Can Dogs Eat Hot Dogs?

dog looking at hot dog

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One staple food item at cookouts and tailgates across America are hot dogs. With the various toppings and flavors available these days, it's no wonder why they are so popular. So what to do about that cute little pup under the table begging for your carefully crafted hot dog? Surely just one nibble wouldn't hurt? Don't be so cavalier about sharing your plate, though. Hot dogs are not as safe for your pup as you may initially believe.

Historically, hot dogs have been made by the 'less desirable' cuts of meat being ground up and stuffed into sausage casing. The more inexpensive varieties tend to be more highly processed, with more preservatives, and most hot dogs and sausages, regardless of price point, tend to be higher in fat than other meat proteins. With all the preservatives and fat, it's already starting to sound like a not-so-healthy option at such a party.

The Dangers of Hot Dogs for Your Dog

Fatty human foods can cause acute pancreatitis in dogs, a painful gastrointestinal disease where your dog can have vomiting, a lack of appetite, and lethargy. Some dogs may have a more sensitive gastrointestinal system than others and so may be more sensitive to these high fat concentrations, but even dogs with the strongest of stomachs can get pancreatitis from eating a hot dog.

The preservatives in hot dogs also pose a health concern. In the past, sodium nitrite has been added as a preservative to various meat and fish products. It helps to prevent the growth of botulism as well as giving the food a pink color that can make the food more appetizing to look at. The sodium nitrite in hot dogs aren't just a concern for your own health. They can cause cancer and other medical issues in your pooch as well. Some hot dog manufacturers may have 'nitrite free' hot dogs use celery powder in lieu of sodium nitrite. Unfortunately, the sodium nitrate in the celery powder, which is different than sodium nitrite and the reason for the ingredient substitution, can be easily converted into sodium nitrite in the body. So a company that uses celery powder to make their nitrite free hot dogs 'healthier' aren't all the manufacturer would have you believe.

Are Upscale Hot Dogs Any Better?

So what if you just stick with the hoity toity, artisinal hot dogs? Surely nitrite free, lower fat sausages are okay for your pup? Not so fast. Usually these specialty hot dogs come in various, savory flavors that are delicious for us, but no more safe than a cheaper hot dog. Manufacturers may use various spices in their recipes that, in and of themselves, pose a health risk for your dog. Garlic and onions, something quite common in savory cooking and in hot dogs and sausages, are toxic to dogs. If your pooch were to get his mouth on something cooked with either of these, they can start to show signs of anemia. 

Believe it or not, though, the biggest health hazard hot dogs pose isn't their high fat content or even those toxic spices. It's actually their salt content. Hot dogs are incredibly salty! The average hot dog has 500 mg of sodium alone! According to the National Resource Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, a 33 lb (15 kg) dog only requires 200 mg of sodium a day. So even if that 33 lb dog were to get just half of a hot dog, they've already tapped out on their daily sodium for the day. Keep in mind, dogs get sodium in their dog food already. Just as with people, extended, excessive sodium intake can result in dehydration and high blood pressure in your dog.

Healthier Alternatives

If you really want to treat your pup while at a backyard barbecue or fall tailgate party, steer clear of the hot dogs. Instead, stick with plain, unseasoned beef or chicken. Even though your pup may really want that hot dog, if they knew what you were protecting them from, they would thank you for looking out for them.