Every pet parent has had a panicked moment when their dog got ahold of human food, and they wondered, “What do I do next?”
After all, dogs are incredibly clever animals who are bound to get ahold of something, no matter how hard we try to keep food locked up and out of reach.
Learning what food and flavors your dog should and shouldn’t eat will help you react to these moments quicker and with less panic if it turns out that the food isn’t dangerous to dogs.
But can dogs taste spicy food? Do they even enjoy spicy flavors?
Keep reading for this deep dive into the science behind what flavors your dog can taste and everything you should know about spicy foods and your pup.
The Palates of Canines – Exploring the World of Spicy Foods
Dogs are amazing animals with a highly advanced sense of smell far greater than ours, so you may be surprised to learn that dogs actually have far fewer taste buds than we do.
According to the American Kennel Club, dogs have around 1,700 taste buds compared to the approximately 9,000 taste receptors humans have, making their taste only 17% as powerful as ours.
Humans have highly developed taste buds, so this doesn’t mean that dogs don’t taste anything. In fact, they can identify the same taste classifications that we do: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. They even have specially developed taste buds for water! But this does mean that dogs aren’t as discerning regarding their food.
Some ways that dogs’ taste varies from ours include:
- A dog’s advanced sense of smell allows them to identify meat-based vs. non-meat-based foods quickly. However, their taste isn’t sophisticated enough to differentiate between the same kinds of food. For example, without their sense of smell, a dog can’t identify the contrasting flavors of chicken, beef, fish, or pork, but they can “taste” the differences using their enhanced sense of smell. A dog’s nose essentially does most of the work when tasting subtle differences between food.
- Dogs can taste spicy foods, but it’s unlikely that they can tell the difference between different types of spices or peppers. Mildly spicy foods may not even taste spicy to your dog but may cause digestive upset, making it best to avoid them altogether.
- Since dogs have unique taste buds for water, it’s believed that water isn’t “tasteless” for them, as it is for many humans.
Why is strong-smelling food crucial for enhancing a dog’s tasting experience?
You’ve probably noticed that your furry friend’s taste is less discerning as they may happily dig through the trash looking for scraps.
Stinky foods enhance the tasting experience for dogs. The more aromatic their food is, the more excited they’ll be to eat it because this allows them to “taste” the food more, which is why food in the garbage or well past its expiration is still appealing.
Remember, dogs rely more on their sense of smell over their taste buds for “tasting.”
While this doesn’t mean you should let your dog dig through the trash and eat garbage, it’s something to consider when picking your dog’s food out, especially if they are a picky eater. They may be far more excited to eat stronger-smelling canned, raw, or freshly made dog food over standard kibble, which isn’t as smelly.
Watch this fantastic video about how your dog experiences the world through their nose.
Do dogs enjoy the taste of spicy food?
In general, no. Dogs don’t typically like the taste of spicy foods, like jalapeño peppers or food seasoned with cayenne pepper. If the food is mildly spicy, your dog may not even notice the difference, and it may just cause an upset stomach, which isn’t fun.
Other spices, like salt, are also less palatable to dogs because they’ve evolved to eat meat, which made up around 80% of their diet in the wild. Since meat is already high in sodium, dogs don’t need to consume extra salt to satisfy their body’s needs.
This dislike of salty foods is nature’s way of preventing dogs from consuming excess salt, so skip the salt if you choose to feed your dog any human foods or home-cooked dog food.
Which animals are fond of spicy food?
Most animals, including dogs, can taste spicy flavors, but few seek out spicy flavors or eat them without side effects.
According to National Geographic, humans and tree shrews are the only mammals that deliberately look for and consume spicy foods. This is likely because tree shrews have a mutation in their ion channel receptor, TRPV1, which affects the pain receptor on the tongues and throats of animals.
Most animals are alerted by this receptor when consuming spicy foods, but tree shrews aren’t warned as much due to their mutation.
