Rhubarb is a tart, sour-tasting perennial plant that became quite popular as an ingredient in pies and other recipes after sugar became widely available in the 18th century. Without lots of sugar it tastes fairly awful. However, it is sometimes popular in gardens because it comes in beautiful shades of red and pink with wide green leaves. But, can dogs eat rhubarb? Most dogs usually avoid eating rhubarb in the garden because of its sour, unpleasant taste. Parts of rhubarb are toxic to dogs so it’s not something that you should encourage your dog to eat.
Find out more about rhubarb and which parts of it are most dangerous to your dog in our nutritional information below.
For humans, rhubarb is considered to be a nutritious vegetable. (USDA classifies it as a fruit.) It has 14 percent protein, 8 percent fat, and 78 percent carbohydrates. It’s low in saturated fat and sodium and very low in cholesterol. It’s a good source of magnesium and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, potassium, and manganese.
Because of its sour taste, rhubarb is rarely eaten raw. Prior to the time when sugar became easily available, rhubarb was primarily used as a medicinal ingredient. In cooking, only the stalks of the plant are eaten. They are typically used in jams, sauces, pies, tarts, soups, cobbler/crumbles, cocktails, and in rhubarb wine.
Rhubarb is low in calories but it’s not especially high in essential nutrients. It is high in fiber with amounts similar to oranges, apples, and celery. The stalks of the rhubarb are similar in consistency to those of celery.
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of rhubarb, cooked, contains about 116 calories.
While rhubarb does contain a reasonable amount of calcium, it is mostly in the form of calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is an anti-nutrient which means the body cannot absorb it efficiently. Dogs do not absorb it well either. In fact, it can cause serious problems for dogs.
There are limited studies on the health benefits of rhubarb. It is a good source of fiber which may help lower cholesterol in people but many fruits and vegetables also provide fiber.
Rhubarb is also a good source of antioxidants. The polyphenols in rhubarb may be higher than those found in kale, according to one study. Antioxidants in rhubarb include anthocyanins which are responsible for its red color. They may provide health benefits.
Malic and oxalic acid in rhubarb give it its sour taste. Oxalic acid is particularly strong in rhubarb leaves. Too much calcium oxalate can result in hyperoxaluria. When your dog ingests soluble oxalate salts they can bind to the calcium in your dog’s body and take it out of the bloodstream. These low blood calcium levels can eventually lead to the accumulation of calcium oxalate crystals in various organs, kidney stones, and even kidney failure. This can occur in dogs, as can bladder stones.
Can I Give My Dog Rhubarb?
Theoretically, dogs could eat some small amount of cooked rhubarb since cooking reduces the amount of calcium oxalate in the vegetable. However, it’s best if you don’t give your dog rhubarb, raw or cooked.
Most dogs won’t be tempted to eat rhubarb they find since it is one of the most sour and tart vegetables around. If your dog happens to find a rhubarb pie in your house, he might be more tempted because cooking will reduce the tart taste and pies are usually loaded with sugar. If that’s the case, we don’t recommend that you give your dog rhubarb pie (or jam or anything else made with rhubarb) because it probably has a very high sugar content. The calcium oxalates are typically lowered by cooking but all of that added sugar is still bad for your dog.
How Much Rhubarb Can You Give Your Dog?
It’s best if you just don’t give your dog rhubarb in any form. If you are eating rhubarb pie or jam and you give your dog a taste, it probably won’t lead to terrible consequences, but why risk it? If you drop a piece of pie and your dog eats it, it won’t kill him, but it’s best not to encourage your dog to eat rhubarb.
As with other foods, remember that smaller dogs can be affected be small amounts of a food so be careful.
As mentioned, most dogs will avoid eating rhubarb in gardens because of its very sour taste but if you think that your dog has eaten rhubarb, especially rhubarb leaves, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of rhubarb toxicity include:
- Changes in thirst and urination
- Dilated eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Urine in the blood
If you observe these symptoms and you suspect that your dog has had access to rhubarb, call your vet!
Rhubarb is popular with humans in pies and jams but it usually contains lots of sugar. It’s not a good vegetable for anyone – human or animal – to eat raw. Because of the calcium oxalates, which are especially strong in the leaves, you should not let your dog eat rhubarb. Eating rhubarb can lead to serious health consequences for dogs. If you suspect that your dog has eaten rhubarb, especially the leaves, contact your veterinarian right away.