Maybe you give your dog a lick or two of ice cream at the end of your bowl, but is that okay? We asked the experts.

By Jennifer Nelson
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It's tempting to let your dog have a lick or two of your ice cream cone or let her polish off your bowl of rocky road or butter pecan. Mmmm, right?

Hold the salted caramel! There are some things you should know about letting dogs eat ice cream before you offer the cold treat to your canine companion.

Can Dogs Even Eat Ice Cream?

Dogs may have difficulty with milk digestion due to lactose intolerance, explains Dr. Shadi Ireifej, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of VetTriage, a company that provides tele-vet health sessions with a veterinarian. Most adult dogs can't digest milk well after they're weaned since they don't produce much lactase, the enzyme for digesting dairy.

"Dairy products can result in flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or vomiting for your dog," says Dr. Ireifej. Not exactly the happy outcome you'd want for your pooch.

What's more, ice cream's sugar content is high (along with its fat content) and if your dog gets too much, it can mean restlessness overactivity and a "sugar high" the same way young kids can get hyped up after eating too much candy. Plus, eating ice cream leads to weight gain, something else your dog doesn't need: extra pounds to schlump around.

Diet-friendly ice cream won't work either. Low-calorie or sugar-free varieties may contain Xylitol, a sweetener that replaces real sugar but is toxic to dogs. The ingredients list may refer to it as birch sugar.

Finally, ice cream flavors and toppings could also be problematic. Think rum raisin—two foods your pup can't have—or any variety of chocolate—a total no-no since dogs cannot process the ingredients in chocolate. Plus theobromine and caffeine could be included, which can be dangerous or fatal. Flavors that contain add-ins like pecans, pralines, and toffee crunch are a cause for concern too. No, no, and no!

Bulldog puppy and Ice cream
Credit: Matthew Palmer / Getty Images

What are Some Dog-Friendly Alternatives to Ice Cream?

Since your pup shouldn't have the real thing, you can try some alternatives:

  • Make your dog home-made banana "ice cream" by freezing two bananas and then popping them in the blender for a cold, sweet-tasting, nutritious treat. You can add apples, pumpkin, or dog-safe peanut butter to make it yummier.
  • You can also try freezing applesauce or pumpkin puree in silicone molds for an ice pop pup treat.
  • Dr. Ireifej also recommends to offer ice cubes, since some dogs really like them, and they're the same texture and temperature without the calories.

What about Pet-Safe Ice Cream Marketed to Dogs?

Pet-safe ice cream in the frozen food section of your grocery store is fine but "these are of questionable benefit," says Dr. Ireifej. Yogurt may be more beneficial (not frozen yogurt since it can be made with artificial sweeteners). Plain, fat-free yogurt popped in the freezer has less lactose to upset your dog's tummy.

And if you're going to give your dog a lick or two of ice cream, anyway, make sure it's plain vanilla—the safest flavor she can have.

*As always, consult your veterinarian before adding new foods to your dog's diet.