In short, most animals can taste spicy flavors. However, these pain receptors immediately alert them of the burning sensation from the capsaicin found in peppers and spicy food, discouraging them from continuing to eat it.
Do dogs risk burning their tongues if they accidentally eat spicy food?
Dogs can “burn” their tongues on spicy food as it can cause uncomfortable burning sensations in the mouth and digestive tract. Most experts recommend skipping feeding your dog anything spicier than a bell pepper. See chart below on pepper spice levels.
Capsaicin, the compound found in all chili peppers, is responsible for the burning and irritating sensation dogs and humans taste when eating something spicy. Depending on your heat tolerance, you may be able to consume greater amounts of capsaicin than others or less if you aren’t accustomed to eating spicy foods.
Capsaicin is so common in human foods that it’s been consumed by humans for over 6,000 years and is the most consumed condiment after salt.
Unfortunately, eating peppers or food seasoned with cayenne or other capsaicin-containing products like hot sauce can be incredibly painful for dogs. Most dogs will experience a painful burning sensation on their tongue and mouth, which can travel through the digestive system.
Depending on your dog’s tolerance, breed, and how much capsaicin they ate, they may experience an upset stomach or more severe issues in the digestive tract. With that said, your dog’s experience will vary, so keep a close eye on your pet if they are showing signs of discomfort, and reach out to your vet with any questions.
Chart Of Peppers With High Amounts Of Capsaicin
The way to measure a food’s spiciness and a chance to burn a tongue is the Scoville scale. It measures the spiciness of hot peppers by evaluating the amount of capsaicin, the compound responsible for heat. The scale assigns a number rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).
|100,000 – 350,000
|50,000 – 100,000
|25,000 – 50,000
|30,000 – 50,000
|10,000 – 25,000
|2,000 – 8,000
|1,000 – 2,000
|500 – 1,000
Health Risks If Your Dog Eats Spicy Foods
All dog breeds can suffer from adverse side effects after eating spicy foods, especially in larger quantities.
Here are some of the most common health risks if your dog eats spicy food and why it’s critical to avoid feeding your dog peppers and other spicy cuisine:
|Health Risks If Your Dog Eats Spicy Foods
|Excessive bloating and thirst
|Like humans, dogs often want to cool the burning sensation triggered by capsaicin by drinking water. If a dog excessively drinks water, they may experience bloating and stomach pain. While unlikely to cause serious harm, this isn’t fun for the affected dog!
|Vomiting and diarrhea
|Some dogs experience intense reactions to capsaicin, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable issues in the digestive system.
|Large amounts of spicy or excessively spicy foods, such as chili peppers, can cause major gastrointestinal upset. For some dogs, eating spicy foods may lead to stomach ulcers or other stomach issues, such as anemia.
|The cause of canine pancreatitis is often unknown, but vets suspect it can be triggered by certain foods, such as fatty meats or heavily spiced dishes. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, and fever. Learn more from The Veterinary Centers of America.
Again, if your dog gets ahold of a small piece of chicken seasoned with a sprinkle of cayenne, it’s not the end of the world in most cases. However, if your dog consumes large amounts of spicy foods or direct sources of capsaicin, such as eating the pepper or hot sauce itself, monitor them and reach out to your veterinarian for personalized advice as you care for your dog.
Can spicy food harm my dog?
Most dogs can eat small amounts of spicy food without long-term consequences, but avoiding feeding your pup spicy foods altogether is advised. Most dogs will react to anything spicy by drooling excessively, sneezing, pawing at the mouth, or experiencing more severe health risks.
The other issue with feeding your dog spicy food is that many spicy foods, such as hot sauces or dishes seasoned with peppers, contain other harmful ingredients.
Many spicy foods and peppers are cooked in oil, which isn’t healthy for dogs. Another example is onions and garlic, which are toxic to dogs, even in small amounts, and can lead to a dangerous condition known as hemolytic anemia.
