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Can Dogs Eat Lemons?

If you have noticed your pet pooch diving for scraps on the floor, you might be wondering what they can and can’t eat. In this article, we’ll answer the question: can dogs eat lemons? We’ll also discuss the potential health benefits of citrus in your dog’s diet and if you should incorporate common fruits like lemons. 

A Basenji dog showing interest in a piece of lemon being offered -- since some dogs will sample fruits and vegetables, you may wonder "Can dogs eat lemons?"

Can Your Dog Eat Lemons?

Some fruits, like apples and blueberries, are very healthy for dogs. Others, like grapes, are highly toxic. 

But when it comes to citrus fruits like lemons, the answer is a bit more complicated. Technically, yes, your dog can eat lemons in moderation. But they probably won’t want to. 

That’s because lemons are bitter, and dogs associate bitterness with rancid or rotten food. In fact, you might notice your dog has a strong negative reaction if you put citrus fruit in front of them. 

However, there are exceptions to every rule. You might find that your dog does occasionally enjoy a bit of lemon. In small amounts, lemons won’t hurt your dog, though too much can cause stomach upset and occasionally, vomiting. 

Health Benefits of Lemons For Dogs

Lemons are not very healthy fruits for dogs. Though the vitamins they contain are a vital part of your dog’s diet, they also have plant compounds that can be highly toxic, especially in large quantities. 

Though lemons themselves are not a good idea, they contain vitamins that your dog needs, including vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and calcium. Make sure your dog gets enough of these vitamins from other safe foods, including healthy dog food and pup-friendly fruits

A good citrus alternative for dogs who are interested are oranges. These are safe for dogs in appropriate quantities. They are much lower in citric acid and bitter plant compounds, but your dog still might not be interested. If they are, make sure you give oranges only as an occasional treat, since they are high in sugar and do contain citric acid. Don’t offer the peel, as this has the highest concentration of essential oils and can cause stomach upset. 

Health Concerns Of Lemons for Dogs

A Pug dog chewing on a whole lemon.  In addition to the question "Can dogs eat lemons" is the question "Should dogs eat lemons?"
Even if the answer to “Can dogs eat lemons?\” is technically yes, the next question to ask is “Should dogs eat lemons?”

As we’ve mentioned, your dog is highly unlikely to try to eat lemons. Their reaction to bitter tastes is an evolutionary development that reduces their risk of ingesting poisonous foods. But if your dog does get hold of a lemon and eat a significant amount of it, here is what you should know. 

Lemons are high in essential oils and plant compounds known as psoralens. These can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. They are found in the rind of the lemon, not the fruit, so if your dog licks up a bit of lemon juice, there is no cause for concern. Large quantities of lemon juice can be harmful, however, since it contains high levels of citric acid. Dogs are extremely sensitive to this and it can cause gastric upset.

However, if your dog eats lemon skin or rind, you should monitor them for signs of poisoning or call your vet. These compounds are extremely difficult for dogs to digest, so you might notice your pup getting sick fairly quickly. 

Minor poisoning from citrus fruits will manifest as gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea and vomiting. 

In severe cases, your dog might suffer from:

  • Poor circulation in extremities
  • Lethargy
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Drooling
  • Skin irritation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Panting
  • Fur on end
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Collapse
  • Death

Although these symptoms are frightening and should be addressed immediately with an emergency veterinarian, remember that they’re not likely to happen. Dogs dislike citrus for a reason, and they rarely try to eat it, especially not in large quantities.

If your dog does happen to eat more than a small amount of lemon, do the following:

  • Wash their mouth out
  • Contact your vet
  • If instructed by your vet, induce vomiting

How To Get Your Dog To Eat Lemons

A Pomeranian dog on a kitchen counter, surrounded by lemons.

The short answer is that you don’t need to coax your dog into eating lemons and they are unlikely to want to do so. To help them get the health benefits of citrus fruits, stick to other vitamin-rich fruits that are safe for dogs. These include:

  • Apples 
  • Bananas 
  • Blueberries 
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Mangoes 
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple 
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon

Remember that fruit should be an occasional treat for dogs. Despite its high vitamin content, fruit contains a lot of natural sugars, which can be dangerous for dogs, especially if they are overweight or diabetic. 

A good rule is the 10 percent rule: treats, including fruit, should make up no more than 10 percent of your dog’s regular diet. 

Lemon Dog Treat Recipes

There is really no point in including lemons or lemon juice in any homemade dog treats, and the bitter taste may make your dog unwilling to eat them. 

Instead of lemons, try making homemade dog treats that include pup-friendly, delicious fruit, like these peanut butter blueberry treats, these pumpkin treats, or these treats made with apples and carrots

Why Do Dogs Have Such a Strong Reaction To Lemons? 

Dogs have a strong negative reaction to most citrus fruits, including lemons, limes, and grapefruits. This is thanks to an evolutionary response that they developed to bitter tastes, such as the essential oils and other plant compounds in lemon skin. 

Much like rancid food tastes sour to humans, it tastes bitter to dogs. This is a way for biology to warn them away from eating food that could potentially make them sick. For this reason, eating something bitter like a lemon tells their brain that the fruit is rotten and might be harmful. It tastes so bad that your dog might drop the fruit as soon as it touches their tongue!

Is The Citric Acid In Lemons Bad For Dogs? 

Citric acid is harmful to dogs, especially in large quantities. It can cause extreme stomach upset, and even vomiting and diarrhea. Lemons are high in citric acid. Though a single lick of lemon or lemon juice probably won’t turn your dog’s stomach, too much of it can make them feel very sick. 

What About Other Citrus Fruits? 

As we mentioned above, dogs don’t care for the vast majority of citrus fruits. That includes lemons, limes, and grapefruits as well as others. 

The single exception to the rule is oranges, which are comparatively much lower in harmful plant compounds, essential oils, and citric acid. Some dogs enjoy eating oranges, though you should always serve it in small amounts and avoid giving them the rind or seeds. However, you might also find that even this is too bitter and your dog just isn’t interested. 

What About The Health Benefits Of Vitamin C?

While lemons are a great source of vitamin C — and it’s true that dogs need this vitamin — there are plenty of safer sources. Apples, strawberries, oranges, pineapple, and mango are all great sources of vitamin C and much safer for your canine friend. 

Conclusion

Closeup of a man feeding pieces of apple to a dog.

While lemons have some amazing health benefits for humans, they aren’t palatable or healthy for your dog and can actually cause them to become extremely sick. It is best to steer clear of giving your dog anything containing lemon and get them emergency medical care if they eat more than a small amount. 

Instead, stick to fruits that are healthier and safer for your pup, like apples, blueberries, and strawberries. Drop a comment below to share what fruits your dog enjoys!

Curious about what other fruits your dog can or can’t eat? Visit this blog about dogs and plums.