Candy canes are a fun and traditional way to decorate a Christmas tree and treat the kids (or yourself!) to a sweet treat during the festive season. These sugar-filled striped canes are also tempting to dogs who like their sweet scent, but can dogs eat candy canes safely?
The short answer is no. Candy canes are a hazard for dogs over the holidays, let’s find out why.
Are Candy Canes Safe for Dogs To Eat?
Candy canes are not safe for dogs to eat because they are full of sugar, or worse, xylitol which is toxic for dogs and can be fatal.
Candy canes contain no nutritional value and they can make your pup really sick, so it’s important that you keep candy canes away from dogs who like their sweet scent and enjoy crushing up the stick shapes.
What Are Candy Canes?
Candy canes a sweet treat made from sugar, water, corn syrup, peppermint extract and food coloring. They’re shaped like a walking cane and traditionally striped red and white, although modern candy canes come in a rainbow of colors.
They are most associated with Christmas and St Nicolas’s Day and are often hung on a Christmas tree as an edible decoration.
The story goes that in 1670 a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany wanted to keep children quiet during his Christmas Eve worship, so he had the sweetmaker form sugared sticks into the shape of a shepherd’s crook to remind the children of Jesus’s role as a shepherd.
Do Candy Canes Have Any Health Benefits?
No, there’s no nutritional benefit in candy canes. Humans eat them as a treat now and then because they taste good, but dogs shouldn’t have them even as a treat because the poisoning potential is just too risky.
What Are the Risks of Candy Canes?
No-one wants to be a killjoy, especially in the Christmas season, and there’s no reason why humans can’t enjoy a candy cane, but there are risks for Rover so ignore him no matter how hard he begs.
Here are the reasons why dogs can’t eat candy canes.
Xylitol poisoning is the main reason why these festive treats are a big no for dogs. It’s an artificial sweetener often used in place of, or as well as, sugar to make food taste sweet. It’s also known as birch sugar or wood sugar, so keep your eyes peeled for those names too.
Humans easily digest xylitol, but for dogs it puts a huge and rapid demand on insulin because it’s so quickly absorbed into their bloodstream.
A dramatic demand like this creates a big blood sugar drop. It’s dangerous because it can cause hypoglycemia within 10 minutes or after 12-24 hours have passed. The really bad news is it can be fatal if not treated by a vet.
If your dog eats a candy cane or two call a vet right away. They will want to know the weight of your dog, what symptoms they’re experiencing, and how much they’ve eaten to sort the right treatment.
A candy cane is more dangerous to a small breed, but call a vet no matter what type of dog you own just to be safe.
Candy canes’ main ingredient is sugar and corn syrup.
Sugar is called “the white death” for good reason! Sugar contributes to weight gain and overweight dogs are a real problem in the United States. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says 56% of pet dogs are overweight or obese. It’s an avoidable problem, but one that is sadly common. Overweight dogs are more prone to life-limiting diseases including painful joints, diabetes, cancer, and pancreatitis.
As well as increasing your dog’s weight, sugar deals a lot of damage to their teeth. Unless you regularly brush Rover’s teeth, sugar from a candy cane (or other sources) will stick to their teeth and cause cavities.
Another problem is candy canes are made to be licked not chewed, so they are hard, really hard if they’re cold! This can break teeth or cause mouth wounds.
Dental issues are a very expensive fix and frequently not covered by pet insurance.
My Dog Stole Candy Canes – What Do I Do?
If your dog ate a small number of candy canes made from sugar, chances are they will be OK. They might have lots of energy and complete a few zoomie circuits but it shouldn’t cause lasting damage. A meal of several candy canes might cause an upset stomach, so monitor them for a few days.
If your dog does get an upset stomach from illicit candy canes, feed them small but regular amounts of rice and chicken to soothe their stomach and firm up stools.
It’s also a good idea to check for any damage to their mouth. Mouth wounds are tricky to heal up and the longer they are left the more likely an infection will set in. Mouth infections are notoriously hard to heal and the bill will skyrocket.
The real problem lies with xylitol candy canes. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener so it usually replaces sugar. Check the label to see what yours contain. Because xylitol is such a risk to dogs, a vet consultation is inevitable.
Signs of Xylitol Poisoning
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has several reports on xylitol killing dogs. The main culprit is sugar-free chewing gum, but skinny ice cream has also caused a fatality.
The signs of xylitol poisoning are:
- Reduced activity levels
- Sudden weakness
- Drooling and panting
Unfortunately, xylitol is in a number of foods, not just candy canes. It’s usually low-sugar cakes, biscuits, Jell-o, breath mints, and chewing gum but also toothpaste, mouthwash, peanut butter, and over-the-counter vitamins.
What Other Foods Are Toxic to Dogs?
Omnivorous dogs are able to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, starches, and other human-made food, but there are a few foods that are toxic.
Below are the food and drinks dogs should never consume.
Alcohol. Dogs can’t process the ethanol in alcohol and it can quickly shut down their liver and kidneys. All types of booze are dangerous including spirits, beer, ale, wine, and cocktails. Alcohol-infused sweets are another potential threat.
Garlic and onion. All alliums are toxic because they contain compounds that can’t be digested and cause oxidative damage to red blood cells. This can led to hemolytic anemia.
Chocolate. Chocs are very tempting for dogs, but theobromine and caffeine are indigestible stimulants that can cause organ failure. Chocolate may also contain xylitol.
Macadamia nuts. These tasty nuts are highly toxic to dogs. They can cause collapse in under ten minutes. The first sign is usually weak back legs. Look out for cakes that contain macadamia nuts.
Black walnuts. These nuts contain indigestible compounds, but also grow a type of mold that’s toxic to dogs.
Nutmeg. Nutmeg contains myristicin which causes hallucinations, racing heart, and seizures.
Raw bread dough. In a dog’s belly, raw dough rises and causes painful bloating. If that’s not enough, it releases toxic ethanol that poisons a dog in the same way alcohol does.
Bleu cheese. Bleu cheese like Stilton contains Roquefort C, a type of fungus that is toxic to dogs and can cause collapse. Dogs love cheese so it’s a counter-surfing prime target. Always put your cheese back in the cupboard.
Grapes. Experts are not sure why grapes are so bad for dogs, but they think it is the tartaric acids. Grapes, raisins, sultanas, juice, and wine can all cause organ failure.
Any foods containing these ingredients are off the doggy menu, such as garlic bread, hot chocolate, pizza, salad, and Christmas cake.
Will Candy Canes Poison My Dog?
Candy canes have the potential to poison your dog if they contain xylitol and the hard pieces may cause a mouth wound.
Telling the difference between sugared and xylitol filled candy canes is impossible unless you have the ingredient list to hand, so it’s best to avoid giving your dog any type of candy cane. If they steal one, and show sickness symptoms, consult a vet straight away.
- Can Dogs Eat Waffles?
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- Can Your Dog Eat Whipped Cream (Puppaccinos) Safely?
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Nelli Kovalchuk/Shutterstock.com
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- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Available here: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/paws-xylitol-its-dangerous-dogs
- VCA Animal Hospitals, Available here: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/xylitol-toxicity-in-dogs