Updated - Oct 15th, 2022
Summer barbecues and picnics usually mean pickles are around. Since we make pickles from cucumbers – and your dog can eat cucumbers – have you ever wondered if pickles are just as acceptable?
The short answer is: yes, if a pickle falls off your plate at the barbecue and your dog eats it, the pickle won’t have any catastrophic effects on your dog. However, here’s some information you should know about pickles before you offer them.
Meet the pickle
When we think of pickles, we think of cucumbers, the vegetables most often pickled, which are very healthy for your dog. They contain vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C, as well as minerals like magnesium, manganese, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. They also provide a healthy dose of antioxidants that fight free radicals, which cause cell damage from oxidation.
Fresh cucumbers are low-calorie, low-sugar, high-fiber veggies that even overweight and diabetic dogs can enjoy. So it makes sense that a pickle would be as safe as a cucumber, right? It can be – but it depends on the salt content and the ingredients used in the preserving process.
What is pickling?
Pickling is a way of fermenting or preserving a food product using either salt or vinegar. The salty or acidic liquid prevents spoilage of the food by killing bacteria, which is why the pickling and brining process is centuries old. We pickle meats, beets, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers, among other things. In this blog, we’re talking about pickles made from pickled cucumbers.
Apple cider vinegar, which is commonly used to ferment pickles, is raw, unpasteurized vinegar that still contains the “mother culture,” a probiotic or good bacteria. These healthy bacteria break down sugars and create a sour taste. This vinegar is healthier than the distilled white vinegar used for most grocery store pickles.
Distilled white vinegar has no nutritional value for your dog. It can stress their kidneys and cause stomach upset and diarrhea. But if your dog gobbles up a dropped pickle, the chances of that happening are slim.
Salt is also used to pickle cucumbers. Large amounts of sodium are not good for dogs.
And while the pickle itself – plain and fermented or brined – offers a few nutrients for your dog, certain ingredients used in the pickling process can become a problem. Here’s why:
Ingredients included in the pickling process
Dill is very beneficial for your dog. Fresh dill is better, since the pickling process can destroy its nutritional values. Dill can freshen your dog’s bad breath and contains powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation and lessen the cognitive effects of aging. It can also prevent some cancers and help treat gas and digestive discomfort.
Vinegar is not safe for dogs with kidney issues, so pickles for these dogs are a big no.
Many pickling recipes contain salt. A teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium. A medium pickle can contain as much as 700-1,500 milligrams of sodium.
The daily sodium intake recommended for dogs is 100 milligrams per day. For this reason, dogs with heart disease or kidney disease can’t eat pickles. Salt toxicity is a serious condition as well – this can occur if dogs eat too many pickles preserved with salt. Salt can also cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks.
Onions and garlic are also common pickling ingredients. These are from the allium family of root vegetables and include leeks, scallions, and chives. These vegetables contain n-propyl-disulfide, an organic compound that damages your dog’s red blood cells and causes hemolytic anemia in dogs.
The organosulfur compound, found in allium plants, attaches itself to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood, creating Heinz Bodies. These damaged red blood cells (Heinz Bodies) die off more quickly than your dog’s body can replace them, leaving your dog with anemia.
Signs of anemia include extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and kidney damage. It’s a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary care.
Pet Pro Tip: If you have a cat that is prone to ‘snacksidents’ – you should consider getting a cat insurance plan as soon as possible. It can help you afford the best care in the future by covering eligible vet bills for digestive illnesses, toxic ingestion, and more.
What about sweet pickles?
Sweet pickles and bread-and-butter pickles contain a lot of sugar. One pickle can contain 7-30 grams! It depends on the brand, so be sure to check the label if your dog is overweight or has diabetes.
Eating too much sugar can also hurt your dog’s teeth. Large amounts of sugar cause tooth decay, which can lead to periodontal disease and cause all kinds of health problems for dogs.
Cloves and other common pickling spices in sweet pickles are okay for your dog if the sweet pickle is an occasional treat, or if they gobble up a dropped slice. However, some recipes include cinnamon and nutmeg, which contain myristicin. Myristicin is toxic if consumed in large quantities. More often than not, the small amount found in pickle spices will not cause toxicity, but it could cause a stomach upset or worse if your dog reacts to the compound.
Dogs with diabetes, kidney disease, or weight problems shouldn’t eat sweet pickles because of their high sugar content. You can buy sugar-free pickles, but make sure they don’t include Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that’s very toxic to canines.
Can dogs drink pickle juice?
Pickle juice is nothing more than the salt, vinegar, and spices that preserve and season the cucumbers. The high sodium content in pickle juice is dangerous for your dog. Even if you offer it, most dogs won’t drink it because dogs don’t appreciate tangy or briny tastes.
The bottom line on pickles
First, when you offer your dog any treats, remember that nutritionists and veterinarians recommend following the 90/10 rule. 90% of your dog’s daily caloric intake should come from complete, balanced dog food, with treats making up the remaining 10%. Give your dog a higher proportion of treats and they could gain weight or have health issues.
In contrast to pickles, fresh cucumbers offer many health benefits for dogs with no added salts, sugars, or seasonings. As with any fruits or veggies, you should cut them up into bite-size pieces to eliminate the choking hazard. This is especially important for small dogs.
Plain dill pickles have high fiber and water content that aids your dog’s digestion and hydration. Even so, there are better options to include in your dog’s diet. For more dog-approved healthy fruits and vegetables – as well as creative ways to serve them to your beloved canine companion – click here.
Can your dog eat pickles? The bottom line is that our dogs want whatever we’re eating, and plain pickles won’t hurt your dog. A small pickle slice or an occasional pickle won’t cause them any harm.
However, it’s important to read the label on your pickle jar – and pay close attention to what you add to your homemade pickles – to make sure your dog can eat pickles safely. And, whenever you offer a new food to your pooch, consult with your veterinarian first.