Veterinarians explain how peanut and other nut butters fit into a dog's overall nutrition and the one dangerous ingredient to avoid.

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When it comes to human foods our canine friends can also eat, we'll get to the good news first: Yes, dogs can have peanut butter! There are peanut butter-flavored treats sold commercially for dogs everywhere. But if you're wondering if it's a safe or even healthy treat to share with Fido, there are a few things to keep in mind. While your vet should always be your first resource when adding new foods into your dog's diet, we also checked with the experts to see what they had to say about peanut butter for dogs. Namely, how much is too much for your pooch to eat, and whether there are any kinds of peanut butter that you should avoid feeding your dog with so many different kinds of seed and nut butters on grocery store shelves.

We Know It's Not Toxic, But Is Peanut Butter Good for Dogs?

If you're a dog owner, there's a chance you have at least one jar of peanut butter in the cupboard. It might be just for the dog. That's what's up at the home of North Carolina veterinarian Ernie Ward, DVM, head of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

Even nutrition-focused veterinarians like Ward sometimes treat their own pets to tastes of this high-fat, high-calorie, ultra-tasty treat.

But just because peanut butter doesn't make dogs sick doesn't mean it's good for them. It can be a healthy source of protein for people, but when dogs are eating a balanced, nutritious diet, they don't need extra stuff. If you want to share peanut butter as a dog treat or hide medicine in its creamy goodness, keep in mind the calorie count.

How Much Is Too Much Peanut Butter?

Veterinarians often recommend that dogs get 10 percent or less of their daily calories from treats, because they get everything they need to be strong and healthy from the right serving sizes from the can, the bag, or in some cases, your own carefully home-cooked meal worked out with a veterinary nutritionist.

A healthy adult dog, depending on size, activity level, and health conditions may need 200 to 1,350 calories a day according to estimates from APOP.

A tablespoon of peanut butter might be 200 calories. That means a tablespoon of peanut butter makes up 15 percent of a large dog's calories and maybe 100 percent of the day's calories for a small 10-pound dog.

That's a lot of calories for a dog. Except for puppies, dogs with special medical conditions who need to put on weight, or extremely active dogs, that many extra calories in their diet adds up over time. 

So, yes, most types of peanut butter are perfectly fine for a healthy dog, but you should only provide it as a treat in moderation. 

Some dogs will get stomach upset after they eat a little or a lot of peanut butter. In most cases, symptoms resolve quickly and you avoid feeding your dog that food again. If it's more serious, you need to call your veterinarian to explain the more serious signs.

Caramel and white hound licks peanut butter off spoon from human
Credit: Photoboyko / Getty

Using Peanut Butter to Help Your Dog Take Medicine

If your dog needs to take any sort of medication, Ward suggests peanut butter as a useful way to help you get your dog to take it. You may only need a little bit to help your dog take their medicine, though—not a heaping spoonful.

"What I see is, we get the tablespoon of peanut butter, and we squish the pill in the middle of it." Ward says to instead try putting a thin film of peanut butter around the pill or medicine with your finger. "You're not trying to totally hide the medicine. You're trying to enhance the flavor." Even though it may be a little messy, you're not giving your dog all those extra calories and fat.

Best Peanut Butter (or Other Nut Butters) for Dogs

Whether your pooch enjoys creamy or crunchy, Jif or Skippy: It's not a big deal. When it comes to buying a dog-safe peanut butter, the only thing to always avoid is xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener that's safe for people but can poison pets, according to Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.

"Xylitol can cause low blood sugar and liver failure, so it's important to check all of the ingredients in any peanut or nut butter," Schmid says.

Unless your dog doesn't like the taste or has an allergic reaction to different nuts or seeds, there's also nothing particularly toxic about butters made from sunflowers, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, etc. Just remember that they all taste great because they're high in calories, salt, sugar, or all of the above, Ward says.

"For digestibility, I stick with peanut butter," he says. "Dogs seem to like cashew, maybe because it seems sweeter. But remember, you're not saving calories [by giving them something other than peanut butter]... it's still gonna be a nut butter."

Also, don't give your dogs peanut butter baked goods unless you know all the ingredients are safe for pets. That includes two ingredients to avoid feeding to dogs: macadamia nuts and chocolate.

Why Do Dogs Like Peanut Butter So Much?

There haven't been any scientific studies (that we know of) about why dogs like peanut butter so much. Most likely, they probably enjoy the taste of peanut butter for the same reasons we humans do: the creaminess, the crunchy nuts, the added sugar and salt, the heavy aftertaste (we could go on, but we won't).

But if weight is an issue for your dog, maybe it's time to try treating your dog to the flavor and joy of eating peanut butter but in smaller portions or in tricky new applications.

Lori Prantil, MPS, DVM, who counsels pet owners on nutrition at VCA South Shore Weymouth, suggests low-fat cream cheese to hide medicine if you're trying to avoid either fat or sodium in your dog's diet.

Want a little peanut butter to go longer as a treat or reward? Prantil says you could mix it with some dry dog food and then freeze it and put it in a food toy to last longer. Try substituting pumpkin or applesauce, or maybe the contents of a kid-friendly, squeezable, fruit-and-vegetable puree from the grocery style aisle (squeezed out of the container before your dog gets it, of course).

As with any human treat, moderation is key. So let your dog enjoy a little peanut butter now and then, just ensure you don't overdo it.