Walnuts are a great go-to good-for-you food that is rich in nutrients for humans, but they aren’t a good choice for dogs.
While your dog won’t suffer much harm if you share one of two pieces of walnuts while you are munching on a snack, too many shelled walnuts can be as toxic for your dog as a smaller amount of chocolate.
And walnuts in the shell can cause serious and even life-threatening intestinal blockages.
Shelled Walnuts Aren’t a Healthy Treat for Dogs
There is good news and bad news if your dog has eaten walnuts.
The good news is that shelled walnuts, unlike some other kinds of nuts, aren’t inherently toxic for our canine friends.
If they are shelled (we’ll have more to say about walnuts in the shell a little later), there is nothing in walnuts that will irritate your dog’s digestive tract or interfere with your dog’s heart or central nervous system.
Dogs aren’t likely to choke on walnut pieces, as they can on almonds.
They don’t develop tremors, dizziness, and vomiting after eating walnuts the way they can if they eat macadamias.
But walnuts are a rich source of both saturated and unsaturated fat.
Dogs need some fat in their diets, but they don’t need the omega-6 essential fatty acids that are abundant in walnuts.
These fatty acids become the building blocks for hormones that cause inflammation.
They cancel out the inflammation-fighting effects of omega-3 essential fatty acids your dog can get from fish and fish oils.
Too many walnuts and your dog has a greater risk of achy joints, itchy skin, and allergies.
That’s also true, however, if you give your dog a diet of mostly kibble that lists grains like wheat, barley, rice, and corn as its main ingredients.
Dogs can tolerate some grains and nuts in their diet. That doesn’t mean that these healthy foods for people are also healthy foods for dogs.
If you have just given your dog one or two pieces of walnut, there’s no need to panic. Just don’t do it again.
If your dog has eaten a whole package of shelled walnuts, then you need to bring his diet back into balance.
Don’t feed dry dog food for a day or two. The best option for your dog would be salmon, or at least mostly meat without minimal grains and vegetables.
Then you need to be sure your dog doesn’t make a habit of eating shelled walnuts.
It is OK for you to continue your habit of eating walnuts if you like them, but don’t eat walnuts when your dog is around.
Walnuts in the Shell Are Dangerous for Dogs
Your dog’s eating walnuts that have not been shelled is a different matter.
Chances are that your dog would not try to chew a walnut that has not been shelled, but trying to chew a black walnut in its shell can break your dog’s tooth.
Walnuts still in their green hulls are toxic to dogs and people (and also to plants where they fall). You would realize this just by handling them.
The hulls of the black walnut produce a chemical called juglone. It’s the chemical that stains your hands when you pick up walnuts still in their hull.
Juglone kills plants that grow beneath the walnut tree, so the tree has more water and nutrients for itself.
They can also bind to the proteins in your skin when you pick them up. They transform these proteins so that the skin on your hands becomes leathery.
When your dog eats walnuts, the juglone in their hulls binds to the mucous membranes in her mouth, throat, and stomach. It becomes a powerful irritant, provoking vomiting and diarrhea.
Whole black walnuts won’t trigger an immediate allergic reaction, but they will cause blistering wherever they touch the skin or linings of your dog’s digestive tract.
They have an effect similar to eating poison ivy.
What Do You Do If Your Dog Eats Walnuts in the Shell?
The first thing to do if you see your dog eating a whole walnut is to give it a chance to come back out.
Don’t attempt a doggy Heimlich maneuver or give your dog an emetic (something to make them vomit).
Just ask your dog to spit it out and be ready to catch the walnut so your dog doesn’t actually swallow it.
If your dog has swallowed a whole walnut, take her to the vet. Your dog’s stomach and small intestine can digest the hull of a walnut.
This releases toxic juglone that can cause irritation and inflammation throughout the whole length of your dog’s throat, esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
Your dog’s digestive system, however, can’t digest the nut itself. It will have to come out whole.
If it can’t, it can cause a bowel obstruction that can become fatal for your dog without timely treatment by a vet.
Don’t try to force the walnut out by inducing vomiting or diarrhea. Let the vet remove the walnut.
Eating Walnuts in the Shell May Be a Symptom of a Deeper Problem
Walnuts in the shell taste bad. They irritate the tongue and the lining of the mouth.
It’s not natural for a dog to eat them, even in play. But eating unusual objects can be part of a problem known as pica.
Dogs that suffer from pica eat various kinds of non-food objects. They don’t just play with non-food items with their mouths.
They swallow them, usually swallowing them whole. Pica can lead to poisoning, bowel obstruction, perforation of the throat and stomach, and dental problems.
There is usually a reason a dog indulges in pica.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Many animals eat dirt when they suffer trace mineral deficiencies. Eating walnuts and light bulbs and tennis balls and other non-food objects is a house-living dog’s way of acting out this bizarre way of getting mineral nutrients,
- Boredom. Dogs that don’t have enough play time, play toys, and play companions seek out inappropriate activities and playthings. Eating whole walnuts and other non-food objects may be your dog’s way of finding something to do.
- Anxiety. Some dogs develop pica when they are taken to a new house, or when a new human or canine joins the family. Eating non-food objects is a way of dealing with anxieties they cannot overcome on their own.
- Teething. It’s normal for puppies that are teething to seek out objects to massage their gums. A walnut may be a puppy’s way of dealing with teething pain.
- Weaning too early. Puppies that are taken off their mothers too soon may not know what’s edible and what’s not.
- Compulsive disorders. Dogs can develop a psychiatric condition similar to OCD in humans. They can be internally impelled to eat strange objects.
All of these causes of pica benefit from veterinary intervention.
You should not try to correct the health problem that is driving your dog to pica entirely on your own.
But there are things you can do to change your dog’s environment that can help.
- Dogs get the minerals they need from organ meats. Feeding your dog liver will cover the shortage of iron that is the most common nutritional deficiency in pica. Tiny amounts of kelp in your dog’s food (no more than a teaspoon, about 5 grams, a week) can also correct micronutrient deficiencies.
- Although some dogs need more activity than others, all dogs need daily time for play. All dogs need attention from their human family every day. When you have to leave your dog alone during the day, make sure he has toys. Or even better, give your dog a canine companion so that neither will ever be alone.
- The secret to helping your dog deal with anxiety is to remember that for a dog, smelling is believing. One way to give your dog the feeling that you are home all day, even when you have to go out for work and shopping and your social life with people, is to leave something with your scent on it. If your dog can smell you, it’s almost like you were there. If the problem is a new dog or a new child in the family, introducing the new family member’s scent before you bring them physically into your home helps your dog adjust.
- Many puppies get “nippy” when they are teething. Give them fewer things to nip at. Provide them with safe chew toys, but keep them away from walnuts and any other dangerous non-food objects.
- Puppies need to stay with their mothers for the first three months of their lives. If someone offering to sell you a puppy cannot introduce you to the puppy’s mother, behavioral problems are likely. You can still welcome this puppy into your home and have a happy life together, but training will be more work. Pica is more likely to be a problem.
- There actually are canine psychiatrists. You can probably find a specialist to treat your dog, at a steep price. (The writer of this article has an acquaintance who sent his dog on his private jet to visit with a canine psychiatrist in another part of North America three times a week to deal with the dog’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.) But most of the time, a regular vet can offer medications that may help.
Eating macadamias can be fatal for your dog, especially a puppy.
Eating a walnut in its shell can cause serious problems for dogs of all ages that only a veterinarian can treat.
Your dog can choke on almonds. But an occasional piece of shelled walnut or pecan won’t do your dog significant harm. Just be sure never to use them as treats.
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