They look luscious, especially the red ones. They’re the ones that kids and adults alike grab on top of desserts to whet their appetites just before devouring the main. Of course, they’re also fun to eat as a treat while lying back on your hammock, whiling away the time, and throwing your worries in the wind. But, with your four-legged friend licking your feet, begging you to give it a piece or two, should you? Most of us will definitely feel tempted to give our dogs cherries. After all, what harm could these otherwise luscious and endearing little fruits bring to our dogs? So, is it okay to give them cherries?
Unfortunately, majority of dog experts do not recommend giving cherries to dogs. In fact, they strongly advise against it. But before we dig deeper into the reasons why experts don’t want you to give cherries to your dog, let us first look at what this little fruit can give.
The Nutrient Profile of Cherries
In human health and nutrition, cherries are revered for their antioxidant properties. In a world obsessed with feeling and looking young, these fruits can provide a very interesting way to achieve fairer, more youthful skin and fewer incidents of inflammatory changes in the body. Its antioxidant properties also give this fruit the ability to ward off inflammation and alleviate pain that is associated with arthritis. Cherries are also an excellent source of melatonin which is highly valued for promoting more peaceful and higher quality sleep. Given that cherries have both nutritional and health benefits to humans, it is quite understandable why dog owners would consider giving these fruits to their pooches, too.
Here are other interesting nutrition facts about cherries.
- Low calorie, fiber-rich, and fat-free food
A cup of this fruit gives you not more than 90 calories, 3 grams of which are fiber which can aid in better digestion, help control blood sugar levels, assist in lowering blood cholesterol, and help promote weight loss. The same cup of cherries doesn’t contain sodium, cholesterol, and fat. A zero-sodium food means you have less water retention to worry about.
- Excellent source of Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid is important for a lot of reasons. First, it’s a potent antioxidant that helps fight inflammation. Secondly, it is an important component of collagen production. As you know already, collagen is an important structural protein found in many connective tissues like the skin. Improving collagen production can thus, improve skin health.
- Contains calcium, iron, vitamin A, and proteins
These nutrients are needed for a variety of reasons. Calcium is great for promoting and maintaining optimum bone integrity, density, and strength while iron is important for the more efficient transportation of oxygen to the tissues. Vitamin A, on the other hand, is just like Vitamin C when it comes to its antioxidant properties, in addition to its value in promoting healthy eyesight, of course. Proteins are critical for building cells and tissues and the synthesis or production of enzymes, antibodies, and hormones, among others.
- Contains potassium
This mineral is important in the generation and propagation of electrical impulses across neurons and nerves. It’s also important in muscle contractions primarily of the skeletal muscles and the muscles of the heart. A cup of this fruit can contain as much as 260 milligrams of potassium.
- Contains melatonin and boron
We already mentioned what melatonin does especially when it comes to the promotion of sleep. What we failed to mention is that it also helps maintain the normal functioning of our body’s internal clock. The same benefits are true for mammals including dogs. Boron, on the other hand, is important in helping maintain stable calcium levels and as such can play an important role in bone health.
- Contains anthocyanin
Don’t be fooled by the word “cyanin” in anthocyanin. This has nothing to do with the poisonous substance we know as cyanide. While cherries also contain amygdalin that is one of the many precursors of cyanide, anthocyanin is an entirely different substance. Anthocyanins are substances that give certain fruits their distinctive bluish or reddish color. Studies have shown that anthocyanins play a role in the protection of the heart as well as surrounding tissues. It’s hardly the cyanide that we’ve come to fear.
With this nutrient profile of cherries – low calorie, high fiber, vitamin-rich, and zero- cholesterol and fat – it is not surprising why it’s often included in some of the lists of the healthiest foods on the planet. So why can we not give our dogs cherries?
What Makes Cherries a Dangerous Fruit to Give to Dogs?
According to experts cherries are toxic to dogs especially when the whole fruit is given. That means if you give the flesh complete with the pit, stems, leaves, and seeds, then there is a great chance that it will bring harm to your pooch. This is because it is classified as a cyanogenic glycoside. Technically, it does not contain cyanide. However, it does contain amygdalin, a substance that is very common in certain fruits. Exactly what happens, you ask? Well, let’s try to follow the journey of amygdalin.
- Amygdalin is found in fruit kernels like apricots, peaches, bitter almonds, plums, and apple seeds. When these fruits are ingested, amygdalin is broken down by the enzyme beta-glucosidase or emulsion in the small intestines. Amygdalin is also digested by the enzyme amygdalase.
- Once amgydalin is broken down, it leads to the formation of gentiobiose and L-mandelonitrile.
- Gentiobiose is further broken down to produce glucose.
- L-mandelonitrile is further broken down into cyanohydrin.
- Cyanohydrin is broken down into benzaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.
As you can see, one of the end-results of the digestion of amygdalin is cyanide, the other two being glucose and benzaldehyde. However, this is where the controversy lies. If a single cherry is eaten by dogs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole cherry is filled with amygdalin. From our discussion above, there are proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, as well as other nutrients especially phytochemicals, too. That being said, the next logical question to ask is what percentage of a single cherry will comprise amygdalin. And since amygdalin is chemically broken down into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide, how many percent goes into each of these chemicals?
