Lemons are toxic to dogs and ingestion can result in several potential health issues. While dogs might eat small amounts of lemon without any serious adverse effects, both the high citric acid and sugar content can be problematic for them.
The good news is your dog will likely be equally as enthusiastic about chomping down on a sour, bitter-tasting lemon slice as you are. Lemons have a flavor most dogs would usually try to avoid.
So, while a dog who licks or attempts to eat a lemon may have a strong reaction to the taste that may seem comical, feeding your dog a lemon isn’t a joke.
Why Do Dogs Have a Strong Reaction to Lemons?
“Dogs do not like bitter taste and will generally have a negative reaction,” Purina nutritionist Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS explains. “Sour taste can also be detected, but it’s not always negative. Dogs have learned to avoid bitter tastes due to association of poisonous foods, leading to better survival rates.”
Today, dogs don’t usually eat lemons, and for good reason. Citrus fruits contain essential oils and a chemical compound toxic to dogs. They’re found in the plants, tree parts, skin and pithy white parts of the lemon.
Are Lemons Bad for Dogs?
Yes, lemons are bad for dogs. Dogs tend to eat things they shouldn’t, including grapes, plants and even poop. In minimal quantities, lemons might be fine for a dog, assuming they would be willing to eat it. But lemons are loaded with compounds, essential oils and acids that are toxic to dogs. They’re also high in sugar.
Lemon Components Toxic to Dogs
Citric Acid: Citrus fruits, including oranges, grapefruits, certain berries and lemons have high levels of citric acid. While humans are fully capable of ingesting citric acid, dogs are different. Just a few pieces of these fruits can cause your dog to have an upset stomach. Larger amounts can give your dog more serious health issues like central nervous depression. Symptoms of central nervous depression can include drowsiness, confusion, loss of coordination and loss of consciousness.
Limonene: This terpene is produced by all citrus fruits, including lemons, and gives citrus fruits their unique odor. Limonene is also toxic for dogs who ingest it. d-limonene contains insecticidal properties that, if ingested by a dog, can cause serious harm when it metabolizes in the liver. The consequences of d-limonene ingestion can include toxicity, poisoning, liver damage and even liver failure.
Linalool: Found in all lime trees and responsible for the floral aroma of citrus fruits is linalool. This terpene is, like limonene, an insecticide and is often used as an ingredient in soaps and lotions. Both leaves and the lemon fruit itself have high concentrations of linalool and if your dog ingests them, it’s a cause for concern. Linalool can cause long-lasting and severe symptoms for dogs, including liver damage and liver failure.
Psoralen: Present in citrus, including lemon and lime trees, psoralen is a plant compound that can cause phototoxicity or photosensitivity in dogs. The symptoms of psoralen can include skin and eye sensitivity to sunlight.
Health Risks for Dogs Who Eat Lemons
Lemon poisoning in dogs can lead to a wide range of possible health risks for dogs, including:
- Rash or skin irritation
- Nervous depression
- Loss of coordination
- Excessive drooling
- Low blood pressure
If you observe your dog displaying any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.
Are Other Citrus Fruits Bad for Dogs?
There are a few other citrus fruits that are also not good for your dog. Most of them happen to be tart or sour. Limes, just like lemons, are high in citric acid, so your dog should not eat them. Another fruit to keep out of reach is grapefruit.
What Fruits Can Dogs Eat?
There are a lot of fruits that are healthy for your dog and some that aren’t, so it’s best to do your research. Dogs can eat apples (once the seed and core are removed), blueberries, watermelon and more.
These fruits are less acidic than citrus fruits and may have some benefits for dogs, too. It’s essential, however, to feed fruit as a treat and in moderation. The majority of your dog’s diet should come from a complete and balanced dog food.
How Much Fruit Can Dogs Eat?
How much fruit a dog can eat depends on the size of your dog and their nutritional needs. The 10 percent treat rule is a good guide. “We recommend feeding your dog no more than ten percent of their total calories for the day, whether it’s fruit or another treat,” advises Carbo-Johnson. That means a few pieces of fruit are enough.