Can Dogs Eat Vanilla?

small bottle of homemade vanilla extract and three vanilla beans isolated with shadows on a white background

 Fermate / Getty Images

Vanilla is an ingredient that is used in a wide variety of foods, but is it safe for your dog to eat? Read on to find out more.

What is Vanilla? 

Vanilla is a spice derived from orchids of the genus of the same name. The vanilla orchid is a vine-like plant that grows up trees. The plant part that is used is the pod, commonly referred to as the bean.

Vanilla is a powerful ingredient, and there are a variety of forms and uses.  There are a couple of main species used to produce the vanilla beans grown around the world for culinary use. They have subtle differences in their flavors and aromas and the Madagascan bean is the most popular variety.

When the beans are harvested they go through a long drying process and, from there, they can be used in a variety of different ways.

  • Vanilla beans: Each long, thin vanilla pod contains thousands of tiny seeds within their shell. These are purchased whole and dried, and the seeds are scraped out of the pod to be added as a natural flavoring.
  • Vanilla powder: Created from ground-up, dried vanilla beans. It is commonly used as a natural sweetener.
  • Vanilla extract: This is a concentrated liquid solution made by soaking vanilla pods in water and alcohol for about two months. It is used more often in baking than the beans themselves as it is less expensive and more convenient.
  • Vanilla bean paste: This a combination of vanilla powder and concentrated vanilla extract.
  • Vanilla flavoring: This is also known as "imitation vanilla," and is made from synthetic vanillin and other ingredients to mimic the taste of real vanilla. 

Is it Safe to Feed Your Dog Vanilla?

So, if your dog was to snaffle a vanilla pod and eat it, it is unlikely to cause any major problems, other than, possibly, a bit of an upset tummy.

However, if they were to counter surf and drink a bottle full of vanilla extract, this could be much more problematic.

Vanilla extract and flavoring are toxic to dogs due to the high alcohol content and drinking even part of a bottle could be a serious health risk, especially for smaller dogs.

While cakes and other foods that use vanilla extract are unlikely to contain enough to cause a problem (usually only a few drops are used in baking), feeding your dog cakes and other sweet deserts isn't something to be encouraged.

The high quantities of sugar could present a problem in terms of obesity, diabetes, and dental health. Baked goods also often contain a lot of rich ingredients including dairy, and this can lead to stomach upsets. Most seriously, artificial sweeteners like xylitol are often added, and this is highly toxic for dogs, even in very small quantities. Plus, chocolate and raisins are not uncommon in cakes, and these too are toxic.

Potential Health Concerns

If your dog ingests a significant amount of baked goods with vanilla extract or drinks it straight from the bottle, this can cause severe symptoms and, in extreme cases, could be fatal for your dog.

The alcohol content in vanilla extract can be harmful to your dog even in small doses. The severity of the toxicity can vary greatly depending on the type and amount ingested and the size of the pet.

Alcohol is absorbed very quickly into a dog's system, and they can to show the effects within 30 to 60 minutes. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.

Vanilla Extract Poisoning Symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Slow heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Seizures
  • Death

If you suspect that your dog has ingested a product like vanilla extract, a visit to the veterinary clinic is needed.

What to Do If Your Dog Eats Vanilla Extract or Flavoring?

If your dog accidentally ingests vanilla extract, you should first remove the toxin out of your dog’s reach and try to identify what they ate, how much, and the time.  With toxicity, the sooner the dogs gets treatment and the more information you can provide your veterinarian the better.

Even if you think your dog only ingested a small amount or no symptoms are noted, speaking to your vet for reassurance or to double-check is always a good idea.

In summary, although not all forms of vanilla are toxic for your dog, its best to avoid feeding it to your dog.