explosive diarrhea, blood in stools, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
Regularly giving your dog caramel or other sugary treats can lead to cavities in their teeth. According to Dr. Shelby Neely, VMD, “The problem with sugar is that bacteria in the mouth use it which produces acids. Acids increase the loss of minerals in the enamel or the outer coating of the teeth, leading to dental disease,”.
Selecting dog foods that are nutritious and not heavy on empty calories such as sugar is very important in ensuring that our dogs’ dental health is maintained. This, along with regular brushing can help protect a dog’s teeth from cavities and other dental health problems.
Excess Weight/ Obesity
Caramel contains an incredible amount of sugar which equates to a lot of carbs and very low nutritional value. Frequently letting your dog eat caramel and other carb-loaded foods with too much sugar are likely to make him or her gain excess weight, which leads to many other health problems other than obesity.
Excess weight and obesity can not only put more stress on dogs’ joints. They have been linked to heart problems, arthritis, difficulty in breathing, decreased energy levels, and diabetes. Such conditions greatly affect a dog’s quality of life.
Changes in Dogs’ Metabolism
According to Dr. Ari Zabell, DVM DABVP and senior director of client experience and advocacy at Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, Oregon, sugar causes increased secretion of insulin, which the body needs to store and use sugar.
This increase can affect many aspects of a dog’s health, such as its hormones, fat storage, immune system, and energy levels. The effect on the immune system can lead to infections, while hormonal changes can cause obesity and lower energy levels.
Regularly giving them foods that are high in sugar can have long-term effects on the dogs’ bodies and metabolism.
We already know that sugary snacks like caramel apples and caramel rice cakes can cause dogs to gain excess weight. Continuous weight gain can cause dogs to have type II diabetes.
VCA Animal Hospitals states that in type II diabetes, the amount of insulin from insulin-producing cells is not enough as there is a delayed response in secreting it. It could also be that the tissues of the dog's body are relatively insulin resistant.
Type II diabetes may occur in obese older dogs. Unlike humans, dogs do not respond well to oral medications. They are usually given insulin to control the disease.
Because caramel goes so well with so many flavors in the dessert world, it is often mixed or paired with foods that could be dangerous to dogs. The chocolate-caramel combination is just one of many examples.
Chocolate contains both theobromine and caffeine. These chemicals are used in medicine as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and smooth muscle relaxant. Unlike humans, dogs are not able to metabolize these chemicals.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, and racing heart rate. It can also cause seizures, muscle tremors, and heart failure.
It only takes a few ounces of chocolate for a dog to suffer from poisoning. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “clinical signs of poisoning can take hours to develop and last for days.” Theobromine can stay in the bloodstream for an extended period and can be re-absorbed by the bladder.
If you suspect that your dog ate some chocolates or baked goods that contain chocolate, call your vet right away.
Sweet and salty treats like salted caramel popcorn, salted caramel pudding, and others contain more salt than the average dessert. This makes them more dangerous to dogs than other sugary treats.
Too much salt can cause sodium or salt poisoning in dogs. Feeding them salty foods can cause irreversible damage to organs such as their kidneys and liver.
Here are signs to look out for if you suspect that your dog ingested too much sodium/ salt:
- Decreased appetite
- Increased thirst or urination
Caramel syrup, caramel popcorn, caramel ice cream, and peanut butter that are meant to be sugar-free are often made with a lot of artificial sweeteners. One of the most commonly used is xylitol, which is highly toxic to pets. It is also often used in gum and toothpaste for humans. This is another reason why toothpaste made for humans should not be used on dogs.
Xylitol can cause a dog’s blood sugar to drop to very dangerously low levels and cause rapid liver failure. It is also known to cause kidney failure, seizures, gastrointestinal upset, or even death. A vet must be contacted immediately if a dog eats caramel or any food containing artificial sweeteners.
Healthier Dog Treat Alternatives to Caramel
If you find that your begging dog has a sweet tooth, no need to worry. There are sweet treats that you can give to dogs that they can safely enjoy. Like all treats, these dog-friendly snacks should be enjoyed in moderation. They are meant to be treats or snacks and not served in meal-sized portions every day.
