Do you have that one friend who swears that their dog loves spicy foods? Does that mean that your dog would too?
There is no biological or evolutionary reason why dogs would seek out or enjoy the heat of spicy foods.
The compound that gives spicy foods their heat is capsaicin. Capsaicin is a chemical certain plants produce to discourage animals from eating their fruit. While birds don’t feel the burning sensation and most humans learned to enjoy it, the same is not true for other animals, including dogs.
Capsaicin is an irritant to mammals. When it comes into contact with your dog’s mouth or other tissues, it stimulates pain receptors that normally respond to heat. While the burning sensation is nothing but a trick these plants play on the nervous system, it hurts nonetheless. Moreover, it is believed that your dog’s reaction will be more intense than yours, causing severe pain even when you consider the food only mildly spicy.
If your friend’s dog does seem to enjoy a bowl of chili, its spiciness is the least likely reason.
Which ingredients give food its heat?
Hot peppers, which are the source of capsaicin and the resulting heat, come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and strength. They belong to a capsicum family that falls under nightshade plants.
Along with the familiar cayenne or chili, the family includes some peppers with interesting and telling names such as:
- Dragon’s Breath
- Carolina Reaper
- Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
- Komodo Dragon
- Naga Viper
- Devil’s Tongue Red
- Thai Volcano Pepper
- Diablo Grande Pepper
- and many more
Source: The Big List of Hot Peppers
Do these sound like something that would make your dog’s mouth water in anticipation of a pleasant treat?
What is your dog’s likely reaction to spicy food?
Your dog is likely to shy away from spicy food as soon as they smell it. To figure out what is good to eat and what is not, dogs primarily use their sense of smell. Harsh aromas are a warning that the food is potentially harmful.
If your dog does decide to give it a try or eats something spicy by accident, they will quickly realize their mistake. Your dog’s reaction to exposure to spicy food might include:
- shaking their head
- pawing at the mouth
- excessive thirst
As the food makes its way through your dog digestive tract, GI upset might follow in the form of vomiting and diarrhea.
Why would a dog eat spicy food?
The exceptions to the rule might have various reasons. A dog might develop tolerance to hot spices just like a human. However, it is more likely that they’d eat it because it comes from the human plate or because it has meat in it. More often than not, your dog’s reaction is likely to be severe and might even harm their trust.
If your dog does have a severe reaction to spicy food, make sure they have access to as much water as they want. In some cases, you might need to contact your veterinarian.
Do dogs care about how things taste?
Dogs can distinguish the four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. However, dogs possess about one-sixth of the number of taste buds humans do. Fewer taste buds mean lower sensitivity to taste.
Along with fewer taste buds, their distribution also contributes to how dogs perceive flavors. For example, bitter taste receptors are in the back of the tongue, and it takes a while for the bitter taste to register. Receptors for salty and sour taste are on the sides of the tongue.
However, special taste receptors tuned to detect meats and fats all over the dog’s tongue.
Dogs detest bitter and sour, don’t care much about salty, and tend to enjoy the sweet taste. Overall, taste doesn’t matter to dogs nearly as much as to us.
Spiciness of hot peppers has nothing to do with taste; it is an unrelated sensation.
Further reading: How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?
What do dogs like to eat?
In the wild, over 80 percent of a dog’s diet is meat. Dogs’ taste buds are specifically tuned to meats, fats, and meat flavors. If you want to treat your dog to something special, a piece of lean meat is best.
Dogs do love fat too. However, a lot of fat, especially rendered fats such as pan drippings, can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which is extremely painful and potentially life-threatening. As well as when enough of the organ is damaged, it can lead to diabetes.
Other foods you can share with your dog include most veggies and fruits.
Other dangers of feeding spicy foods
The heat of spicy foods isn’t the only potential danger to your dog. Your spicy meal is likely to contain other harmful ingredients, some of which are toxic to dogs.
Unsafe spices that can likely be found in spicy foods include:
- onions or onion powder
- garlic powder
- black pepper
Onions or onion powder
Onions, chives, shallots, scallions, and leeks are poisonous to dogs. Eating onions can cause GI trouble for your dog, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. However, the lethal part of onion toxicity is the destruction of red blood cells, which can cause life-threatening anemia. Certain dog breeds are especially vulnerable to onion poisoning.
Garlic toxicity in dogs is a confusing issue. Some holistic veterinarians maintain that in small amounts, garlic is beneficial for dogs. Other veterinarians warn that any amount can be as deadly as onions or deadlier.
With the lack of consensus, it is best to refrain from giving your dog either onions or garlic.
While black pepper isn’t toxic, it can lead to stomach upset in dogs. A tiny amount won’t hurt your dog, but how much black pepper is in your chili?
In minute amounts, black pepper has some beneficial properties and increases the absorption of supplements such as curcumin. However, that is also what can make it dangerous if your dog is on prescription medications—the enhanced absorption can lead to an accidental overdose.
Because of their evolutionary diet, dogs do not crave or care for salt. Their mostly meat diet contained enough sodium for them to worry about salty flavor.
Salt in high amounts is harmful to dogs.
It is natural for you to like sharing goodies with your dog. However, do make sure that you don’t harm your dog or their trust in the process. There are many healthy treats you can give your dog, which they will enjoy. Spicy foods are not one of them.
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