It’s a bright, summer’s day and you’re finishing up a family picnic in the park.
You’ve eaten far too much and just cannot finish that last peanut butter sandwich, no matter how much you try.
You look around for a bin but there isn’t one nearby.
You certainly can’t drop it on the ground and you can’t take it home with you as you’ve disposed of the container.
So, what do you do?
Right on cue, your dog comes running over, her wet tongue hanging out of her salivating mouth, eyes fixated on your right hand. And then you remember. You’ve forgotten to pack her treats!
You take another look at the sandwich, which your dog is already trying to snatch at. You couldn’t, could you? Or could you?
As we’re about to find out, the decision starts and ends with the ingredients list. Making the wrong judgement can be fatal for dogs, so it’s best to be super careful.
Let’s delve into the world of dog diets and America’s favourite spread.
What is crunchy peanut butter?
Crunchy peanut butter is a spread made from ground, dry-roasted peanuts, with crushed peanuts added for extra ‘crunch’.
Typically, salt, sugar or palm oil is added to enhance flavour and sweetness.
Peanut butter became popular across the United States of America a century ago, when a meat shortage forced people to look elsewhere for satisfying, nutritious food.
Chances are you’ll have seen it used in so many different ways.
Some favourites are adding it to breakfast cereal, baking it into brownies, enjoying a PB ‘n’ J sandwich – or simply eating out of the jar with a spoon!
What are the ingredients in chunky peanut butter?
The leading products of crunchy peanut butter generally contain at least 90% of peanuts, with the remaining percentage a mix of sugar, salt, vegetable oils and molasses.
Peanut butter is packed with protein, which makes it a great dietary choice. It’s generally at least 7% per serving.
This is the main reason peanut butter is a good supplement to a diet.
It’s a generally well-rounded nutritional treat for your pooch, as well as its owner! It contains important nutrients and fibre, as well as healthy fats.
Folic acid can also aid healthy cell growth in your pup. However, just be mindful of those pesky additional ingredients.
Increasingly nowadays, more peanut butters are available as GMO-free, with no salt, sugar or hydrogenated oils. Typically, some types of peanut butter contain xylitol as a substitute.
A good indicator that crunchy peanut butter contains xylitol is a ‘low carb’, ‘low-sugar’ or ‘sugar-free’ advertisement. This artificial sweetener can also appear on the ingredients list under many chemical names containing the word ‘xylitol’ or ‘zylatol’. Watch out also for ‘birch bark extract’ or ‘birch sugar’.
If your dog has suffered a reaction to eating crunchy peanut butter, it’s important you have the ingredients to hand to share with your veterinarian.
If you don’t know which brand the peanut butter is, or which ingredients it contains, it’s best to avoid feeding it to your furry friend.
Let’s have a closer look at the ingredients and their potential effect on your dog.
Peanuts are generally fine – but be careful
Peanuts are not considered toxic to dogs. However, the chopped peanuts which give the butter its distinctive ‘crunch’ sound can pose a choking hazard, so never leave your dog alone when eating them.
Salted peanuts and peanut shells can be dangerous for dogs. However, it’s very rare for these to turn up in peanut butter.
Unsalted peanuts give the spread its unique taste, whilst factory production procedures are so thorough, it is very unlikely for peanut shells to slip through the net.
Peanuts are best for their high protein content, which can have a multitude of benefits for your dog. With the right intake, they can see a shinier coat, healthier skin, greater bone and body mass, as well as crucial muscle development and tissue repair.
Whilst dogs can eat peanuts, please do feed only in small doses as they do have a large fat content. Fat can be tricky to digest and can cause your dog to have an upset stomach.
Generally, if you follow the guidance, peanuts are safe. However, if you plan to introduce them to their diet, they’ll definitely need more walks!
Sugar – the same risks as us humans
Sugar in the form of peanut butter, as opposed to pure granulated sugar, is fine in a controlled dose. However, it poses the same risks to dogs as it does to humans.
