Can Dogs Eat Limes and Lemons?

By John Martin - May 3, 2021

Lemons and limes on table

When you are caring for a pet, their diet becomes one of the foremost things to think about. Is the pet allergic to something? How can you make their diet balanced? Should you invest in some kind of supplement to boost their immunity?

Much like young kids, your pet also relies on you for the right kind of nutrition as they cannot always express what they need. A pet dog will also be so trusting of their owners that they may even be willing to eat whatever you give them, even if it is not to their taste or is bad for them.

So think carefully about what you put in the doggy bowl each day! If you are treating yourself to a glass of lemonade on a hot day, should your dog have some too? The answer is ‘absolutely not!’. The following sections will focus on how your dog may react to lemons and other kinds of citric fruits.

Citric Acid and Dogs

When in the wild (or just out in the streets), a dog’s palate would be attuned such that it would not be attracted to some of the things that are bad for its health. Lemons and similar citric fruits fall under the category of items dogs do not have a taste for, simply because it is bad for them. Evolution has some incredible methods of self-preservation!

The taste of lemon is too sour for dogs because of the high concentration of citric acid. Like many other citrus fruits, lemons have essential oils like linalool and limonene which can be upsetting to your dog’s digestive system.

It also has a phototoxic compound known as psoralens which may make your dog sensitive to light and cause damage to their skin.

In most animals, the protective instinct of their body dictates that foods that are poisonous for them will also have a bitter or sour taste.

This means that they automatically avoid those foods, not because they are aware of their toxicity, but because the taste is repulsive to them.

In domesticated animals, the self-preservation impulse may be slightly more subdued. If you give your pooch a lemony treat, they may consume it simply because it is coming from someone they love and trust. Besides, if the sourness of the lemons is masked by other flavors, they have no reason to reject it.

The citric acid in lemons, however, is too strong for your dog’s stomach to take. In large quantities, citric acid can be quite dangerous for your dog.

Aside from giving them a stomach upset (which is probably the mildest side effect), excessive citric acid in their system can also impact the central nervous system adversely.

Of course, the reaction your dog may have to lemons or other kinds of citrus fruits depends on how much they ate and how big your dog is.

If it is a small amount, they will likely have an upset stomach but nothing too serious. But if your dog is small or has a slower metabolism, it can become quite dangerous for them.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Pomegranate?

Symptoms of Citric Poisoning

One of the primary effects limes and lemons may have on your pet dog is an upset stomach. Your dog may experience diarrhea or have other digestive problems.

They may also start vomiting and may be uncharacteristically sensitive to light. If it is just a mild case of poisoning, diarrhea or vomiting should be able to expel the toxin out of the body. Still, if you suspect your dog’s upset stomach has been caused by lemons, you should contact your pet’s veterinarian.

Other than some of the mild symptoms, you may also notice:

  • Depression
  • Low blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive drooling
  • Disorientation

In small amounts, lemons may not be as toxic to your pooch. But if they accidentally eat lemons, limes, or any part of a citrus tree in large quantities, you will need to call for immediate medical intervention.

What about Lemonade?

If not lemon or limes as a fruit, what about lemonade? In a way, lemonade may be even worse for your dog than a simple slice of lime. Lemonade has just as much concentration of citric acid as the lime or lemon that has been squeezed into it. The water only dilutes the taste though it does not alter the composition of the citric acid.

Besides, lemonade will also have sugar or some other kind of sweetener which will, in turn, have its own impact on your dog’s digestive system. Sugar too can cause your dog to collapse or crash, or at the very least have an upset stomach.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Turkey Sausage?

Are There Any Citrus Fruits a Dog Can Eat?

Most citrus fruits have the three compounds mentioned above—linalool, limonene and psoralens—that can be harmful to dogs. Most citrus fruits are tart or sour and will not be something your dog will instinctually enjoy, even if it was not harmful to them. In addition to lemons and limes, grapefruit is another fruit that dogs should steer clear of.

Some citrus fruits dogs can partake in (in minute quantities) are oranges, tangerines and clementines. The citric acid in these fruits are less strong than lemons and the fleshy parts of the fruit are something the dog may enjoy.

However, the peel is not something dogs can digest and it can even cause intestinal blockage. The natural sugar content in oranges is also quite high so be sure to give your dog only a little. Having said that, avoid it if you can and experiment with other kinds of fruit.

Fruits Your Dog Can Eat

While citrus fruits and vitamin C are extremely beneficial for human beings, it does not necessarily mean dogs also require this nutrient. There are plenty of fruits that your dog can enjoy without any harm. Some fruits you can occasionally include in their diet are:

  • Apples (without the seeds)
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwis

Note that fruits should only be given to pets as a treat. Most fruits have some amount of natural sugar, so even the fruits that are safe for your dog to eat can be harmful in excessive amounts. Try to include the fruits in a balanced diet instead.

What to Do If Your Dog Accidentally Eats a Lemon?

First of all, a dog would generally find the taste of lemon bitter so they are unlikely to steal lemons or limes from the pantry behind your back. But if you have given them lemons before or if they have gotten accustomed to the fruit in dessert form, then that is a precedent you should be careful about setting.

Having said that, if your dog accidentally eats limes or lemons, you should first determine how much of it they ate. If you caught them in the act and were able to stop them, there’s nothing like it.

Once you have detected that they consumed the fruit or parts of the tree, you should monitor symptoms by keeping an eye on them.

If you notice even mild symptoms, give the vet a ring. If you suspect they have eaten a lemon, do not try to induce vomiting. Let nature take its course, but keep an eye on your pet.

If your dog has broken into a bottle of citrus essential oils or has been exposed to the oil from the tree, it is important to wash the area immediately with mild soap and warm water. Avoid using scented shampoos as those may have the essential oils from the citrus plant as well for fragrance.

If the toxins need to be physically removed from your pet’s stomach, the vet will perform gastric irrigation. Depending on how much the dog has ingested and how much the vet is able to remove, the dog may even be administered activated charcoal to prevent the body from absorbing more toxins into the bloodstream.

For compounds like psoralens and essential oils, there is no antidote so the doctor will provide supportive treatment to treat the symptoms. For example, the dog may need IV fluid to treat dehydration or oxygen in case of breathing difficulty.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Okra?

Parting Words

You cannot always keep an eye on what your dog is eating. You may be away at work or even taking a nap when your pet could break into the pantry and consume something they should not.

As a pet parent, you will need to make certain alterations in how you organize your pantry. Of course, you cannot be expected to not keep lemons in the house but you can certainly keep them in a place that your dog cannot access.

More importantly, encourage your dog to eat the meals that have been provided in their bowl. If you make your dog used to eating leftovers from your dinner or having a slice of cake each time you are in a celebratory mood, they will expect those treats more often than is healthy. It is certainly difficult, but your canine friend requires some tough love every now and then.