Dr Tracy Douglas
Your guide to this article today is by veterinarian Dr Tracy Douglas
Published 15:18 pm

Ketchup is perhaps the world’s most popular condiment. It’s no wonder why – it’s delicious, goes great with a variety of foods, and it’s been around for centuries. What’s not to love? Quite a bit if you’re a dog, actually. Sure, a simple tomato sauce is not unhealthy for dogs, but many popular ketchup recipes can be.

If you love ketchup and eat it regularly, you’re probably wondering if your furry companion can join in the fun. While a little but of red sauce on occasion won’t hurt your dog, store-bought ketchup is something that you need to be careful with. Learn why.

Dog eat from the bowl

What is Ketchup?

Before we even begin to answer the main question – “can dogs have ketchup?” –we first need to know what kind of ketchup we’re talking about. If you use the natural, homemade type of tomato ketchup, also known as tomato sauce, which contains only a few simple ingredients (such as tomato, water, salt and some flavorings) there’s not much to worry about. In other words, your pup can have some occasionally, as a treat. But unless you typically make most of your foods and condiments yourself, chances are, your favorite type of store-bought ketchup contains much more than a few simple ingredients; and that can be a problem.

Most bottled ketchups contain tomatoes, water, lots of sugar or corn syrup and salt, some spices, as well as flavor-boosting and stabilizing chemicals like MSG and xanthan gum. This is bad news for your dog for multiple reasons but let’s start with the first one: sugar.

Similar to people, most dogs love sugar, but unfortunately, sugar does not love them back. If consumed in large amounts regularly, sugar can lead to:

And that’s just the problem with sugar in bottled ketchups! Other common ingredients in red sauces, such as garlic, onions and cinnamon, can also be dangerous if eaten in large quantities. Other chemicals, including xanthan gum and MSG, are not healthy either and can lead to an upset stomach.

Is Ketchup Bad for Dogs?

Dog ate ketchup – now what!?

Because of the many extra ingredients they contain, most bottled ketchups are anything but healthy for our canine companions. That said, they’re not toxic – in very small amounts, they can do no harm, so don’t panic if you discover that your pup has licked clean your ketchup-stained plate.

If, however, your dog managed to somehow eat a whole bottle of ketchup, you’ll want to watch for the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy, weakness or extreme tiredness
  • Pale gums
  • Weak appetite/no appetite
  • Reddish urine
  • Diarrhea

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your dog to the vet immediately. They may have food poisoning or an allergic reaction to some of the ingredients.

Having said all this, a small amount of ketchup here and there is perfectly fine for most dogs. Still, you want to be very careful about the type of ketchup you’re buying. Why? Xylitol.

Avoid Xylitol-Containing Ketchup

Some sugar-free ketchups contain xylitol, a sugar alchol, which is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. Although a naturally occurring substance (found in berries, corn, oats, plums, etc.) that is safe for use in people, xylitol is something you want to avoid feeding to your dog at all costs because it can cause a host of serious health problems, even death.

But why are xylitol-containing ketchups –and other products – so bad for dogs? It all comes down to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. As you probably know, in humans, the level of blood glucose is controlled by the release of hormone insulin from the pancreas. When you eat a simple carbohydrate like bread for example, your pancreas releases insulin so it can bring the energy into the cells. The same thing happens in dogs. However, the difference lies in how our bodies process xylitol – in humans, this sugar alcohol doesn’t stimulate the production of insulin from the pancreas, but in dogs it does in huge amounts.In fact, when a dog consumes something that contains xylitol, such as ketchup, the xylitol gets very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. This dangerously decreases the level of blood sugar, which is known as hypoglycemia. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to death.

If your dog eats a ketchup containing xylitol, you’ll notice the symptoms of poisoning quickly, within 10-15 minutes of consumption. Signs of hypoglycemia include:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of coordination and/or difficulty standing or walking
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Related Post: Dog Food for Seizures

If you suspect that your dog has eaten xylitol-containing ketchup, or you notice any of these symptoms, take them to the vet straight away. If a dog eats a huge amount of xylitol-containing ketchup, they may develop liver failure and die, so prompt action is crucial.

Tomato Ketchup in a bowl

What Kind of Ketchup is Safe?

If your dog is a fan of everything you eat, including ketchup, there’s a way you can share your meals and snacks with your furry friend – stick to simple, natural ketchup, also known as tomato sauce.

Tomatoes – the main ingredients of ketchups and tomato sauces – are not harmful for dogs; in fact, they can be a healthful treat if ripe. Tomato sauces and pastes are therefore fine for dogs in moderation. However, even when buying sauces, you want to be careful – besides tomatoes, water and salt, some products also contain other ingredients, such as lots of sugar, herbs, spices and flavorings, including garlic and onions. And as you probably know, both garlic and onions are bad for dogs. Luckily, they’re only dangerous when eaten in large amounts, so a tiny bit found in some tomato sauces shouldn’t be an issue. Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution and stick to natural, simple tomato sauces and pastes.

As there is no ketchup for dogs available in stores, it’s best to either buy products that contain 3-5 simple ingredients, or make your own tomato paste or sauce using ripe tomatoes, water, salt and a tiny bit of sugar. Whatever you do though, do not give your dog ketchup every day – offer it only occasionally, as a treat!

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Dr Tracy Douglas
General Practice Veterinarian, currently working at the Glenwood Veterinary Clinic, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Dr. Douglas began her veterinary career as a Veterinary Nurse in Highton Veterinary Clinic, Highton Victoria, and then as an Emergency Veterinarian in Uintah Pet Emergency, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Tracy is particularly interested in surgery, neurology and internal medicine, which gives her a well-rounded knowledge on animal health and well-being. She received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Melbourne, while her undergraduate bachelor of science is from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

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