While nuts are a good-for-you snack that's rich in nutrients for humans, these tasty and protein-packed treats aren't the safest goody for your dog. Though it's hard to ignore your four-legged friend's longing eyes while you're munching on nuts like walnuts, it's best to keep this particular snack to yourself—the dangers of consuming walnuts for dogs ranges from intestinal blockages and GI distress to serious conditions like pancreatitis. Walnuts can be particularly hazardous for our pets because consuming too many walnuts can actually be as toxic to your pet as munching on a chocolate bar.
Are Walnuts Safe for Dogs?
If your dog happens to steal a walnut that fell of your kitchen counter, it's probably not going to hurt it. But the reason walnuts shouldn't be offered to your pooch is that these nuts are susceptible to a particular type of black mold that can prove extremely toxic to canines. While it's not likely to occur in high-quality walnuts that you might find at the grocery store, walnuts that have been collected outdoors from trees aren't safe for pets.
However, walnuts have a high moisture content and can thus start growing fungi at any stage (whether they're shelled or not) during their growth process, from harvest to the store shelf. Some fungi that can grow on walnuts produce metabolites called mycotoxins, which are considered to be carcinogenic, while others produce tremorgenic mycotoxins, which can cause tremors and seizures. While it's possible to boil walnuts and thoroughly dry them to remove any potential mold, it might not be worth the effort for dogs, as there are plenty of other treats that are safe to eat as-is.
A specific type of walnut that's particularly toxic to dogs is the black walnut. These nuts are native to Northeastern United States and Canada, and are toxic for both dogs and horses (but, interestingly, not cats). Note, however, that the walnuts sold in stores are typically English walnuts, not black walnuts.
What Happens if Your Dog Eats Walnuts
If your dog does accidentally ingest either a moldy walnut or black walnut, symptoms to watch out for including vomiting, tremors, and seizures, and your veterinarian will need to be contacted immediately because the condition can be fatal if left untreated, especially in a small dog, puppy, or geriatric dog.
Generally speaking, human foods like walnuts that are are high in fats can upset your pooch's stomach and lead to the usual symptoms of tummy troubles, including vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, however, consuming walnuts can lead to the development of more serious conditions like pancreatitis or gastroenteritis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can be either acute or chronic, while gastroenteritis occurs when the gastrointestinal tract (particularly the stomach and intestines) becomes inflamed. Both of these conditions, especially pancreatitis, can be very serious, or even fatal for your dog.
Another reason to keep walnuts away from your dog is that along with their high fat content, prepackaged walnuts can also contain additives like salt or other seasonings that can be harmful to our pets. Large amounts of salt can make a dog very sick.
Assuming they don't contain any black mold, plain, store-bought walnuts themselves aren’t necessarily toxic to your dog in small quantities. However, they are one of the larger varieties of nuts, which means they can not only be difficult for Fido to digest but can potentially causes serious intestinal blockages, particularly in smaller breeds. These blockages require surgery and could be fatal if not addressed right away. Additionally, if your dog happens to eat a shelled walnut there's a higher possibility of the shell causing a blockage.
Choking is another risk, as many dogs swallow food without chewing it, and the round shape of a walnut makes it likelier to become stuck in an overly eager dog's throat.
Are There Health Benefits of Walnuts for Dogs?
Tree nuts like walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts are full of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, which have been proven to do everything from lower cholesterol and blood sugar to reduce blood pressure in humans. Fresh walnuts, in particular, are packed with protein, antioxidants, and omega oils. But can our four-legged friends reap the same benefits? Experts say our canine counterparts unfortunately can't take full advantage of the health benefits of nuts. Their digestive systems don't handle nuts as well as ours do.
The other issue is that even if Rover could take advantage of some of the health benefits of walnuts, the negative impact of their high fat content will override them--to put it into perspective, an ounce of walnuts contains about 18 grams of fat, and an average 30-pound dog should only be consuming about 14 grams of fat total per day. And combined with the possibility of any form of fungi, the risks of walnuts outweighs the potential benefits.
Are Other Nuts Safe for Dogs?
Generally speaking, veterinarians don't recommend any nuts for dogs, but the only ones that are considered to be somewhat less harmful are peanuts, cashews, and almonds. These nuts all contain nutrients like fiber and protein, but still can carry a risk of causing stomach distress or intestinal blockages...and you have to be especially careful with any nuts that contain flavorings like salt. You should never offer your dog macadamia nuts, as they are considered to be particularly toxic for dogs.
If you do choose to offer your dog nuts, be sure these treats only make up a very small percentage of your pet's overall calorie intake. Your dog should obtain almost all of its calories from balanced foods specifically formulated for a dog's dietary needs. Excessive treats and fatty foods can lead to overweight or even obese dogs, which brings along many health risks including hypertension, kidney disease, and arthritis.
Should I make my dog vomit if it eats a walnut?
Should your dog grab a walnut off the table or find one you accidentally dropped on the floor, it most likely will be okay. However, if you know the walnut was moldy or was a black walnut—not an English walnut, which is the type commonly sold in stores for human consumption—or your dog shows symptoms such as shivering or vomiting, call your veterinarian or animal hospital right away. Do not attempt to induce vomiting in your dog unless the veterinarian specifically directs you to do so.
Is it okay for dogs to eat peanut butter?
Unlike walnuts, which are true nuts, peanuts are actually legumes. Like walnuts, peanuts are high in protein and fat, and like walnuts, your dog is very likely to find them absolutely delicious. As a general rule, it's okay for dogs to eat small quantities of peanuts, although they should be unsalted and unshelled. Peanut butter is also a fine treat in small amounts, but try and give your dog natural peanut butter that isn't high in sugar or salt. And as always, these treats should only make up a small fraction of your dog's daily diet.
What are some other good treats to give my dog?
There are seemingly endless brands and varieties of dog treats available on the shelves of any pet store, grocery store, or big-box shop. But if you prefer to hand your pet a treat that you could just as easily enjoy yourself, some good options include small bits of cooked, unsalted meat without sauce, pieces of fruit—dogs generally enjoy bananas, apples, melons, and berries but shun citrus fruits—and occasional treats of raw or cooked vegetables without sauces or salt. Many dogs enjoy carrots, green beans, broccoli, and green beans.