Vet Reviewed

By Carmela Ciuraru | August 29, 2023

It’s a hot day, and you’re enjoying a scoop of ice cream. Can your dog partake of this summertime staple? No matter how cute it is, it’s best not to share this treat with your dog. 

Key info about ice cream

A dairy-based frozen treat, ice cream is undoubtedly delicious to humans and dogs. But it comes with too many potential downsides for dogs to be considered a regular, or even occasional, treat. While plain vanilla ice cream made with cream, sugar, and vanilla may not be toxic per se, and a few licks shouldn’t be harmful, ice cream in general is typically too full of fat and sugar to be a healthy treat for dogs. And when you factor in all the different flavors and toppings, and some of the potential hidden ingredients, ice cream becomes strictly off limits. Certain flavors or toppings (such as chocolate or raisins) are highly toxic to dogs. Plus, ingredients are sometimes added to ice cream that are harmful to dogs, yet they’re not obvious or visible: xylitol, for instance, is a sugar substitute that can be found in ice cream, and it’s extremely hazardous to dogs. It’s absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly and can lead to hypoglycemia and even death.

Benefits/risks of ice cream

Ice cream may have the benefit of containing calcium and a range of vitamins, but that benefit doesn’t outweigh the downsides it has for dogs. As noted, it’s full of saturated fat and sugar. And some dogs don’t tolerate dairy. After they’re weaned as puppies, many dogs lose the enzyme needed for digesting the lactose in milk. As a result, for those dogs, even a small amount of ice cream may cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and vomiting. And frozen yogurt may not be the answer, either: there’s less lactose, but it can still trigger a stomach upset.

Just to be safe, even a plain ice cream flavor should be avoided. Apart from the issue of lactose intolerance, which affects some dogs more than others, too much ice cream can lead to weight gain. And it typically comes with other additives that could be harmful. 

If you’re still determined to give your dog a lick of ice cream, and find that there are no adverse effects, you might decide that this is a once-a-year birthday treat, or some other kind of occasional treat—but be sure it’s a small amount, just to be safe. 

Vegan ice cream is dairy-free and plant-based, which might seem like an ideal frozen treat for your dog, but be careful: vegan flavors are sometimes made with nut-based milks (almond, cashew, and so on) that your dog might be sensitive or allergic to—or with soy or coconut milk, which may not be suitable for all dogs. 

Vegan ice cream may contain nutrients such as vitamin D and potassium, and generally, in the absence of dairy, it may be less potentially harmful to your dog. But “vegan” doesn’t always mean “healthy”: it usually still contains lots of sugar, which can lead to weight gain or diabetes, or other ingredients your dog shouldn’t have, such as chocolate, xylitol, or macadamia nuts, which are toxic to dogs. Something like an added swirl of coffee in vegan ice cream could prove dangerous too—ingesting caffeine is strictly off limits for dogs.

Your best bet is to avoid ice cream (of any kind) that’s intended for humans.

Are there any dog-friendly ice-cream alternatives?

To give your dog a refreshing frosty treat, you can buy an “ice cream” made specifically for dogs. (Note that store-bought dog-friendly ice creams may contain wheat, milk, soy, and peanuts, so make sure none of the ingredients contain allergens for your particular dog.) 

Even better, you might also consider making a homemade version of frozen treats. That way, you’ll know exactly what goes into it and control the ingredients. You can find simple recipes online, such as those made with bananas and peanut butter, using a food processor or blender before freezing. If your dog tolerates yogurt with no issues, blend a bit of plain, unsweetened yogurt with some frozen fruit, such as blueberries. Or, you can simply freeze some bone broth into cubes. Your dog will likely enjoy it as much as a sweet treat!