Pesto is one of those magic ingredients that can turn any old pasta into a sumptuous meal, or elevate lunch like a chicken sandwich to the next level.
There’s a few different kinds of pesto out there as well, from the regular green basil pesto, to red pesto with tomatoes, red peppers, and chillies, and even coriander pesto. And while we humans love the taste of these flavourful Italian sauces, can dogs eat pesto or is it a hidden danger in your kitchen?
No, your dog shouldn’t eat pesto. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise since pesto is clearly a human food, and we owners are less likely to think of sharing it with our woofers. Although maybe you have some leftover pasta or chicken salad with a blob of pesto on, and you wondered if your pooch could have a bite.
Sadly, pesto isn’t the safest or healthiest sauce your dog can eat and that’s because of the ingredients and the high fat and salt content.
Pesto is made up using basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts. While the key ingredient of basil is non-toxic to dogs and safe for them to eat, it can cause gut ache and diarrhoea if your pooch eats too much. Small amounts of basil are safe for dogs and it provides antioxidants which can help combat inflammation and cancer, and it has antimicrobial properties which could help to fight infection.
Parmesan, or other hard cheese like grana padano, are reasonably safe for dogs to eat because it’s not toxic, but the high fat and sodium content does mean that they can cause a host of health problems if your dog eats a lot of it, or munches cheese regularly.
If a dog eats too much parmesan and has too much salt in their diet it can lead to dehydration and in rare cases salt poisoning. Eating lots of salt over time could increase your dog’s blood pressure too.
Many dogs with heart disease or renal problems are advised to avoid salty foods to help manage their condition. Plus, some dogs can develop dairy allergies or may be lactose intolerant, in which case eating something cheesy can cause them all sorts of issues from itchy skin to flatulence and diarrhoea.
If your dog has an allergy to eggs, be aware that some recipes of pesto can also include eggs.
Pine nuts are another ingredient in pesto that’s somewhat safe for dogs but only in small amounts. However, pine nuts are very high in fat, so eating too much can put your dog at risk of gaining weight and becoming obese, or developing pancreatitis. Pine nuts might also cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs, and could aggravate urine tract infections.
However, if your pesto is made using any other kind of nut you should never feed it to your dog. Many kinds of nuts are toxic to dogs, including walnuts and macadamia nuts.
Finally, olive oil or sunflower oil are ok for dogs to eat in small amounts as they are non-toxic, but their high fat content means that they aren’t healthy for a dog to eat often or in large amounts.
The main problem with pesto is the garlic. Pesto usually contains several cloves of garlic, or garlic puree, which is considered toxic to dogs.
If dogs eat allium plants like onions, garlic, leeks, or shallots it can damage their red blood cells and cause anemia, as well as other gastrointestinal illnesses like abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Garlic is more potent than other allium species, so it is considered more toxic and your dog can get sick from eating smaller amounts of this foodstuff.
As well as garlic and the poisonous problem it poses, pesto has a lot of salt and fat in it which isn’t good for your dog. Dogs do need some fat and salt in their diet, but they should be getting everything that they need to stay healthy from balanced meals. Any fatty snacks and treats they have can lead to excess fat in their diet, which causes similar problems to pooches as it does to people.
Too much fat in your dog’s diet can cause them to gain weight and become obese, which raises the likelihood of them developing other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Eating too much fat also puts your dog at risk of pancreatitis, which can put their life at risk.
Dogs who have previously had pancreatitis need to eat a low-fat diet to ensure they don’t suffer another flare-up of the condition. Meanwhile, many dogs with underlying ailments are also advised to avoid fat or salt to help manage their conditions and control their symptoms.
If your dog has suffered from renal problems like kidney disease or liver disease, or if they have heart disease, they will be advised to eat a low-salt diet to manage their condition. This is because too much salt can lead to fluid retention, high blood pressure, and increased strain on the liver and kidneys.
Salt can also cause problems with healthy dogs too because eating too much can cause dehydration, and in rare cases, salt toxicity. Salt toxicity, or “hypernatremia”, can cause vomiting and diarrhoea but in severe cases it can trigger seizures and could be fatal.
As well as garlic, salt, and fat many recipes of pesto include non-descript “flavourings” or “spices” on the ingredients list, which makes it really hard to know exactly what’s in the jar. Because some seasonings and spices can be irritating to dogs and make them ill, or may even be toxic, it’s best to avoid feeding Fido anything if you don’t know what’s in it.
Your dog shouldn’t eat basil pesto because it contains a lot of garlic, which is toxic to dogs. It’s also high in fat and salt, which needs to be moderated in your dog’s diet to keep them happy and healthy.
Red pesto can have different ingredients and recipes, but almost every single one will contain both onions and garlic which are toxic to dogs, so they shouldn’t eat it. It is also high in fat and salt, the same as green pesto, which means it’s best to avoid feeding it to Fido.
Like green pesto, red pesto can contain cheese and eggs which your dog might be allergic to.
Finally, many varieties of red pesto contain chilli, which is an irritant to dogs and can cause tummy troubles like stomach ache, vomiting, and diarrhoea. So no, your dog can’t eat red pesto either.
Although vegan pesto lacks parmesan and eggs, and some recipes don’t have garlic either, it’s still not safe for dogs to eat. This is because vegan pesto is still high in fat and salt which could put your pup at risk of weight gain and ill health.
Vegan recipes usually contain cashew nuts as well as pine nuts, to help provide the creamy consistency of the sauce. Although nuts can be poisonous to your pooch, cashews are considered “safe” for canines to consume. However, they are very high in fat which can put your pup at risk of problems like obesity and pancreatitis.
Your dog could still be allergic to vegan pesto even without the eggs and cheese, because it often contains soya beans which is one of the most common causes of allergies in dogs.
However, you shouldn’t actively feed pesto to your dog because it can make them sick. Pesto can be dangerous to dogs because it contains a lot of garlic which is toxic to dogs, and garlic toxicity can build up over repeated exposure even if they only eat a tiny bit.
Pesto also has a lot of fat and salt which can cause illness including diarrhoea, vomiting, dehydration, and weight gain as well as putting your pup at risk of more serious problems like pancreatitis.
No, your dog can’t eat pesto and you shouldn’t offer this sauce to your pet. While we humans might think it’s super tasty, it’s not healthy for our furry friends and it can make them sick if they eat a lot of it.
You can give your dog some basil leaves though if you want to add some flavour to their dinner or homemade treats. Simply chop some leaves and sprinkle it on their dinner or add it to any dog-safe treats you’re making.
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.