Not only is fruit cake one of my favourite cakes, I think that it is one of my favourite foods.
And sharing a piece with anyone or even my dogs would be a bit of a struggle.
And for an almost vegetarian who enjoys the variety of veg on offer far more than the meat on offer during a Christmas dinner…
The time when the Christmas cake is finally brought to the table is one of my favourite times of the day.
But joking aside, is fruit cake something that we should be sharing with our dogs?
To start, I want to dig a little into the history of this amazing cake.
What is fruitcake?
Fruit cakes have a long and varied history which dates back to at least ancient Rome where seeds, nuts and raisins were mixed with a barley mash.
The fruit cake is popular in many countries across the world, particularly in Europe.
And each country has its own spin on the same basic recipe.
Interestingly, it is perhaps less popular in the US after the TV host Johny Carson questioned how old some of these cakes are and that there was actually only one never ending fruit cake in the world!
A basic fruit cake contains lots of ingredients making it incredibly rich with lots of calories.
These were some of the reasons that fruit cakes are also known as Christmas cakes because they would only be served on special occasions, such as Christmas.
But what are the ingredients in a Christmas cake and how friendly are they for your dog?
What are the ingredients in fruit cake?
In order to make this as simple as possible, I’m using the ingredient list from the wrapping from one of America’s most popular fruit cake manufacturers- Claxton.
And there are sixteen main ingredients in this famous fruit cake.
And they are: raisins, orange peel, flour, pineapple, cherries, almonds, pecan, walnuts, sugar, corn syrup, water, high fructose corn syrup, margarine, lemon peel and dried eggs.
In the next section I will begin to look at each of these ingredients in turn.
Ingredients on food labels are listed in order of weight.
And so the heaviest ingredient, the ingredient of which there is most of in a Christmas cake are raisins.
As anyone who has taken a bite from one will tell you.
The trouble is that raisins are highly toxic for some dogs and could easily kill them depending on how many they eat.
It isn’t only raisins that could poison your dog-grapes and sultanas are on the danger list as well.
Now the strange thing is that eating a raisin or a grape won’t kill all dogs-some dogs will feast on a fruit cake and the only consequence will be a very bad dose of diarrhea.
And vets don’t know why occasionally dogs are poisoned by grapes or raisins.
They know that the poison attacks a dog’s kidneys and could cause them to fail.
Because so much is unknown, vets aren’t even certain how many grapes a dog will need to eat in order to be poisoned.
But there is a case of an 18 lb dog who ate 4 or 5 grapes and then died.
Giving your dog a grape or raisin is a bit like playing Russian roulette.
Knowing how toxic raisins are to dogs might make you stop reading here.
But if you want to find out how other ingredients in a fruit cake might affect your dog, please read on.
Orange peel is not toxic for your dog which after the last ingredient will be a bit of a relief.
What orange peel will provide for your dog in terms of nutrition is lots of fibre which will help their digestive system and also it is packed with vitamin C (which won’t come as a surprise).
What is interesting is that dogs don’t need vitamin C because it is a vitamin that they make in their own bodies.
However an extra boost of vitamin C every now and again won’t harm them.
The type of flour used in these cakes isn’t specified.
Not that it matters particularly as flour isn’t toxic to dogs.
But because it contains 70% carbohydrates neither is it healthy either.
However, the flour in this cake is enriched.
This means that various minerals and vitamins including iron and some B vitamins have been added to the flour.
None of these will do your dog any harm.
Pineapples aren’t toxic to dogs.
In fact some people believe that pineapple is a secret cure to stop dogs eating their own poop!
Pineapple is about 10% sugar and it is 1.5% fibre.
Many people think that pineapple is very high in fibre but there are lots of foods out there that have more fibre in them- such as sweet potato.
What is quite interesting to me is that pineapple only contains lots of one vitamin- vitamin C. I would have expected it to have been higher in a few more vitamins.
Some people believe that cherries are toxic to dogs, but they aren’t.
It’s the cherry pits (seeds) that contain a substance similar to cyanide that get the bad press.
The truth is that whilst cherry pits do contain cyanide your dog would have to eat a vast amount of pits to come anywhere close to poisoning them.
Cherries are 13% sugar and 2% fibre- see I told you that pineapple wasn’t that high in fibre!
And in terms of minerals and vitamins, cherries don’t offer that much of either.
The vitamins that cherries contain most of are vitamin C but it doesn’t contain that much.
In terms of minerals, cherries are rich in copper and potassium.
Copper will help your dog’s metabolism as well as helping to support their bone health.
One of the key roles for potassium is to help your dog’s heart maintain a steady beat.
From fruit we move onto nuts.
And boy oh boy, this is a controversial issue within the dog world.
Almonds aren’t toxic to dogs but like all nuts they aren’t a wise choice for your dog for two reasons.
Firstly, nuts have a very high fat content.
Almonds are 54% fat.
And they have almost three times the amount of calories as the equivalent amount of vanilla ice cream!
Dogs struggle to digest foods that are this high in fat.
Secondly, nuts are a choking hazard to dogs or if they don’t choke on a nut it might lodge itself somewhere in their intestines….
Pecans and walnuts
Pecans and walnuts have the same undesirable qualities as almonds but with another layer of jeopardy.
Pecans and walnuts can sometimes develop a black mould on them and this black mould contains a substance which is very toxic to dogs- juglone.
However, it is very unlikely that the nuts used in a fruit cake will contain black mould so you can rest easy knowing that these nuts aren’t toxic for your dog, just very, very unhealthy.
Sugar, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup
I have grouped the next set of ingredients together because they are all types of sugar.
We are all very aware of what sugar is but perhaps we are less aware of what corn syrup is.
Corn syrup is made from the starch of corn.
It is made by adding different enzymes in with the starch.
Essentially corn syrup just contains different types of sugar such as glucose and maltose.
In fact, corn syrup is 77% sugar.
The difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup is that the glucose found in corn syrup has been turned into fructose.
There is no real nutritional difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
It is just that the fructose version is much cheaper to buy.
I don’t want to state the obvious about the effect of too much sugar in a dog’s diet.
Most of us know about its link to obesity.
And so I will stop there.
I want to end this article by talking about alcohol.
I know that alcohol has never been mentioned before but it is an important extra ingredient in some fruit cake recipes.
Every year when my wife makes a bunch of fruit cakes for Christmas, she “feeds” the cakes alcohol.
By which I mean that after making the cakes you add small amounts of strong alcohol to them- such as rum or brandy.
Alcohol is toxic for dogs and how poisonous it is depends on the size of your dog and how much alcohol that they consume.
Most store bought fruit cakes don’t contain alcohol- although some do.
Adding alcohol to Christmas cakes tends to be something that happens with homemade Christmas cakes.
¹ Photo by bongovongo on Flickr