If you’re a spicy food lover, you may be wondering if your pup would enjoy a bite of your favorite hot dish. When it comes to spicy food, dogs may experience a more limited taste and sensation of spicy ingredients, however, it is not a good idea to share many of these foods with them.
Can Dogs Taste Spicy Food and Flavors?
The short answer is yes, but they may not be as sensitive to or appreciate spice and flavors as much as people would. Dogs may experience the sensation of heat and burning after eating something spicy like we—or at least some of us—do. In particular, these sensations are the response to a compound called capsaicin found in chili peppers, the active ingredient in most spicy foods.
The taste buds detect 5 basic flavors; salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Different animals and humans have varying compositions of these taste bud receptors, which explains why some animals are more or less sensitive to flavors like sweet or bitter. Dogs in particular have many fewer taste buds than humans, about 1,700 for dogs compared to 9,000 for humans. As a result, dogs are less sensitive to certain flavors in their foods. However, since spice is processed differently, they can be highly sensitive to the sensations of heat and burning created by spicy foods.
Can Dogs Eat Spicy Foods?
Although we know that dogs can experience spicy flavors, whether or not they should indulge is a different question. In most cases, the answer is no. For starters, most dogs will not enjoy this feeling.
Even though some people love that tongue-burning, eye-tearing, mouth-watering experience that comes with biting into a ghost pepper, it would likely be distressing to a dog to feel that kind of burning and heat. In some cases, there could also be additional health problems that follow from eating spicy foods. Additionally, many dogs are smaller than their human counterparts and have a different metabolism, so keep in mind that what might look like a small amount to you may be quite sizable to them, especially for toy and small breed dogs. Avoiding spicy foods to your dog is the safest plan.
Why Is Spicy Food Bad for Dogs?
Spicy foods should be avoided for a number of reasons.
- It's painful: For most dogs this is an unpleasant sensation, and it can be painful to them to feel that kind of heat and burning after eating. This can lead to food aversions where a dog will not want to eat if they associate that painful sensation with certain foods or certain feeding situations, even if the food is not spicy the next time. This may cause a reluctance to eat and, in extreme cases, can result in a poor appetite and weight loss.
- It can cause GI upset: While small amounts of capsaicin are considered non-toxic to dogs, ingesting enough of it can cause belly pain, vomiting, and/or painful diarrhea.
- Exposure to potentially harmful ingredients: Keep in mind that there are many other human foods that are harmful to dogs, so feeding spicy dishes with many ingredients may put your dog at risk for other toxin exposures.
What Should You Do If Your Dog Eats Something Spicy?
If your dog took a small bite or lick of a spicy pepper, it may be uncomfortable but is unlikely to cause serious harm. While many human remedies for spicy food call for dairy products like milk to cool the burn, dogs should not eat large amounts of dairy as this can cause tummy troubles like diarrhea. A small spoonful of low-fat yogurt may do the trick if you have some on hand but in most cases, the burning sensation will subside within a few minutes and your dog will be just fine.
If your pup ingested a very large quantity of spicy food, or ate something that you think may contain other toxic ingredients, contact your veterinarian right away.
If you think your dog ate something toxic, it may also be helpful to call one of the animal poison control hotlines, such as the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline, to find out what signs to expect given the type and quantity of toxins your dog ate. The more information you can provide, the better they can guide you as to what to expect and the best course of treatment. There are some medications that may help with the discomfort of eating a lot of spicy food and some dogs might also need supportive treatment for vomiting, diarrhea, or other side effects they are experiencing.
Spence, C. Gastrophysics for pets: Tackling the growing problem of overweight/obese dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science, vol. 256, November 2022., doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2022.105765