By Carol McCarthy
There can be something particularly satisfying about crunching an ice cube between your teeth when you want something cold, and many dogs share that craving with their pet parents. But is chomping on ice cubes safe for your dog?
Generally speaking, yes. Water is essential to your pet staying hydrated, and that water can be in liquid or solid form, says Dr. Jill DiFazio, critical care specialist with the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group in New York City. “Cubes are useful as a means to guarantee water ingestion and can slow the speed at which pets drink water,” she says.
However, while ice cubes are safe for your dog in many instances, they can potentially cause harm as well, noted Dr. Susan C. Nelson, clinical professor at the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University. Here are some risks and precautions to consider before giving ice to your dog.
Can Ice Damage Your Dog’s Teeth?
“Ice cubes are a known cause of tooth breakage in dogs,” Nelson says. “The larger and harder the cube, the higher the chance of this occurring.”
And chewing on anything hard frequently can cause significant wear to tooth enamel, DiFazio says. Using smaller cubes or shavings and giving ice in moderation can help avoid these issues, she notes.
Can Your Dog Choke on Ice?
Nelson says she has never seen an instance of a dog choking on ice, but it is possible that a very large piece could lodge in a dog’s airway before melting sufficiently. Again, feeding smaller pieces of ice or shavings can avoid this issue.
DiFazio notes that animals who have lost teeth or have severe dental disease may not be able to chew ice appropriately and may be at greater risk of choking. Also, animals who have difficulty swallowing, underlying neurologic disease, or severe upper airway disease may have issues chewing and swallowing ice. Talk to your veterinarian beforehand if you have any concern about your dog’s ability to chew and swallow ice cubes, she advises.
Can Ice Cause Dog Bloat?
While dog bloat is not directly associated with eating ice, drinking too much water may be a contributing factor to this life-threatening condition. Bloat is a twisting of the stomach that can occur in association with trapped gas.
“Bloat can occur from the ingestion of large amounts of food or water and air,” Nelson says. “If putting ice in your dog’s water causes him to drink large amounts rapidly (which also leads to the ingestion of a lot of air as he gulps down the water), then it could put him at risk for developing bloat.”
If your dog appears extra thirsty, ice cubes may not be the best choice for quenching his thirst. To prevent gulping, offer him small, frequent sips of water, Nelson advises.
Can You Use Ice to Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs?
In the case of an overheated pup, ice cubes are not advised. “It is better to offer cool water to overheated dogs and not ice cubes,” Nelson says. “They should be cooled down slowly.”
The most important thing to do is to begin the active cooling process: Wet your dog down with room temperature water—focusing on your pet’s underside and back (avoiding the head)—then go straight to your veterinarian, DiFazio says.
Can You Feed Ice to a Sick Dog?
Many pets get dehydrated when ill (particularly with gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea) and become very thirsty. But when the cause of the illness is unknown or the dog cannot keep ice shavings down, the best course is to get your dog to the veterinarian, the doctors agree.
“There are instances when small ice chips may be OK, but one should always talk to their veterinarian first before offering anything to a pet that is nauseous, as giving them food or water in any form may worsen their condition,” Nelson says. “I cannot stress this enough.”
The key is to determine the underlying cause of the illness, and possibly treat related dehydration intravenously, DiFazio says.
Do Certain Dog Breeds Enjoy Ice More Than Others?
“Larger breeds tend to be more avid chewers in general, but I’ve known dogs of many sizes that love to go for the ice cubes that hit the floor when their owner is getting some for themselves from the freezer,” Nelson says.
Oftentimes, a dog’s preference for ice has more to do with what they are exposed to at an early age rather than their particular breed, DiFazio notes.