Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
When I first moved to Seattle, I worked with a guy who had a yard full of cherry trees and an English Bulldog named Daisy.
During cherry season, Daisy would lie under the cherry trees and wait for with wind to blow and knock some cherries out of the tree. She’d gobble them down whole.
When my coworker told me this story, I was alarmed! I’d taken my beagle to the vet after she’d eaten a whole bag of cherries she stole off the counter (so short and so sneaky). She had her stomach emptied (by means I won’t detail here) and I got a stern warning from the vet about cherries.
But Daisy is still living her best life under that cherry tree, so what gives? Can dogs eat cherries or not?
Can Dogs Eat Cherries?
No. The risks outweigh the benefits.
Risk 1: High sugar.
Many dogs like sweet flavors and your dog might really enjoy cherries, but with 18 grams of sugar per cup of whole cherries (about 1 gram of sugar per cherry), fresh stem-free pit-free cherries are definitely a special occasion treat.
Risk 2: Toxins in the seeds and stems.
Cherry fruit, without stems or seeds, is safe for dogs. But the stems and seeds contain a low concentration of toxins called cyanogenic glycoside (cyanide, essentially). In order for the toxins to be released and to become toxic to a dog, the seeds and stems have to be broken by chewing.
It is possible for the stems and seeds to pass through the digestive tract whole, in which case the dog wouldn’t suffer toxic effects. I can only assume that Daisy gobbled down the cherries with little chewing, so she didn’t get dosed with cyanide.
But do you want to risk it?
Risk 3: Intestinal obstruction.
When cherry pits and stems go through a dog’s digestive system whole, they can cause blockage if they build up.
Risk 4: Rotting fruit can get your dog drunk.
If your dog gets loose in a cherry orchard, or if you have as many trees in the backyard as my Seattle coworker, you might be in for a surprise. Gobbling down rotting, fermenting fruit off the ground could give your dog an alcohol buzz. Funny as it might sound, alcohol is dangerous for dogs!
Risk 5: Tooth damage.
Ouch! Cherry pits are very hard. Your dog can damage her teeth and cause herself a lot of pain if she chomps down on cherry pits.
Benefit. (There’s only one.)
Cherries are super nutritious and packed with vitamin A and dietary fiber. Unfortunately, because they are high in sugar, a dog should only have a few at a time, so they won’t gain the nutritional benefit of having a whole serving of cherries.
Symptoms to Look For
If your dog has eaten more than a few cherries, she may experience a bout of diarrhea. If she’s gotten into a bag of cherries and eaten too many, call your vet if you notice any symptoms of cyanide toxicity. The ASPCA lists these as symptoms of concern:
- brick red mucous membranes
- dilated pupils
- difficulty breathing
The Take-Home Message
If your dog eats a few cherries (pits, stems, and all), he’ll be ok. He hasn’t eaten enough cyanogenic glycoside, the toxin in cherries, to cause illness.
If your dog eats a lot of cherries, there is reason for concern. Call your vet if worried about your dog.
If sharing cherries with your dog is very important to you, it’s ok to share a few, as long as there are no pits or stems. Dried cherries sometimes show up in dog treats, and that’s ok.
An unexpected side note: As a goat parent, I’d like to tell you that there is something very important and strange about the leaves of cherry trees. Like the pits and stems, the leaves also contain cyanogenic glycosides. The toxic compounds do not affect goats that eat the leaves fresh or dried, but wilting cherry leaves are very toxic to dogs, goats, and other herbivores.
So if you have goats, cows, or sheep, and they have access to cherry trees, please be watching carefully that they don’t have access to wilted leaves, especially after trees are damaged in high winds.
For More Information
Learn more about feeding your dog a wonderfully varied diet while learning the limitations of a dog’s sensitive digestive system. We offer a collection of articles on foods that are safe, dangerous or even toxic for dogs to eat, including vegetables, dairy, bread, and junk food.