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Can Dogs Eat Lemons? Are Lemons Toxic to Dogs or Are They Safe?

Thinking of testing a little lemon in your dog's food, or feeding them to your pup outright? Perhaps Fido grabbed some lemon off your plate when you weren't looking? Veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt looks at if lemons are safe for dogs, and when you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

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Last Updated: June 7, 2021 | 6 min read

Can Dogs Eat Lemons

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not substitute as contact with a trained professional. If your dog ate lemon and is reacting adversely, contact your local veterinarian immediately.

When dreaming of tasty dog treats, lemons aren’t exactly top of your pup’s wish list. Citrus, in general, isn’t on the top of the list for most pups. But our curious companions will often try anything that you offer them, even lemons.

While lemon may interest you due to the reported health benefits for humans, that doesn’t mean it’s something that you should feed your pup. There are several other types of fruit your dog may enjoy, including watermelon, and strawberries.

So what happens if your dog ate lemons while you weren’t looking? Apart from tasting bitter, lemons can harm dogs if eaten. So, it’s our job as pet parents to protect them as best we can. Read on to find out how lemons are harmful to dogs and what to look out for if your pup eats a lemon.

Are Lemons Safe For Dogs?

Sliced Yellow Citrus Fruit
Lemons are not toxic, but they are not good for dogs, either.

The short answer is no, lemons are not safe to give to your dog. They might be a good source of vitamin C and fiber for us, but any part of the lemon can cause a dog health problems. We’re specifically talking about the peel (rind), the pith (white fibrous part of the lemon beneath the peel), the flesh (center of the fruit and the most edible part), and even the plant (leaves or tree bark).

The flesh of a lemon isn’t toxic to your pooch as long as it’s only a small amount that they’ve eaten. But most dogs will find it unpleasant. Even so, lemons aren’t safe if your dog eats lots of them—we’ll find out why next.

Why Are Lemons Bad For Dogs?

Brown Dog Puckering at a Sour Fruit
Dogs do not particularly like the sour taste lemons offer.

The worst thing about lemons from a dog’s perspective is that they taste bad. However, this isn’t the only reason you should avoid giving lemons to your precious pup. Lemons contain citric acid, essential oils (such as limonene), and psoralen, all known to make dogs ill.

It’s worth remembering, too, that other citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are equally dangerous.

What Happens if Dogs Eat Lemons?

Sheltie Dog Laying Down
Tummy upset is the most common side effect of the canine consumption of lemons.

Most dogs that eat a small amount of lemon may not have any symptoms at all. They often become unwell after eating many lemons. Dogs can all react differently, and it’s still possible for your dog to get sick on a small piece of lemon. If you know what to look out for, you can get your pup seen by a veterinarian as soon as they look poorly. So, what do lemons do to dogs? Let’s find out.

Dogs that react badly to eating lemons might have:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gut blockage
  • Choking
  • Lethargy
  • Skin problems

Vomiting or Diarrhea

The citric acid and citrus oils found in lemons can upset your dog’s tummy, You’ll find these in the flesh and peel. Your pup’s symptoms can be mild, but it depends on how much lemon they ate (the more they eat, the sicker they are likely to be). Dogs with sensitive guts can be affected more severely.

Vomiting and diarrhea can get better on their own if not too severe. Feed small bland meals (e.g., scrambled or boiled egg, plain rice, chicken breast) and make sure your pup is drinking water. It’s best not to wait longer than 24 hours before asking your vet for help if an upset stomach is still present.

Without treatment, they can become severely dehydrated and unwell. But if your pooch isn’t eating or drinking from the start, or they’re very quiet, speak to your veterinarian sooner.

Gut Blockage or Choking

Some pet parents might be tempted to give a dog a whole lemon to roll around or play with. Don’t do this! You might think it impossible that a dog can swallow an entire lemon, but you’d be surprised what dogs are capable of swallowing! Also, be extra careful about where you keep your lemons at home, as they will look like great playthings to most dogs.

A whole lemon, or large amounts of lemon rind, is not only a choking hazard, but if your pup swallows it in one piece, it could get stuck in their gut. Dogs who have a gut blockage are often vomiting, lethargic, off their food, not pooping, and have tummy pain. They can die if not dealt with quickly, so call your veterinarian if you think this has happened.