According to the American Kennel Club, Hemolytic anemia occurs after a dog eats anything containing thiosulfate, found in garlic and onions, because it causes oxidative damage to red blood cells. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include rapid breathing, weakness, pale mucous membranes, and other frightening symptoms.
Since many human foods are seasoned with garlic, onions, and other toxic spices and herbs, it’s best to avoid feeding your dog table scraps unless you have specifically left them untouched for your dog. For example, most dogs can eat plain, cooked chicken in small amounts without adverse effects, but a heavily seasoned piece of chicken may cause discomfort or worse if it contains toxic ingredients like garlic.
While your dog is unlikely to have severe health issues from eating small amounts of something spicy, it’s not worth the risk – most dogs won’t enjoy the taste anyway, so you’re better off feeding them other dog-safe human foods they’ll love!
How can I safely spice up my dog’s food?
If you’re interested in jazzing up your dog’s food, add other dog-safe human foods, treats, or canned food to their diet. We recommend speaking with your veterinarian about the best alternatives for your dog, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Most dogs love the taste of sweet foods, like fruit, because as omnivores in the wild, they consumed the fruits and vegetables available to them. Look into dog-safe fruits and vegetables and offer them as an occasional treat or meal topper.
- As strange as it sounds, I’ve had luck adding a splash of water to my picky pup’s kibble to soften it and add a different texture. She loved it!
- Consider switching up your dog’s kibble every now and then or adding a canned food topper. Anything with a strong smell, like canned dog food, will have a better taste for your pup, which can be hugely appealing.
- Add home-cooked or fresh ingredients to your dog’s food as a fun topper. Some ideas include canned pure pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix), cooked ground beef or chicken, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and canned sardines. Naturally, you’ll want to account for the extra calories from these toppers to keep your pup from packing on the pounds. Consult with your vet if you plan on adding these to your dog’s diet frequently to ensure you’re on track with their calories and nutritional requirements.
Adding novel foods to your dog’s diet is a great way to “spice” up their food without causing stomach upset. Try these out next time you’re tempted to feed them table scraps – you’ll feel better knowing that your dog is eating something safe and healthy!
What To Do If Your Dog Eats Spicy Food
While it’s likely that your dog will be fine after consuming a small amount of spicy food, it’s important to take precautions to ensure their safety. Here are some steps you can follow to minimize any potential risks.
- Remain Calm: The first step to take is to remain calm. Panicking could potentially stress your dog out even more.
- Remove Any Remaining Spicy Food: If you see any remaining spicy food within your dog’s reach, remove it immediately to prevent them from consuming more.
- Monitor Your Dog’s Behavior: Keep a close eye on your dog for any signs of discomfort or illness. These signs may include excessive drooling, sneezing, pawing at the mouth, or more severe symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
- Provide Plenty of Fresh Water: Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water. Spicy food can cause excessive thirst, and drinking water can help soothe any burning sensation in the mouth and throat.
- Avoid Feeding Milk: While it might seem tempting to give your dog milk to counteract the spiciness, it may upset their stomach even further. Stick to cold water.
- Check their Oral Cavity: If your dog allows it, try to look inside their mouth to ensure no remnants of the spicy food are stuck between their teeth or on their gums.
- Contact Your Vet: Contact your vet immediately if your dog shows severe symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. Even if the symptoms are not severe, getting a professional opinion is always a good idea.
- Prevent Future Incidents: To prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, ensure all spicy foods are stored securely out of your dog’s reach. Training your dog to avoid table scraps can also be helpful.
So, can dogs taste spicy food? Yes! However, it is not their flavor of choice and spicy foods should probably be avoided. While not toxic to dogs, like chocolate or garlic, spicy foods can irritate a dog’s digestive system. If your furry friend accidentally gets a hold of spicy food, pay close attention to any signs of digestive upset, loss of appetite, or other worrying symptoms, and always contact or visit your dog’s veterinarian when in doubt.