Spoiler: There's a reason why most dogs can't stand even the smell of lemons.
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dog with background of lemon slices; can dogs eat lemons?
Credit: natthapol / amixstudio / Adobe Stock

Dogs eat just about anything, but that doesn't mean it's good for them. If your pup recently scarfed a lemon (or lemon bars, cake, or lemonade), you're probably wondering if you're in for an emergency vet visit or diarrhea duty.

We asked Leslie Bass, DVM, veterinarian and medical director of VCA Algiers Animal Hospital in New Orleans: Can dogs eat lemons? She explains why dogs shouldn't eat citrus fruits or foods and what to do if your dog has accidentally eaten some.

Are Lemons Safe for Dogs?

"Some foods that are poisonous to pets can surprise you," says Bass. "Lemons aren't deadly to dogs in small amounts, but you should definitely prevent your pet from eating them." Lemons contain multiple compounds toxic to dogs including citric acid in the fruit and psoralen in the rinds.

Large quantities of citric acid can cause digestive symptoms such as an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea, Bass says. And large pieces of lemon rinds can create a blockage in the gut, which is an emergency.

Can Dogs Have Lemon Juice or Lemon Oil?

Like the fruit, lemon juice and lemon oil contain substances that are harmful to dogs. Ingesting them can lead to serious or even life-threatening tummy trouble. Lemon juice or oil on a dog's skin can cause irritation, too.

Even diffusing lemon essential oil for aromatherapy in your home can be unpleasant for pups. The smell of citrus is naturally repulsive to canines (as you can see in this video), which is why some sprays to stop undesirable canine behavior contain a citrus aroma.

What To Do If Your Dog Eats Lemon

Dogs don't usually eat citrus fruit because they don't like the smell. It's more common for pups to get into a batch of lemon bars or some other food that contains lemon extract, oil, or juice. If your furry pal eats lemon or lemon-based foods, the best thing to do is to call your veterinarian.

"How much lemon your dog ate and your pet's general health and weight affects the treatment," Bass says. "It's really important to call your veterinarian as soon as possible, especially if your dog ate a lot of lemon or lemony foods. In most cases, veterinarians recommend inducing vomiting to avoid toxicity. But time is of the essence."

Can Dogs Eat Other Citrus Fruits?

Avoid giving your dog any citrus fruits for the same reason why you wouldn't want your pup to eat lemons—they contain citric acid and other chemical compounds that can be harmful to your pet's digestive system and liver.

For an occasional treat, choose more dog-friendly fruit like apples and bananas. Fruit contains natural sugar, which dogs don't need. Too much of it can lead to weight gain, so give fruit in moderation. For more frequent treats, reach for veggies, which are naturally low in sugar. Safe veggies for dogs include carrots and broccoli.

The bottom line: A little bit of lemon is nothing to worry about. But there are better, safer, tastier options for your pup—ones that won't make your pooch sick. So, when enjoying citrus fruits and foods yourself, keep them out of your dog's reach and instead feed your furry pal a dog-friendly fruit or veggie.