Can Dogs Eat Blueberries? 10 Things Veterinarians Want You to Know
Berries are synonymous with summer for many people. But are blueberries safe for dogs to eat? Here's what veterinarians say.
A very healthy berry
Most dogs will eat just about anything, including things that can make them sick. That’s why it’s up to you as an owner to make sure your pup isn’t gobbling up the wrong kind of treats. You might be wondering: Can dogs eat blueberries?
Not only are they delicious, but blueberries offer many nutritional benefits too. They are rich in antioxidants and may even provide health benefits, like immune support and, in humans, a boost to brain health.
But foods that are good for humans aren’t necessarily canine-friendly. Here’s what experts want you to know about feeding dogs blueberries, including whether it’s safe and whether there are any good reasons to start feeding this fruit to your furry friend.
Why some foods may be toxic or dangerous for dogs
There are a few ways foods can create trouble for dogs. Some foods contain compounds that are benign for people but can harm or destroy canine cells. Depending on how toxic something is, it may cause symptoms ranging from a mild upset stomach to liver failure, coma, and death.
Other types of food may not be toxic to dogs, but they can pose a choking hazard. This is true with hard or large table scraps, gristle, or bone, for example. Other foods may contain sharp parts (think spikes and stems) that can damage the throat or other parts of the digestive tract.
Can dogs eat blueberries?
Yes, dogs can eat blueberries.
Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club (AKC), says you should feed berries to a dog like you would any other snack, offering them in moderation and keeping portions small.
“[Treats] should make up no more than 10 percent of their total calories for the day,” he adds.
It’s also important to keep in mind that blueberries and other fruits contain varying levels of fructose. Eating too much of this fruit-derived sugar can cause pooches to pack on pounds and may cause health problems.
“The sweeter the berry, the more sugar and calories they contain,” says Dr. Klein.
Do dogs benefit from a varied diet?
“Dog food is balanced and complete nutrition, and a dog can do quite well with that as their primary food,” says Maggie Brown-Bury, DVM, an emergency and critical care veterinarian and the Newfoundland and Labrador representative for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association council.
But while there is no nutritional need to feed dogs blueberries, occasionally switching up a dog’s diet can have other perks, says Barbara Hodges, DVM, the director of advocacy and outreach for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
She says this is one of the biggest points she brings up with clients. “I ask them to imagine if we ate the same thing every day all our lives,” says Dr. Hodges.
Not fun, right? Your four-legged friend might agree.
“Variety really is the spice of life,” she says. “I don’t believe people tend to sit down and calculate the precise nutritional value of each meal. In general, we eat because we like the taste of things. Dogs are not different.”
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Should dogs have blueberries?
So dogs can have blueberries, but another layer to the question is whether or not they should indulge in these tiny berries.
“Berries have some natural characteristics and nutrients that may be of benefit for your dog, such as fiber, vitamins, and natural compounds that can act as antioxidants—especially blueberries,” says Dr. Klein. “Blueberries are sometimes included in commercial dog food.”
Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals, compounds created during regular bodily processes.
Low levels of circulating free radicals are normal, but if levels get too high they can cause serious harm to cells. Damage from free radicals can contribute to the development of several diseases, including cancer.
What research says about the benefits of blueberries for dogs
The health benefits of blueberries may extend to your furry friends.
Blueberries seem to contain especially high levels of antioxidants. Some studies investigating the health benefits of feeding dogs blueberry extracts or powders found encouraging results.
In a small 2017 study in the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, researchers fed 11 therapy dogs a high-quality commercial diet supplemented with antioxidants from several sources, including dried blueberry extract.
They found that doing so helped neutralize excess free radicals and restore healthy cell metabolism rates.
Metabolism is the process of turning foods and drinks into energy. If metabolism is too slow, it can lead to weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes.
There is some research suggesting that antioxidants like those found in blueberries may slow brain aging in dogs, according to the AKC.
Can dogs eat blueberry ice cream?
Most adult dogs have some trouble digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk, per the AKC. And ice creams and heavy creams, in particular, contain a lot of lactose.
Puppies naturally produce more of the enzymes that break down lactose, called lactase, allowing them to drink their mother’s milk. But once they have weaned, or stop drinking their mother’s milk or formula, dogs produce less lactase.
So all adult dogs are lactose intolerant to some extent. Depending on how sensitive a dog is to lactose, and how much they have of it, several mild symptoms can occur, such as:
- loose stools or diarrhea
- stomach cramps or pain
As a rule of thumb, the experts say to avoid giving dogs ice cream of any kind. Aside from lactose, some dogs are allergic to or cannot digest proteins found in milk.
Ice cream is also a good source of things dogs should not overeat, like sugar and fat.
