Can dogs eat lemons?

Health and Wellbeing

Not many people would willingly (or happily) take a bite out of a lemon and eat it, never mind a pooch. Yet we’ve probably all seen a video of an owner getting their dog to try eating a lemon to film their pup’s reaction. If you’ve ever seen a dog be offered a lemon, it’s pretty clear that they are naturally avoidant of the fruit. But such a strong avoidance of food must make you wonder why they have an instinct to keep away from lemons. Can dogs eat lemons, or is licking a lemon something you should avoid letting your pooch do?

Can dogs eat lemon?

CAN DOGS EAT LEMONS?

No, dogs should not eat lemons. Firstly, lemons are su-paw bitter which makes them very unpleasant for dogs. Most pooches do not enjoy the taste at all, but individuals can have less of a reaction to them.

Lemons can make your pooch pretty poorly, and even a small chunk of the fruit can upset their stomach. If your dog somehow manages to eat a lot of lemon, their sickness will be more severe and they can have some adverse side effects like light sensitivity, weakness, and collapse. In fact, lemons and lemon trees are noted to be toxic to dogs according to the ASPCA.

The peel, pith, and seeds of the fruit are the worst offenders and most likely to cause illness if your dog eats them, and they can eat less before sickness occurs. They would have to consume more juice and flesh before being sick, but the high acidity of the food can still cause gastrointestinal distress.

Meanwhile, if you also have a cat in the houseall citrus fruits are highly toxic for felines, including lemons.

In the past, it was sometimes advised to spray lemon juice to prevent puppy chewing. While your puppy won’t like the taste, it’s doesn’t teach them the rules around chewing and what’s right or wrong. It’s a bandaid fix, might solve the initial problem but it doesn’t tackle the behaviour itself, and your pup will just move on to the next thing to chew. Without guidance, that could just as easily be the furniture or your shoes as it could be their toy.

Plus, lemon juice can irritate your pup’s skin. And if they’re a determined chewer that seems to disregard the taste, it could make them unwell.

There’s also been a few people advising lemon juice baths to repel fleas, but this is very likely to just cause skin problems for your pooch and it doesn’t work as a flea treatment because it doesn’t kill fleas, ticks, or their eggs.

CAN DOGS LICK LEMONS?

Licking a lemon won’t cause your dog to ingest a lot of the acid or Psoralens that make a dog sick, but it’s not very nice for them. Dogs are really averse to bitter tastes and licking lemons is unpleasant for them and against their natural instincts. While their reaction might seem funny, the problem is it can make your dog less trusting of the food you offer them in future. That means if your dog is already nervous or fussy you might end up making matters worse. It’s best not to let your dog lick a lemon even for a laugh.

CAN DOGS HAVE LEMON JUICE?

No, your dog shouldn’t have lemon juice either. Lemon juice doesn’t have as many of the nasty Psoralens in, but it is still just as acidic and bitter. Your dog will be naturally averse to the taste and the acidity can still irritate their throat and stomach.

CAN DOGS HAVE LEMONADE?

Unsurprisingly, dogs can not have lemonade. Lemonade is essentially lemon juice and a ton of sugar, and neither of those are good for your dog. The carbonation in fizzy lemonade is also bad for dogs because it can give them gas and there is a risk of them becoming bloated. Swapping to a sugar-free lemonade isn’t much better either, because it could contain Xylitol, which is highly toxic to canines.

CAN DOGS EAT LEMON CAKE?

Although lemon cake isn’t anywhere near as bitter or acidic as eating an actual lemon, it’s not a healthy snack for your pooch. (I mean, it’s not healthy for us humans either!) If your dog has a little nibble of lemon cake it probably won’t do them any serious harm, provided there are no toxic ingredients.

However, it is a very rich and sugary food so it’s not good for dogs and eating a lot of it can upset their stomach. Your dog definitely shouldn’t eat cake regularly either. Too much sugar in your dog’s diet can lead to unhealthy weight gain or diabetes, not to mention a sugar spike might make them hyper. Female dogs and older animals are more at risk of high blood sugar, so you’ll need to watch the amount they eat more closely.

CAN DOGS EAT LIMES OR OTHER CITRUS FRUITS?

No, dogs shouldn’t eat limes or other citrus fruits like grapefruits for the same reasons that they shouldn’t eat lemons. The only exception to this rule is oranges, but even then, they’re not an ideal snack for dogs to eat and need to be strictly moderated.

Although we think oranges are a great source of vitamin C, dogs can actually synthesise their own vitamin C inside their body. This natural su-paw power means they don’t normally need a lot from their diet, and they can easily pick this up from other foods like peppers which are much more dog-friendly. Besides, a red pepper actually has more vitamin C than an orange anyway!

WHY DO DOGS HATE LEMONS?

Dogs hate lemons because of their bitter taste. Dogs can taste sweet, salty, sour, and bitter things. Like us humans, dogs don’t find sour or bitter foods to be the most pleasant tastes.

This dislike for the taste is actually a natural defence mechanism. In the wild, foods that taste bitter are usually poisonous or tainted. Because of this, dogs are averse to bitter things because it keeps them safe, stopping them from wolfing down anything that might do them harm. Plus, the taste is just unpleasant anyway, and your pooch will probably much rather pick something else to snack on. Being picky about bitter foods is paw-fectly understandable when it tends to keep them safe!

IS LEMON BAD FOR A DOG?

Lemons are bad for dogs simply because they can make them sick. Plus, there’s not really anything good about lemons either, and any benefits of eating the fruit are far outweighed by the negatives.

Firstly, lemons don’t really offer any nutritional value for dogs. Lemons mostly offer vitamin C, but dogs can actually make their own vitamin C inside their body, so don’t really need it from lemons or other citrus fruits. Plus, they can top up the vitamin with other foods like peppers which are actually more nutritionally dense and dog-friendly. Lemons also provide pectin, but this can be easily found in other fruits like apples and pears which are far more appetising for your furry friend.

Secondly, the citric acid in lemons can irritate their throat and stomach. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, or they eat a chunk of lemon, it’s very likely that they will have some gastrointestinal distress and likely suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea.

Lemons also contain a couple of naturally-occurring chemicals that make dogs unwell. One of these is a compound called Psoralens which can make dogs sick if ingested, and it also causes skin irritation if they manage to come into contact with it. If they get some on their skin, it can cause sore patches that look like rashes or sunburn.

Lemon essential oils are more problematic than actual lemons because they are highly concentrated to be more potent, which includes concentrating the acid and chemicals that can make a dog sick. If your dog somehow licks up some essential oil, or gets it on their skin, they’re more likely to get sick.

RECAP: CAN DOGS EAT LEMONS?

No, dogs shouldn’t eat lemons and you should take care when using lemon cleaning products or essential oils in your home as these have the paw-tential to make your dog sick or irritate their skin.

Lemons are not the best fruit to feed your dog, instead, try letting your dog snack on an apple if they're fancying some fruit. Or, even better, feed them a nutritionally balanced, healthy dog food such as Pure, which contains apples in anyway! Pure is natural and wholesome, we only give your dog the best.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.