If feeding your dog any food product containing sugar, just be aware you’re introducing sugar into your dog’s diet. Long term or excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity and dental problems, or even sugar addiction. Just like with the rest of us. It’s careful to balance out your dog’s diet as long-term bad habits can lead to diabetes.
Yes, dogs can develop diabetes.
Palm oil – avoid
Palm oil is not toxic to dogs, however, it is a laxative. Consumption can cause excessive diarrhoea or in extreme cases, blockages in the gut.
It’s best to take no risks here and look for a product completely palm oil-free.
Xylitol – under no circumstances
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol derived from plants. The consumption of crunchy peanut butter containing xylitol can be fatal for a dog. In fact, it’s 100 times more toxic than chocolate.
Why must a dog not eat crunchy peanut butter that contains xylitol?
Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs and must be avoided, no matter how small the dose. A tiny >0.1 g/kg amount can cause hypoglycemia, while >0.5 g/kg can lead to acute liver failure and ultimately, death.
When dogs consume xylitol, their bodies release insulin which causes their blood sugar to drop dramatically.
Signs that your dog has consumed xylitol are vomiting, staggering, incoordination and seizures.
It goes without saying if you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, or they are experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
What brands of crunchy peanut butter contain xylitol?
Some of the most popular peanut butter brands containing xylitol are Go Nuts Co., Krush Nutrition, Nuts ‘N More, P28 Foods and Protein Plus PB.
The household name brands Skippy, Jif, Smuckers and Peter Pan are all xylitol-free. Generally, it’s the super healthy peanut butters aimed at the health and fitness audience which do.
However, as we are not taking the risk for ourselves, it’s always best to refer to the ingredients to double-check.
What are the main ways that peanut butter is used with dogs?
Peanut butter is not just a tasty treat. Surprisingly, it can actually be used in training. It can play the role of a ‘high-value reward’, motivating your pup to take that extra step or repeat a certain behaviour.
Peanut butter can also be a very handy distraction! Some dog owners use the spread to help their dog feel more relaxed in a stressful situation, such as having an injection or getting them bathed. Try it next time and you’ll see why.
It can also be a very fun tool during playtime. Think that’s the fastest your dog can run chasing after a beloved toy? Try smearing peanut butter on it and watch them beat their own personal best!
What are the best alternatives to peanut butter?
Some other nut butters are equally as safe for dogs, under the same limitations. Cashew butter, chestnut butter and sunflower seed butter are all fine. However, do not feed your dog macadamias, walnuts, pecans, pistachios or several other tree nuts. These can all be poisonous to dogs.
If you’re the sort of dog owner who likes to stay on the safe side, you can now purchase dog-friendly peanut butter in stores.
Can some dogs be allergic to nuts?
Peanut allergies are thankfully not very common in dogs. However, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the symptoms and medical procedures for canine anaphylactic shock.
Dogs can experience cold limbs, elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing or drooling. Sudden vomiting or diarrhoea is also a sign. Any of these can lead to seizures or comas if not identified quickly and a veterinarian called.
Can dogs eat crunchy peanut butter?
Absolutely. However, be 100% sure the peanut butter does not contain xylitol. Avoiding palm oil is also recommended. Whilst not toxic, it can cause upset in dogs. If you stick to the regular household brands and be sure to read the ingredients list, your pet pooch should be safe.
Crunchy peanut butter contains nibbed peanuts, which are generally fine for your dog to swallow. However, just make sure to supervise them when eating as these can occasionally cause choking.
As always, just be aware that peanut butter contains a lot of fats and any level of consumption should be matched with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Crunchy peanut butter by Willis Lan on Flickr
“Paws Off Xylitol; It’s Dangerous for Dogs.” US Food and Drug Administration, 7 July 2021, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/paws-xylitol-its-dangerous-dogs. Accessed 5 May 2022.