Let us have a hypothetical case of a single cherry. Let us say that a single cherry weighs 5 grams. Let us also say that cherries contain about 2 percent amygdalin by weight. That puts the amygdalin content at 100 milligrams. But since amygdalin is still broken down into 3 different substances, let us say that hydrogen cyanide constitutes 20%, then this gives us 20 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide.
Among humans, it is believed that the fatal dose is between 0.6 milligrams to 1.5 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of body weight. Suppose we have a 100 kilogram individual, this means the lethal dose will be anywhere between 60 milligrams to 150 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide. By our calculation, this means 3 to 7 pieces of cherry should already knock us cold. But, we know of people who can devour an entire bowl of fresh cherries and they are still alive and kicking. So, what gives?
It is either our assumptions of the percentage of amygdalin-hydrogen cyanide concentrations per piece of cherry are grossly overblown or there is really so much hype into this cyanide thing.
If the first is true, then that means that the actual levels of amygdalin can be so much lower. Of course, you can say that the lethal dose of cyanide for humans is technically greater than that of dogs. Let us say you only need about a tenth of the human lethal dose for it to be considered fatal to dogs. Even then, there are plenty dogs in other parts of the world that eat grapes, raisins, and cherries and yet they are doing fine.
However, don’t rejoice yet. While it is true that, given that humans also love consuming cherries, the number of incidents that resulted in the death of a person because of eating cherries is close to nil, it still can cause poisoning.
Just take a look at what occurred in Lancashire, UK in July 2017 when a man cracked the seeds of three cherries and ate them. Within 10 minutes, the man was already feeling drowsy and quite hot. He was brought to the emergency department of the Blackpool Victoria Hospital and was diagnosed with cyanide poisoning. Thankfully he recovered. Medical professionals at the hospital said it was the first time they encountered someone actually getting poisoned because of eating fruit pits.
Poison experts at the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre said that the problem arose when the man chose to crack open the seeds, exposing the amygdalin to breakdown by the intestinal enzymes, releasing hydrogen cyanide, among others. The agency also said that only the fruit of the cherry tree is considered to be non-toxic. That means, the roots, leaves, stems, branches, bark, and everything else are toxic. The fruit is not toxic unless you crack open the seeds. As such, swallowing the whole fruit will not necessarily expose you to cyanide poisoning.
Unfortunately, this is where it gets tricky. Given that dogs will typically require lesser doses of hydrogen cyanide to be poisoned and that there is no way of training our pooches not to crack open the seeds of the cherry, it is thus, highly plausible that dogs can die because of eating cherries. If not, they’d also be subjected to the following symptoms:
- Sudden onset of labored or difficulty breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Bright red gums
- Shock, if not managed immediately
What this means is that if your pooch ate whole cherries – flesh, stems, seeds, and all – and it showed the above-mentioned symptoms within 24 hours after ingestion of the cherries, there is a great chance that your pet has been poisoned. You should not waste time. You need to bring your dog to your vet so that treatment can be initiated immediately. More often than not, your vet will induce vomiting in your pooch to help get rid as much of the toxin from its digestive tract. Of course, you cannot expect all of it to be removed this way so other measures may have to be taken. Do take note that there have been reports of dogs dying within 2 hours after the very first symptoms.
Here’s the thing. Even if your pooch did not suffer from cyanide poisoning, the likelihood of intestinal obstruction is still ever-present, especially among small breeds of dogs as well as puppies. Also, stomach upset is quite common. The good thing is that there are a lot of things that you can do to help support your dog that has upset stomach. You can give it a bland diet of rice with unseasoned or unflavored boiled chicken. You can also give oral rehydration salts solution if your pooch is having diarrhea and vomiting at the same time.
Can I Give My Dogs Cherries?
Now comes the moment of truth. Can you give your dog cherries? Of course, you can. BUT, there really is a gigantic but! It should be given in strict moderation. Here are some pieces of advice you need to adhere to should you decide to give cherries to your pooch.
- Always remove the pits. Amygdalin is found in the pits of cherries. It is also found in its stems, leaves, and roots. Here’s a good tip to remember: anything but the flesh of a cherry is toxic. So, if you do decide to give your pooch cherries make sure to give ONLY the flesh.
- Don’t make the mistake of giving your pooch canned or processed cherries. Sure these fruits have already their pits removed so they should be safe, right? Wrong, too! Commercially processed cherries are filled with artificial sweeteners that can also present with problems of their own. Additionally, too much sugar can increase the risk of developing canine diabetes.
- Always give in moderation. One or two pitted cherries should be enough. Better yet, go for safer alternatives like de-cored and de-seeded apples and blueberries.
Cherries are nutritious. They’re rich in melatonin, antioxidants, and other nutrients. However, since the main issue is the amygdalin that their pits contain, it is best to give cherries that already have been pitted. Also, steer clear of preserved cherries. Again, the key is strict moderation and observance of the flesh-only rule.