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Each fall, in different parts of the U.S., residents experience an abundance of acorns and other types of tree nuts falling to the ground. Every two to five years, mast years occur, meaning trees produce a larger-than-normal amount of fruit, seeds, or nuts. As a result, along with hickory nuts and walnuts, acorns will suddenly be available in huge amounts to squirrels, chipmunks, deer – and your dog.
My dog especially likes to search for the broken-up pieces of acorns left by hungry squirrels. However, acorns and other tree nuts are better left for the local wildlife to devour. They can be a choking hazard for dogs, cause intestinal blockages and gastrointestinal (GI) distress, and in some cases be very toxic.
Acorn Danger for Dogs
Acorns are nuts from oak trees. They contain compounds called tannins that are harmful to dogs. When dogs eat them, they may suffer severe stomach upset, kidney failure, and sometimes even death. “If you think your dog has eaten acorns, it’s best to call your veterinarian right away because delaying treatment can lead to permanent damage,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC.
A dog may also experience acorn poisoning (also called Quercus poisoning) by eating oak leaves. It’s particularly dangerous for dogs to eat buds or oak leaves in the spring or green acorns in the autumn.
Symptoms can occur within a few hours of ingestion and may include:
Treatment for Acorn Poisoning
If you think your dog ingested acorns, do not try to make them vomit. “Depending on how many acorns your dog ingested, the size of your dog, and the severity of his reaction, he may need IV fluid rehydration, an X-ray to determine if there’s a blockage, or surgery,” says Dr. Klein.
Your vet may prescribe medication to control vomiting, diarrhea, and pain. The veterinarian may also collect blood samples to evaluate the dog’s kidney and liver function.
“Prevention is the best approach,” advises Dr. Klein. He suggests walking your dog on a leash during acorn season, avoiding areas with heavy ground covers of tree nuts, and teaching “leave it” or “drop it” commands to prevent your dog from eating harmful objects.
Other Tree Nuts to Avoid
The nuts that grow on trees offer differing levels of danger for your dog. Most nuts, especially those with a hard shell, are a choking hazard.
Once tree nuts fall to the ground, they may become moist and develop a type of mold that can be toxic to dogs, causing seizures and other neurological symptoms. Nuts also have a high fat content. They can be too rich for a dog’s diet, cause pancreatitis, and contribute to obesity.
Cashews: Cashews are not toxic, but they are high in fat. Eating too many can lead to GI upset, pancreatitis, and obesity. If you give your dog a cashew, make sure the nuts are shelled and unsalted.
Hazelnuts: Although the nuts aren’t toxic, the shells of hazelnuts are extremely hard and can cause choking and blockages.
Pecans: Avoid giving pecans to your dog for many reasons. First, they have extremely hard shells, which can lead to choking and blockages.
These nuts also contain the compound juglone, which can cause severe digestive issues. Pecans may develop also aflatoxin, or toxins produced by particular types of mold. Aflatoxin poisoning can cause illness or even be fatal.
Pine Nuts: In small amounts, pine nuts are safe for your dog to eat. They’re high in fat, so avoid feeding large amounts.
Pistachios: Pistachios may not be toxic, but even when shelled, they can be choking hazards. Also, if your dog eats too many, they may experience stomach issues.
Pistachios can develop dangerous mold. Eating pistachios may even cause an allergy-like reaction in dogs.
Walnuts: Walnuts aren’t naturally toxic to dogs, but it’s best to avoid feeding them to your pet altogether. Consuming too many might cause stomach issues. They present choking hazards and may grow dangerous mold. Black walnuts may also contain juglone.
In a Nutshell
Dr. Klein advises that although some types of nuts aren’t toxic to dogs, many are. All of them contain high levels of fat and calories. Nuts and their hard shells are choking hazards and can cause GI obstructions.
Leaving acorns to the squirrels and other tree nuts to humans is a good idea. There are plenty of other treats that are much better options for your dog.