However, if your dog is diabetic, under weight management, or has been advised by the vet to be on a low-calorie or low-carb diet, then we recommend getting approval from your vet first before feeding any of these dog treats.
Thinking about giving your pup some caramel apples? There are lots of fruits you can give your dog that are naturally sweet without adding caramel or any type of sweetener. Bananas, apples, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and many more contain natural sugar and are all safe for dogs.
Serve them fresh to your pup for a vitamin-packed sweet treat. In the summer, you can chill or freeze these fruits for an all-natural pupsicle. These hydration-packed fruits will keep them cool and refreshed.
Bananas and apples with some peanut butter are loved by numerous dogs as well. Adding peanut butter to these fruits gives them added protein and fat, as well as more flavor and texture. It is a much better snack compared to caramel apples. Make sure to check peanut butter labels to look for any ingredients that may be dangerous to dogs.
Yogurt/ Yogurt Drops
You can give your dog some yogurt mixed with fruits such as mango, pineapple, bananas, etc. Pupsicles made from plain yogurt and fruits are a great summer snack for dogs.
You can also make plain yogurt pupsicles drizzled with a small amount of honey to sweeten the treat. Honey is safe for adult dogs. Unlike caramel, honey has a small amount of vitamins and minerals and is said to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
However, raw honey should not be given to puppies or dogs with a compromised immune system as it may have botulism spores.
Yogurt drops can be purchased at pet stores. They are like flavored white chocolate buttons for dogs. These sweet treats are perfectly safe for our furry friends. They come in various flavors from plain yogurt to strawberry, apricot, or banana.
While they are treats made for dogs, they are quite sugary compared to other dog-friendly treats and should only be given as an occasional treat. Dogs with obesity/ diabetes should not be given yogurt drops.
Carob treats are like chocolate for dogs. Carob and chocolate look the same and even taste similar. But unlike chocolate, carob is safe for dogs. It is often used by boutique pet bakeries in cakes, cookies, and cupcakes as a dog-friendly chocolate substitute.
You can buy carob treats in various forms and sizes. You can get carob buttons or carob-flavored biscuits and chews at pet supply stores.
Looking for a special treat for your pup who likes sweets? There are lots of local pet bakeries that make custom dog birthday cakes, pupcakes, cookies, muffins, and even ice cream. You can even get caramel-flavored macarons made just for dogs.
These baked goods are made with healthy ingredients that are safe for dogs. They are typically made without added salt or sugar. The flavor possibilities are endless. From liver-flavored cakes iced with cream cheese frosting to blueberry cookies with carob peanut butter glaze, you can find a tasty, freshly baked treat for your dog at these bakeries.
You can also make homemade pastries for your dog. There are tons of recipes available online that use highly nutritious ingredients. This way, you can control what goes into your dog’s treat, which is especially good for sensitive dogs.
Even though we would love to share our caramel ice cream, caramel rice cakes, and caramel cake with our beloved dogs, caramel or any food that has a high sugar content should not be given to dogs. Even just plain rice cakes are too carb heavy and sweet for dogs, and a high sugar diet can lead to multiple health issues.
Caramel made with plain sugar won’t kill a healthy dog. However, regular consumption of sugary foods can have dangerous effects on various aspects of a dog’s health.
It is very important that we keep our stash of snacks secure and out of dogs’ reach to prevent poisoning from toxic ingredients. Not to mention, sweets like caramel candies are a choking hazard to dogs.
While indulging them in a sweet snack may make them happy at the moment, it is just not good for them and there are so many other treats that we can give them that would make them even happier.
A dog that is fed complete and balanced dog foods that are not high on non-nutritious calories from puppyhood up to adulthood is likely to have a more active lifestyle and an overall better quality of life in his or her senior years compared to one that grew up on unhealthy food or less nutritious meals packed with fillers.
Always remember that proper nutrition goes a long way in helping us spend many more years with our dogs while keeping them happy and healthy.