Don’t Give Your Dog Any More Peanut Butter Until You Read This Story

updated Sep 30, 2020
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You don’t have to go far on the internet to see the miracle product for dogs that is peanut butter. This sticky stuff is seemingly the answer for everything. Bored dog? Pack a Kong with peanut butter to keep him entertained. Dog miss you when you go to work? Freeze that Kong full of peanut butter for hours of solace. Need to give your unwilling pup a pill? Hide it in peanut butter and they’ll never notice.

Credit: Dana McMahan

And I have to admit, I’m right there in the peanut butter fan camp. I doubt if a day has gone by that my fluffball Truffle has not had a Kong full of peanut butter aka his favorite thing in the world. (Yes, I am quite certain that he prefers peanut butter to me.) I know just how to coat the inside of the Kong for the maximum length of time, and when I come home he is still at it, working to find any possible last little fleck of goodness.

Credit: Dana McMahan

With both a little pup and a big mountain dog at home, peanut butter has long been a staple on our shopping list; we’ve even been known to buy it at Costco because we go through so much of it. (We’re just careful to label the top of the jar “DOG PB” because there is some double dipping of the knife going on and, as much as I love my dogs, I don’t need whatever’s been in their mouth getting into food I eat!)

But here’s the thing. You can’t just willy-nilly grab a jar off the shelf and toss it to your dog. There’s a potential danger in some kinds, so if you’re not careful you could risk harming your pup by giving them their favorite thing!

I talked with Dr. Jerry Klein, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Chicago and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, to get the scoop on peanut butter and dogs. He had one huge warning: Before giving any product to your dog, always read the list of ingredients!

Some brands, he says, contain the substance xylitol. This is a “natural sugar-alcohol normally found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables,” he explains. “Because of its sweet taste and plaque-fighting properties, it is frequently used as a sugar substitute in chewing gum, breath mints, and dental products like human toothpaste and mouthwash. It is also used as a substitute for table sugar, so there have been cases of dogs becoming intoxicated after ingesting certain bread, muffins, and cupcakes made with xylitol.”

What’s worse, he says, “Xylitol, in certain amounts and proportional to weight, has the potential to have toxic effects on dogs and certain other mammals by causing hypoglycemia — a drop in blood sugar —  and then potentially causing severe liver damage or failure.”

Okay, that’s scary.

Now, the most common xylitol cases seen by most emergency room veterinarians are related to the ingestion of sugarless gum by dogs, Dr. Klein says. “However, recent reports have alerted the public of xylitol showing up in some unexpected food products such as peanut butter, protein bars, and other human snacks, jams, certain ice cream products, etc.”

So the only way to be safe is to carefully read the label. If xylitol is listed as one of the first three ingredients, “extreme caution should be taken.” But honestly, if you see it at all, why risk it? Most peanut butter brands do not have xylitol, he said, so if you see it listed on jar, just move on to the next.

Credit: Dana McMahan

If you think your pup got into some peanut butter (or anything!) containing the ingredient, or you’re not sure how much xylitol the product had, don’t wait and see. “Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as quickly as possible for assistance,” Dr. Klein says. It’s available 24/7 at 800-213-6680. (We’ve had to call that number in the past when our dog got into some cold medicine, and they quickly helped!)

Does this mean you can’t let your dog have peanut butter? Definitely not, as long as you’ve read the label. “A small amount of peanut butter that contains no xylitol is not going to cause toxic effects on your dog,” Dr. Klein points out. But (you knew there’d be a but), according to Dr. Klein, “Be aware that too much of even xylitol-free peanut butter is high in fat and calories and could cause other issues such as pancreatitis and lead to obesity.”

So just like with us, too much of a good thing is too much. Maybe practice really spreading out that peanut butter so that less is more.