Lethargy

Some of the chemicals in lemons, such as essential oils, can make dogs sleepy if eaten in large amounts, and not in a calm, relaxing way. Oils are found in the lemon peel (or rind) and the leaves in high concentrations.

In the worst case, dogs can tremor, dribble, and have problems walking. A lot of lemons would have to be eaten before you might see symptoms of essential oil toxicity.

Skin Problems

Psoralen can cause skin reactions when your dog eats lemons. When exposed to the sun, their skin can become inflamed and can develop painful spots and scabs. Dogs shouldn’t be left outside in the direct sun for too long anyway, even if they haven’t been eating lemons.

What About Lemon-Flavored Food?

Two Brown Dogs on a Picnic With Sweets
Lemon-flavored drinks, sweets, or other foods should not be fed to your pooch.

No, you shouldn’t feed food or drinks flavored with lemon to your pooch. Although they are irresistible to us and probably our canine companions, we can do more harm than good by sneaking them a morsel or two from the table. Let’s find out how some of our favorite lemon-flavored treats can hurt our pup. We’re talking about things like:

  • Lemon cake
  • Lemon meringue pie
  • Lemonade or lemon juice
  • Jelly, jam, or lemon curd
  • Preserved lemons

Sugar and Fats

Aside from putting our dog at risk of becoming sick from the harmful citric acid, oils, and chemicals, sweet desserts and fruity drinks are full of sugar and/or fats. We know too much sugar and fat aren’t great in any diet! They can make our dogs gain weight, give them diabetes, gingivitis and tooth decay, heart and blood pressure problems, and arthritis. If we want to protect them from getting ill, our dogs need to be fed a healthy diet instead.

Sugar-Free Desserts

Desserts advertised as sugar-free should never be given to dogs. Suger-free desserts could contain xylitol. Xylitol is toxic and very dangerous if dogs eat it (even a tiny amount can be lethal). If eaten, their blood sugar level will drop dangerously low. They can then have seizures, coma, and death (in the worst case). If you don’t know if something you’re eating has xylitol in it, don’t take the risk. Find your dog a yummy canine-friendly treat instead!

Salt

Salt is often added to savory dishes, like preserved lemons. Too much can not only make your pooch hover over the water bowl, but they can get heart disease, high blood pressure, or salt poisoning. Salt poisoning can cause trembling, stomach upsets, and seizures. Always give your dog access to plenty of fresh water, and if you notice they’re drinking more or less than usual, speak to your veterinarian.

Are There Any Other Dangers?

Human Hand Offering Dog Citrus Peel
Some dogs may like the taste of lemon, so be sure to keep lemon-scented or flavored items away from them.

A final word of warning. Some dogs might not be picky when it comes to the taste of lemon and may actually enjoy it. Take care when using household cleaning products around your pooch since many of them are lemon-scented and might be tempting for your dog to try.

Your pup doesn’t always know the difference between what they should and shouldn’t put in their mouth, putting them at risk of harm. They can get very sick from licking cleaning products, so if this happens, call your veterinarian right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do dogs react oddly when given lemon? 

    Lemons are bitter and taste unpleasant to your pup. Their instinct tells them that things that taste bad could harm them, so they react to that threat. It’s not a good idea or kind to give lemon to your dog.

  • How long does it take for dogs to digest lemon rinds? 

    Lemon rinds can sit in your pooch’s gut for some time and may not digest at all. They can not only get stuck in their gut but give them diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and skin problems. Call your veterinarian if your dog is unwell after eating lemon rinds.

  • Can dogs eat lemon cake? 

    Lemon cake won’t necessarily poison your dog, but that doesn’t mean you can give in to those puppy-dog eyes. Cakes are full of sugar and fat and are unhealthy for your pup. They can get stomach upset, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis from eating too much sugar and fat.

Final Thoughts

Don’t give lemons to your dog, as you could make them sick Lemons are not only bitter (tasting bad) but have large amounts of citric acid, essential oils, and chemicals that are not good for your pup’s health.

Dogs that eat lemons might have a bit of vomiting or diarrhea—or they could choke, have a gut blockage, become lethargic, or develop skin sores. It’s our job as responsible pet parents to protect our precious pups from harm, so keep your lemons out of reach!

If you’re worried about your dog—and you think it’s because they have eaten lemon—call your veterinary clinic and tell them what has happened. They can give you the best advice and reassurance.

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