Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream?

April Saylor

April Saylor

. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
Published Apr. 4, 2023
woman crouching next to her cocker spaniel while holding an ice cream cone

NOTE: Always check with your veterinarian first before giving your dog any new foods, especially “people foods.” What might be OK for one dog might not be good for your dog, depending on multiple factors, such as their age, health history, health conditions, and diet. Dogs on prescription diets should not be fed any food or treats outside the diet.

Ice cream is one of the tastiest summer treats, so it’s no wonder your pooch gives puppy dog eyes when you’re enjoying this sweet snack. But just because your dog is begging for a spoonful doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to share your banana split with them. 

Typically, it’s fine for dogs to have an occasional lick of plain vanilla or strawberry ice cream in tiny amounts. But it’s not something that should become a regular part of their diet, since too much dairy, sugar, or high-fat foods can make your dog sick.

But if you do decide to give your dog a bite, make sure the ice cream does not contain any chocolate, caffeine, or xylitol, because all three ingredients are toxic for dogs.

Is Ice Cream Bad for Dogs?

As much as your dog may beg for a taste of your ice cream, it’s really not a great treat to share with them. Even though some flavors—like plain vanilla or strawberry—aren’t necessarily toxic, there are a few reasons ice cream can be bad for dogs to eat.

  1. Lactose intolerance: Like many humans and other mammals, some dogs can become lactose intolerant as they grow out of puppyhood. Though dogs are born with the ability to digest lactose (the sugar found in milk), it’s possible for them to lose this ability and become intolerant. If a dog that is lactose intolerant consumes dairy such as ice cream, they can experience digestive problems like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

  2. Sugar: In addition to lactose intolerance, ice cream is loaded with sugar, which is harmful to dogs in large quantities. Consuming too much sugar can lead to obesity, dental problems, and even diabetes in dogs. These health issues can significantly impact a dog's quality of life and even shorten their lifespan.

  3. Toxic ingredients: Some ice cream flavors contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs, such as xylitol, chocolate, and caffeine. Any ice cream that includes a sweetener called xylitol is considered very dangerous. This sugar substitute is commonly found in sugar-free snacks that are fine for us humans, but it can cause severe health issues for our four-legged friends. Xylitol poisoning in dogs can cause vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and even liver failure and death.

  4. Fat: The high levels of fat found in ice cream can trigger pancreatitis in some dogs.

Simply put, dogs’ digestive systems are not equipped to handle the same foods we eat. A small lick of vanilla or strawberry ice cream likely won’t cause your dog harm. But even a pup cup or doggy cone of a nontoxic flavor like vanilla or strawberry has enough sugar, fat, and dairy to cause digestive upset (or worse).

Instead of giving your dog their own scoop or ice cream cone, consider offering your pooch another dog-friendly treat that’s better for them. Carrots, blueberries, or frozen watermelon cubes are a great snack choice, since they’re low in sugar and safe for dogs to consume. You can also give your pup some plain yogurt for an ice cream substitute.

My Dog Ate Ice Cream. Now What?

If your dog manages to sneak a lick or two of ice cream off the floor, don't panic. The first thing to consider is the type of ice cream they ate; if it was plain vanilla, your dog will likely be just fine. However, if the ice cream contained xylitol or other harmful ingredients, monitor your dog closely for any signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, and call your vet if you notice any concerning symptoms.

Generally speaking, if your dog only ate a small amount of ice cream, they should be OK. But if you have any concerns, it's always best to err on the side of caution and check in with your vet just to be safe.

What To Feed Your Dog Instead of Ice Cream

Dog ice cream can be a great alternative to human ice cream if you want to treat your pup to a cold summer snack. It’s a specially formulated treat made for dogs that mimics the taste and texture of human ice cream. But unlike the ingredients in human ice cream that can make your dog sick, doggy ice cream is specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of canines and contains ingredients that are easily digestible and low in sugar, such as peanut butter, banana, and pumpkin. Some brands of dog ice cream even contain added vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for your dog's health!

There are also plenty of naturally sweet human foods dogs can eat safely instead. These are usually fine for dogs—as long as they’re consumed in moderation. Just keep in mind that any treats should only make up 10% of your dog’s overall diet. The other 90% should come from a diet of well-balanced dog food.

Here are a few sweet summer favorites that make a great alternative to ice cream for dogs:

You can even puree a few of these ingredients, add them to their favorite KONG toy, and pop it into the freezer for a DIY frozen treat for your dog to enjoy. 

Featured Image: iStock/bojanstory

April Saylor


April Saylor

Freelance Writer

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