Butter makes almost anything taste better. It makes your chocolate chip cookies fluffier, your freshly baked bread more mouthwatering, and gives your pan-fried foods a better taste. If you grew up in a midwestern family, you probably had a stick of butter on the counter 24/7 and it appeared at every meal. While butter (in moderation) isn’t necessarily bad for you, does that mean you can give it to your dog?
Should Dogs Have Butter?
There are two answers to this…
Should dogs have butter? No.
Can dogs have butter? They can in that it won’t kill them, but it should still be avoided.
What Makes Butter Bad for Dogs?
Butter has a very high fat content. True butter, not the oil-based margarine spreads (more on that later), has 12g of fat per 1 tablespoon. A 30-pound adult dog needs just 14 grams of fat per day, so just one tablespoon of butter along with their daily meals would send them over their daily fat limit by quite a bit. If you give your dog butter everyday, you’re going to notice quite an increase in their weight.
Can Dogs Overdose on Fat?
Veterinary clinics see a swift increase in a disorder called pancreatitis after Christmas and Thanksgiving because dogs get into all sorts of fatty foods like turkey and heavily buttered dishes. However, when your dog gets a bunch of fat, the pancreas becomes irritated.
The pancreas is part of the digestive system and releases enzymes that break food down. When it’s hit with an onslaught of fatty foods, it can’t release the enzymes fast enough to break it down. This leads to a painful inflammation.
Signs of pancreatitis are:
- A very painful abdomen, indicated by a hunched back, inability to get comfortable, crying out loud when touched
- No appetite
- Irregular heart rate
Pancreatitis needs to be treated in the hospital with IV fluids and pain medication to keep your dog comfortable. Most healthy dogs recover from pancreatitis with supportive veterinary care, but older dogs or dogs with diabetes have a harder time recovering. Once a dog has had a case of pancreatitis, they need to go on a low-fat diet for the rest of their lives, and even a slight increase in fat (like a table-scrap snack) can trigger a relapse.
Too Much Fat is Bad, but What About Cholesterol?
If anyone in your family has experienced problems with their heart, you know that a person’s cholesterol level needs to be controlled in these instances. While dogs also get heart problems, cholesterol is a concern in dogs with a healthy heart.
Butter has a whopping 31 mg of cholesterol per tablespoon. Some breeds are predisposed to high cholesterol, but certain health conditions (diabetes, hyperthyroidism, adrenal disease) cause high cholesterol. If your dog has any metabolic disease or they’re overweight, butter is extremely bad for them.
In the veterinary world, high cholesterol is called hyperlipidemia, meaning there’s an excess amount of fat in the bloodstream. When a dog eats, the fat in their bloodstream rises and then decreases within 10 hours after the meal. If their fat levels stay high after 12 hours, then a dog is considered hyperlipidemic.
Signs of high cholesterol include:
- Abdominal pain
- Cloudy eyes
- Fat deposits under the skin (lumps filled with a greasy substance)
- Decreased appetite
High cholesterol is preventable (unless there’s a metabolic or genetic component), and another reason why butter isn’t the ideal food for dogs.
Is Margarine or Vegetable Oil Spread Okay for Dogs?
There’s a mistaken thought that the faux-butter spreads are healthier than butter, but they’re just as high in fat and cholesterol as butter is. There are also tons of chemicals and preservatives in margarine, so don’t ever give your dog anything with these spreads in/on them.
There’s nothing in butter that your dog isn’t getting (in moderation) in their quality dog food. A few licks of butter here and there won’t hurt your dog, but large amounts lead to obesity or dangerous health problems.