Ice cream alternatives
If you want to give your dog a refreshing treat, experts recommend feeding them frozen blueberries. You can also puree blueberries and freeze them to create a low-calorie, low-sugar sorbet.
Frozen, blended, ripe bananas also make a delicious frozen treat, called nice cream. Some companies, like Ben & Jerry’s, also offer nondairy, dog-friendly ice cream alternatives.
Can dogs eat blueberry yogurt?
Yogurt is much easier on a dog’s stomach than ice cream because it contains much less lactose, thanks to the fermentation process, which results in live bacteria that break down the sugar.
Yogurt is fine for dogs, says Dr. Hodges, and it can be a healthy treat. But she suggests staying away from yogurts with fruit flavors or fruit in them. Those tend to contain lots of sugar.
“If you want to supplement your dog’s diet with yogurt, I recommend plain yogurt with live [bacterial] cultures to make sure your dog gets the digestive benefits from these types of bacteria,” says Dr. Hodges. “You could always throw some blueberries in plain yogurt for some extra flavor and nutrition.”
Can dogs have wild blueberries and blueberry leaves?
Wild blueberries are safe for dogs as long as they haven’t been sprayed with any type of chemical. It is best to carefully wash and rinse wild berries before letting a dog eat them.
Always remove non-berry plant parts from wild or store-bought blueberries before giving them to a dog.
This is another reason not to allow a dog to eat them off a blueberry bush—they can easily eat these plant parts and inadvertently harm themselves.
“Dogs should not eat any plant parts of the berries. Leaves, stems—it is just unnecessary,” says Dr. Hodges.
She says leaves and stems are virtually indigestible, meaning eating them is likely to cause some digestive symptoms. She adds that stems and other hard or sharp plant parts can also damage the gastrointestinal tract.
Can dogs eat dried, processed, or preserved blueberries or blueberry juice?
All the experts agree that when it comes to feeding dogs berries, steer clear of blueberry-containing or flavored products.
Products like blueberry juices or preserves, canned or stewed blueberries, and other processed blueberry products usually contain loads of sugar.
They can also contain chemicals and other additives not listed on the package, including ingredients toxic to dogs, such as types of alcohol.
Blueberry juice is especially bad for dogs because it contains more sugar than fresh blueberries but usually almost none of the nutrition.
“To be frank, I would hope a dog is [only] getting dried, cooked, canned, preserved, or juiced varieties by accident,” says Dr. Brown-Bury.
She says there is simply no need to give dogs these products, especially considering the health risks they may pose.
Aside from excess sugar and other additives, blueberry products may be mixed with or exposed to foods toxic to dogs, particularly grapes and raisins, says Dr. Brown-Bury.
A word about xylitol
Never let dogs eat blueberry-flavored products with low-sugar labels or artificial sweeteners, experts say.
They carry the risk of containing xylitol, a compound toxic to dogs. Xylitol can cause low blood sugar levels and liver failure in dogs.
Other tips for feeding dogs blueberries
The experts say to only feed dogs fresh or frozen blueberries. As with all fruits and vegetables, blueberries should be thoroughly washed to remove pesticides or other chemicals before they are fed to a dog.
Blueberries are usually already a suitable size for a pup to swallow without the risk of any problems. But very small dogs or dogs prone to choking may need their blueberries cut up or mushed before they eat them.
As with any new food, gradually introduce blueberries into a dog’s diet to reduce the risk of any minor or serious side effects.
“Always start any new food item for your dog slowly for a few days to see if your dog has any gastrointestinal issues afterward or allergic reaction such as intense scratching or itching,” says Dr. Klein.
Fruits, nuts, and vegetables dogs should not eat
Many fruits and vegetables are safe for dogs to eat in moderation. But according to the Humane Society of the United States, a number of foods we humans enjoy are toxic or dangerous for dogs.
Avoid feeding your dog these unsafe foods:
- grapes and raisins
- onions, chives, and leeks
- cooking oils or butter
- most seasonings and salt
- macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almonds
- yeast dough
- plant and fruit seeds, pits, cores, skins, leaves, and stems
- citrus fruits
Next, find out if your dog can eat strawberries.
- American Kennel Club: "Can dogs eat blueberries"
- American Kennel Club: "Can dogs eat ice cream?"
- Barbara Hodges, DVM, director of advocacy and outreach for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association
- Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research: "Oxidative Stress and Food Supplementation With Antioxidants in Therapy Dogs"
- Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club
- Maggie Brown-Bury, DVM, the Newfoundland and Labrador Representative on for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association council
- National Cancer Institute: "Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention"
- The Humane Society of the United States: "Foods That Can Be Poisonous to Pets"