Dogs do not have tastebuds as developed as the ones on a human tongue.
They will not be able to taste the spice in a dish, but this does not mean that they are immune to spicy foods.
They cannot distinguish the flavor, but will feel the heat of a dish in a similar way to humans.
What chemical is responsible for the spicy sensation?
The chemical compound in chilli peppers that causes the burning sensation is known as capsaicin. It triggers the release of signals from the nerves on our tongues which are sent to the brain.
The capsaicin tricks the polymodal nociceptors (pain receptors) on your tongue into thinking they have been subjected to intense heat. This is how we identify the spicy sensation.
In dogs, this reaction will still occur even though they cannot taste the flavor. Many spicy foods have a bitter or sour element to the flavor.
Dogs will be able to detect this, and they are not usually big fans. Generally speaking, dogs will avoid sour or bitter tastes, and opt for fatty, meaty flavors instead.
How do dogs’ tastebuds work?
Dogs have around 1,700 tastebuds on the surface of their tongues, compared to the 9,000 humans have. This means that they can taste fewer flavors than humans and are less sensitive to disgusting tastes.
They can distinguish between salty, bitter, sweet, and sour though.
This explains why dogs will happily eat almost anything, even garbage and feces. This does not mean that they cannot taste anything, rather it means that they find it harder to distinguish between different flavors.
An exception to this is with water. There are specific taste receptors on the tip of a dog’s tongue for this. This is to ascertain whether or not a water source is healthy to drink from.
Where dog’s tastebuds fall short when compared to humans’, their olfactory glands (sense of smell) takes over. Their smell is estimated to be anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human.
They also have an extra section on their palate. This unique area allows them to get an idea of what something will taste like just from the smell.
Many dogs will be able to smell the bitter element of most spicy foods. This means there is little to worry about in terms of your dogs eating spicy foods, as they will not smell appetizing.
What are the possible negative health impacts of spicy food on dogs?
Generally, spicy foods do not tend to be toxic for dogs. What you should really look out for is garlic and onion. When ingested in large amounts, they can cause digestion problems for your dog.
If your dog does eat something spicy, they are likely to immediately spit the food out when the capsaicin begins to hit them. They may react similarly to humans, whining, drooling, and panting. They are likely to react more severely to the ingestion of spicy food than humans do.
If it is something very spicy, your dog may shake its head in an attempt to halt the spicy sensation. They may also begin to pace around the room and drink lots of water to eradicate the spice.
Their eyes may begin to water, and they may begin to sneeze. The dog may even gag or dry-heave. In some cases, the pain could cause your dog to behave strangely.
Your dog may even vomit or have diarrhea. This is because their bodies and digestive systems are not built to handle foods like this and it can irritate their digestive system.
How to help your dog
The only thing you can do to help your dog is to give them milk. Capsaicin is a fat-soluble compound. The fat in the milk will bind to the capsaicin molecules and halt the impact on your dog.
If you do not have milk on hand, anything high in fat will help to alleviate the pain. Peanut butter would work well.
You can also wipe their paws to prevent oils from the chili being transferred to their facial area. You can wipe their face with a cold, damp cloth too, but ensure this is not the one you wiped their paws with.
If you are at all concerned about your dog, we would always suggest contacting your veterinarian for advice.
What other foods are best avoided in your dog’s diet?
Chocolate is the main offender that even dog haters know not to feed to furry friends. This is because of the caffeine and theobromine compounds which can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.
Grapes and raisins when consumed regularly can lead to kidney failure and obstructed urinary function in dogs. It is not common, but some dogs show adverse effects after ingesting just a small amount.
Xylitol and xylitol-containing foods should not be consumed as it causes the release of insulin. This can result in a rapid drop in blood sugar and can lead to liver failure.
Onion, chives, and garlic have a compound called thiosulfate which causes red blood cell damage and gastrointestinal irritation. These consequences can be seen after ingestion of as little as 15 to 30g per kilogram of body weight.
Citrus should be avoided as they contain psoralens and citric acid. This can irritate your dog’s digestive system and even their central nervous system if ingested in significant amounts.
Nuts, particularly nutmeg and macadamia nuts should be avoided. They are very toxic to your dog and you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you believe your dog has ingested these.
Other nuts can also cause gastrointestinal health issues.
Avocado contains pepsin, which can lead to cardiovascular damage. Your dog could also choke on the pit in the center.
Alcohol can cause your dog to exhibit symptoms of drunkenness similar to that in humans. It is irresponsible to give your pet alcohol and is grounds for a claim of animal abuse.