Life brings us many joys, but few are as pure as the joy your dog feels eating peanut butter — and the joy you feel watching him eat it.
Just unscrew that cap and he’ll come running, putting on his best-begging face and pleading with you for a dollop of creamy, peanutty goodness. And it’s just about impossible to say no.
Is it the taste that drives him so crazy? The smell? Or maybe the challenge of extracting every last bit from the roof of his mouth?
Let’s find out why dogs like peanut butter once and for all. Along the way, we’ll find out whether this nutty treat is nutritionally beneficial and help you pick out the best peanut butter for your pup.
Why Do Dogs Like Peanut Butter?
That Sweet and Salty Smell
Your dog sees the world through his nose, and that makes peanut butter prettier than Miss America. The combination of peanuts, sugar and salt makes for an irresistible sweet and salty scent that neither dogs nor humans can get enough of.
But it’s not just a matter of taste — there’s some science behind the appeal of the smell.
Sweetness comes from sugar, and sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates, though not strictly necessary to a canine’s diet, can provide an extra energy boost, especially when better energizing nutrients like protein are scarce.
And dogs instinctively know this.
In the wild, wolves seek out sweet things, such as blueberries and apples, when their meat reserves run low or when they’re simply looking for a sugary snack. Sniffing out these sweet foods buys them a little extra time between hunts.
Sugar is addictive to both humans and canines, so once a dog or wolf gets a taste, it becomes even tougher to resist in the future. That sugary scent doesn’t just alert them to some nearby carbs, it gets them salivating as they crave that sugar rush.
It’s a similar story with salt, which provides sodium chloride. Sodium chloride isn’t addictive like sugar is, but it is an essential component of your dog’s stomach acid, which in turn is essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Salt is also an electrolyte, which your dog needs in order to stay hydrated and maintain proper nerve functioning.
Some dogs seem to always enjoy the smell of salt, but for others, the appeal seems to come and go. It’s thought that dogs in the latter category seek out salty smells when they’re dehydrated or experiencing stomach problems.
The Roasted Aroma
In order to make peanut butter, you must first roast the peanuts. Roasting changes the inner chemistry of the peanuts, which has profound effects on their smell and taste.
Peanuts are packed with fats and proteins, which have a mild to nonexistent smell in their raw forms. But roasting the peanuts causes them to release more fats in the form of oil, which has a much heartier scent.
After being roasted and ground up, peanuts take on a smell that’s similar in many ways to caramelized meat. The high protein content of the peanuts combined with the roasting makes peanut butter smell heavenly to dogs.
Power to the Protein
Speaking of protein, the simplest explanation behind your dog’s love of peanut butter is his love of protein.
Dogs aren’t fully carnivorous, but meat does make up the bulk of their diet. And meat is loaded with protein, making it your dog’s preferred energy source.
As such, dogs are hardwired to seek out sources of protein and load up on them as much as they can. Protein itself may not smell like anything to us, but dogs certainly seem to detect its scent — and they can’t get enough of it.
Now let’s talk peanut butter: it’s one of the most protein-packed plant-based foods, with 25% of its composition being protein. In fact, it first gained popularity in the late 1800s as a source of protein for hospital patients who couldn’t chew.
And the protein found in peanut butter is actually more like animal protein than plant protein! Dogs have a very hard time digesting plant protein, but animal protein — and peanut protein — is easily broken down and absorbed into the body.
So it’s only natural that a dog with a fine-tuned nose and an instinctual desire for protein would go gaga over peanut butter. The sweet, nutty scent… the salty kick… the hearty helping of protein… it’s a dog’s idea of heaven.
Like Owner, Like Pupper
Dogs are a lot like toddlers in many ways, including their propensity to mimic their parents. And as your dog’s honorary parent, you serve as a role model for him as he explores the world.
He wants to go where you go, sit where you sit and eat what you eat. Offer him a scrap off your dinner plate and he’ll at least give it a sniff (if not devour it completely).
Your dog sees you as the leader of his pack, so he naturally assumes that you eat the best food. And getting to share the pack leader’s food is a high honor in addition to a tasty treat.
So if he sees you treating yourself to a spoonful of peanut butter, he’ll inevitably want to taste some for himself. And if you tend to get a little excited when you’re about to enjoy some peanut butter, well, he won’t be able to help following suit.
It certainly helps that you’re more likely to give your dog a bit of peanut butter than you are to, say, give him a piece of your brownie or a morsel of that expensive steak. He’d probably love either of those treats, but he’s learned that you’re willing to give him peanut butter, and your pattern of willingness gives him the confidence to ask you for it.
Is Peanut Butter Safe for Dogs?
Much to your dog’s dismay, he can’t eat peanut butter as his main diet. But when given as a treat in moderation, peanut butter is perfectly safe for dogs.
With that said, some peanut butter is better than others.
Check That Label
Organic peanut butter is your best choice, as it’s guaranteed to be free from pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals.
But even if you buy organic, take a look at the ingredients and make sure there’s no added sugar or salt. The amount that’s provided by the peanuts themselves is more than enough for your dog.
It’s also a good idea to choose peanut butter without partially hydrogenated oils. These are linked to health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
The Dangers of Xylitol
Don’t see “sugar” anywhere on your peanut butter’s ingredients list? Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s not sweetened — in fact, it could be even more dangerous than any extra sugar.
Xylitol is a sweetener that’s used as a sugar substitute in chewing gum, baked goods and, increasingly, peanut butter. It’s great for humans, especially those who need to lower their sugar intake, but it’s deadly for dogs.
That’s because xylitol causes a surge of insulin in dogs, which raises blood sugar levels to dangerous levels. This is known as hypoglycemia, and it sets in just 10 to 60 minutes after ingesting xylitol.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include weakness, seizures, dizziness and collapse.
Xylitol can also cause a condition called hepatic necrosis, a form of liver failure. Symptoms occur within 1 to 14 days after ingesting xylitol and include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), bloody stool, diarrhea and vomiting.
Proper Peanut Butter Administration
It’s also important to give your dog an appropriate amount of peanut butter — the amount we feed ourselves is simply too much. A large dog can safely eat around a teaspoon of peanut butter a day as a treat, while small dogs may need as little as ⅛ teaspoon.
Finally, talk to your vet before introducing your dog to peanut butter if he has diabetes or other health conditions that affect protein and sugar intake. Peanut butter could cause health complications in diabetic dogs due to its high protein content.