Can dogs eat acorns? The science behind the answer

For all of us that are dog people, autumn is the season for long walks. The weather is neither warm nor cold, trees are beautifully colored, and hiking paths are covered with leaves. Is there a better time for spending time outdoors with our dogs?

However, it is also the season when acorns fall on the ground. Acorns are the nut of oak trees. Not many people know that dogs and acorns do not go together since acorns are a serious health risk for them.

Can My Dog Eat Acorns?

Can My Dog Eat Acorns

Acorns are toxic for dogs and must be avoided for the wellbeing of the animal. The risk the animal faces is related to its size, general health, and amount of acorns ingested. 

While fatalities are rare, they can occur. 

A few acorn bits will probably pass through your dog’s digestive system if ingested. However, if swallowed whole or in larger quantities, they can seriously affect your dog. 

Besides being toxic, acorns can even cause intestinal blockage or obstruction in smaller dogs; therefore, you should contact your vet immediately for further advice if you think your dog has swallowed acorns. 

Depending on the severity of the case, treatment will vary from rehydration and medications to manage their symptoms to surgery in cases of intestinal blockage.

Since dogs love to snuffle around fallen leaves, so you should keep a close eye on your dog when walking through such areas. Some dogs are natural-born scavengers, and they are more prone to exploring and digging up things with their nose and mouth, so you should be extremely cautious if your dog is one of them.

You can consider walking them on a long leash around those areas if your dog tends to be a wanderer, and it is difficult to keep track of its whereabouts.

Nutritional Value of Acorns

Nutritional Value of Acorns

Are Acorns Even Edible?

Acorns are edible by humans. While not popular anymore, they have been a staple food for many people in the past. They are a highly nutritious source of potassium, iron, and vitamins A and E. However, since they are loaded with tannins, a group of bitter plant compounds, they have gained a bad reputation.

Tannins act as a defense mechanism in plants against pathogens and herbivores. Their purpose is to induce a negative response when consumed. Consumed in large amounts, they can cause stomach irritation, nausea, and vomiting. They also have antinutritional effects, inhibiting the absorption of nutrients by the human body.

However, most of the tannins are removed if the food is prepared and cooked. The most popular method for preparing acorns is soaking them in cold water for prolonged periods, changing the water as it turns a darker color.

Alternatively, you can boil the acorns in two separate rounds, first removing the tannins and then boil them again in clean water.

Acorns are rich in good calories like healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds.

Acorns are higher in caloric content than most cereal grains and are packed with healthy fats. They are a good source of vitamins A and E and are high in minerals like magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.

Their fat content and low glycemic index make them a great alternative to high carb foods and snacks. They are also rich in antioxidants and abundant in the wild. 

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of acorns contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 144
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams
  • Carbs: 15 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams

Are Acorns Bad for Dogs?

The answer is a definitive yes. To forest creatures like squirrels and birds, acorns are reliable food sources. However, other mammals, like our beloved dogs, cannot effectively break down the tannins in acorns. 

Acorns can have poisonous effects on a dog

POISONOUS EFFECTS ON A DOG

A dog’s organs will try to break down the tannins in acorns. An acidic by-product is the result of the process. As the ASCA Animal Poison Control Center warns, depending on the number of acorns ingested relative to the size of the dog, the acid can result in damage to the kidneys or the liver of the animal. 

In extreme cases, those organs can shut down completely, leading to fatal consequences for the dog. This is known as Quercus poisoning in the veterinarian world, and another known cause is consuming oak leaves. Fortunately, such cases are rare since dogs usually do not graze on nuts and plants, rather than chew on them out of curiosity or boredom.

Signs of toxicity will usually start showing after a few hours. Dogs who have eaten acorns can experience:

  • vomiting
  • collapsing
  • diarrhea 
  • abdominal pain
  • dehydration
  • toxic shock
  • death, in rare and severe cases

Since signs of poisoning can sometimes take up to a week to show, and the situation can escalate rapidly, it is important to call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog consumed acorns.

Small dogs are at a greater risk

SMALL DOGS ARE AT A GREATER RISK

The larger the number of acorns ingested relatively to the size of the dog, the more serious the risk for poisoning.

Furthermore, if swallowed whole, acorns might pass right through a large animal’s bowels. This is not the case for a small dog. Whole acorns can cause blockage of the intestinal tract, which is a severe and life-threatening condition for your dog and requires immediate surgery by a qualified vet.

There is no variety of acorn that is safe for your dog

Depending on where you live, oak tree types might vary. However, be aware that all of them are more or less equally toxic to your dog. The amount of tannins they contain differs insignificantly between different varieties, so you should exercise the same caution and avoid them altogether.

The good news? Prevention is easy!

The key is avoiding acorns all together from the early months of your dog’s life. It is best not to decorate your house with acorns or oak leaves, so the dog does not get used to the oak smell and do not start chewing on them for entertainment.

Dogs also like to chew on things around the house while teething, and it is important to avoid getting them accustomed to acorns during that phase. The ingestion of even one or two acorns for a small puppy could have much worse consequences than for an adult dog.

If you have a garden, avoid planting oak trees. If you have oak trees, clean the garden often during the autumn months when acorns and leaves fall from the trees.

avoid planting oak trees

It is also best to keep your dog on a leash when going on long walks during those months if you feel like you cannot keep a close eye on him. This way, you and your dog will be safe and avoid any uncertainty and unneeded trips to the vet.

FAQs About Acorns and Dogs

What should I do if I think my dog has eaten an acorn?

Contact your vet straight away for advice.

Why are acorns dangerous to dogs?

Acorns contain tannins, which can cause upset tummies and, though rare, can lead to kidney failure and be fatal. It is also possible for them to cause a blockage of the intestines in smaller dogs.

Will I notice any symptoms if my dog is experiencing acorn poisoning?

Signs of illness usually arise within a few hours. However, it is important not to wait until you witness any symptoms and contact your vet straight away if you suspect your dog had consumed acorns.

In any case, you are the best judge of your animal. If you feel your dog is acting differently than usual, you should communicate that to your vet. 

What treatment is my dog likely to receive if they have eaten an acorn?

Your dog may need to be rehydrated and given medications to manage its symptoms. 

In the case of an acorn causing a blockage, surgery will be needed.

The process will vary for every dog, based on the individual characteristics of your dog and the situation at hand. Your vet will explain the process in detail.

Are some dogs more at risk of acorn poisoning than others?

Dogs are most at risk if they eat a large number of acorns. However, what constitutes a large amount is relative to the size of the dog.

For example, a small terrier will need to eat a lot less than a german shepherd. Curious dogs tend to pick up and eat unsuitable items, so they are more likely to ingest acorns.

Will my dog be OK?

When acorn poisoning is treated promptly, dogs have an easy and full recovery in most cases. It is important not to underestimate the situation and contact your vet as soon as possible.

In the case of a blockage and surgery, things are more complicated and depend a lot on the general health of the animal and the specific situation. However, the prognosis is optimistic as well. Again, time is of the essence, and the faster you act, the better things will be for your dog. 

Conclusion

The one thing to keep from this article is that you must keep your dog away from acorns. They offer no nutritional benefit for a dog. On the contrary, they pose a serious health risk. Even the consumption of a single acorn can be dangerous for a smaller dog. Avoid them and keep your canine friend safe at all times! 

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