Ho Ho Ho! It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to Santa, reindeer, and Hallmark Christmas movies. If that’s not enough to convince you the holidays are here, it seems that you can’t turn around without running into a holiday dessert. And candy canes are everywhere! What’s a poor dog to do? That’s a lot of temptation for a dog. Can dogs have candy canes? Let’s find out.
Candy cane nutrition
Let’s just stop right here. Candy canes are not nutritious. Continue.
Candy canes appear to date back to the early to mid-19th century and Massachusetts can lay claim to them. (Other tales claim they originated in the 17th century in Germany to keep kids from making noise during church services.)
Candy canes were originally straight peppermint candy sticks until someone got a little more creative. Today they are often cane-shaped and, along with the traditional peppermint flavor, they come in lots of other flavors such as gravy, pickle, clam, rotisserie chicken, mac and cheese, bacon (there had to be bacon), wasabi, blueberry, coffee, sour patch, Swedish fish, oreo, starburst, jelly belly, chocolate mint, birthday cake, pumpkin pie (for people who don’t get enough pumpkin at Halloween and Thanksgiving), sugar plum, cinnamon, molasses, and apple pie.
As for nutrition, what little there is, a regular candy (14 grams) cane has about 55 calories, 0 fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates (5 percent), and 8.8 grams of sugars. It has no vitamins to speak of and 0.2 percent iron. No fiber. No protein.
Did you catch that? The candy cane is 14 grams and it has 14 grams of carbs. All of the calories in the candy cane come from carbohydrates. Plus, it’s very high in sugars.
Candy canes are a delicious treat (depending on which flavor you like) but they are not nutritious. And they are not good for dogs because of the high sugar content.
Can you give your dog candy canes to eat?
Both humans and dogs have taste buds that appreciate sweets such as the sugar in candy canes. Humans have more taste buds overall than dogs, including taste buds for sweets. But dogs are usually very happy to eat sweets such as candy canes. That doesn’t mean that this kind of treat is good for dogs.
Sugar can provide energy but it can also give a sudden sugar rush to the bloodstream. This makes sugary foods such as candy canes especially bad for diabetic dogs.
Sugar isn’t toxic to humans or to dogs but eating too much can lead to health problems. Eating too much sugar has been associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even dementia.
The sugar in candy canes can also be bad for teeth and gum health.
The colors and flavors used in candy canes are not good for your dog either. Some candy canes use artificial colors such as red and green dyes. Some candy canes contain chocolate (a big NO for dogs) and other ingredients that can be harmful to dogs.
Some candy canes are made using xylitol, the artificial sweetener that is poisonous to dogs, especially if they are labeled “sugar-free” or they are made with “birch sugar”). Xylitol is toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol, such as your dog might eat in a candy cane, can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as soon as 10 to 60 minutes after ingestion. This situation can be life-threatening. Dogs that ingest higher amounts of xylitol can also experience liver failure.
The signs of hypoglycemia from xylitol poisoning could include any or all of the following:
- Loss of coordination or difficulty walking or standing
- Weakness, sluggishness, or lethargy
If you observe any of these symptoms or suspect that your dog has consumed xylitol, in candy canes or another food, contact your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline immediately.
Even if your dog eats a candy cane made from sugar without any xylitol, sugar can be very bad for any dog that is diabetic, overweight or obese, or a dog that has underlying health problems.
Too much sugar can also affect the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and other organs.
What if your dog eats a candy cane?
Normally, if a dog eats a small amount of something it won’t do him much harm. This can be true of a candy cane if you are sure that it’s made with real sugar. However, if it contains xylitol it could be very harmful to your dog since it only takes a small amount of this sugar substitute to make your dog sick.
If your dog eats a candy cane that you have brought home in a container from a store, check the label to read the ingredients right away. This should tell you whether or not the food contains xylitol. You can relax or call your veterinarian, as appropriate.
On the other hand, if you are walking your dog or your dog steals something out of the trash or a neighbor’s yard, you may not know if the candy cane contains real sugar or xylitol. In this case, take no chances. You should assume that the candy cane could contain xylitol. Take your dog to your veterinarian’s office and explain the situation. At the very least your vet can monitor your dog or take bloodwork to determine if your dog has consumed xylitol.
Even candy canes themselves can break off into sharp, hard pieces that can hurt your dog’s throat or choke your dog.
How often can you give your dog a candy cane?
It’s best not to give your dog a candy cane at all. Even if you have candy canes made from real sugar, this treat has no benefits for dogs and the sugar can be harmful.
In the worst cases, candy canes with xylitol can be deadly. It’s best not to encourage your dog to expect any candy canes from you or from others. Be sure to tell your family and friends that your dog (and other dogs) should not have candy canes.
Many dogs love sweets but sugar isn’t good for your dog for lots of reasons. Candy canes, like some other confections, are sometimes made with xylitol or “birch sugar,” especially if they are “sugar-free.” Anything that contains xylitol can be toxic to dogs. It’s best if you don’t give your dog any candy canes at all. Instead, choose healthier treats that are made for dogs. That way your dog can safely share the holidays with you.