Crispy, crunchy, with a salty-sour taste, pickles make the perfect pairing alongside meals of hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. Low in calories, they contain vitamins and minerals that make them a relatively healthy choice for snacking. But are pickles good or bad for a dog to eat? If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s safe to feed your dog a pickle, the answer isn’t a definitive yes or no. While pickles aren’t necessarily harmful, veterinarians do not recommend them.
In general, pickles are not toxic to dogs. They contain some nutritional health benefits, which in theory would make giving them to your dog perfectly fine. However, they are extremely high in sodium and contain ingredients that could be potentially harmful to a dog.
“Although pickles contain vitamins and minerals beneficial to us, the negative aspects far outweigh the benefits for a dog,” says Dr. Carly Fox, a staff veterinarian at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. “Overall, they aren’t a great choice to feed your dog.”
What are pickles?
Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in a salt-water brine along with vinegar and other spices, which is where the high sodium content comes from.
Pickles come in a variety of flavors, some hotter and zestier than others, and may contain ingredients that are toxic or unhealthy for a dog. Since there isn’t a standard recipe when it comes to the way they’re made, it’s important to know what they contain before you share one with your pup.
The dill pickle, one of the most popular, is a cucumber soaked in brine (usually made from vinegar, water, and salt) and mixed with dill — a fresh herb that contains antioxidants. While it’s safe for a dog to eat dill, that doesn’t mean you should load your pup up on dill pickles. If you want him to reap the benefits that the herb provides, Dr. Fox suggests adding fresh dill to your dog’s food.
Other types of pickles, such as the bread-and-butter type, are sweeter. Made with cucumbers, brine, peppers, onions, garlic, sugar, and spices, they have a distinct taste and contain ingredients that dogs should not ingest. “Garlic and onions are toxic to dogs and cause damage to their red blood cells, which leads to anemia,” says Dr. Lucas White, a veterinarian with Sunset Veterinary Clinic in Edmond, Oklahoma. And while these pickles likely will not have enough garlic or onion in them to cause a problem, Dr. White suggests avoiding them just to be on the safe side.
The hot-and-spicy pickles are another type, typically made with cucumber, brine, chili pepper, and other hot spices, all ingredients that can be harsh on a dog’s stomach. Our pups are not accustomed to eating spicy foods, which can cause GI upset, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Are pickles safe for my dog?
In addition to the spices, the high sodium content can be especially problematic for dogs with an underlying medical condition, possibly leading to bigger problems down the line. Dr. Fox adds that consuming a large amount of sodium in a short amount of time can also cause side effects such as excessive drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia (loss of balance), and seizures.
Surprisingly, despite certain potentially negative impacts of sodium, it is an important nutrient in a dog’s diet. A small amount is necessary for normal body function, and if sodium levels drop too low, it can be dangerous, placing both the body and brain at risk. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that commercial dry dog food contain at least 0.3 percent of sodium, which allows for maintenance, growth, and development in the body.
Since sodium is already a part of your dog’s diet, Dr. Fox advises owners to be careful of the additional foods, like pickles, that will elevate salt levels. “A medium-size dog should consume no more than 100 milligrams of sodium a day,” she says. “Although no one is counting, so it’s hard to know.”
If you’re looking for a healthy snack option to share with your dog, both Dr. Fox and Dr. White suggest plain cucumbers as an alternative. They contain the same vitamins and minerals as pickles, without the negative ingredients. As with any new food you introduce into your dog’s diet, start off slowly and always consult your veterinarian first.