The simple answer to the question of ‘can dogs eat cereal’ is… it depends. Technically, dogs can eat anything they can fit their jaws around. Whether or not all those things are good for them is something else entirely. Unlike some human foods that are toxic to dogs (Xylitol, avocado, onions, garlic, coffee, tea, grapes, and raisins, to name just a few), a couple of mouthfuls of cereal aren’t going to result in a midnight dash to the vets (providing it doesn’t contain any of the aforementioned, of course). But just because something isn’t ‘toxic’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ‘healthy’. So, how much cereal can you feed your pooch without given them anything more than a full tummy? And are some types better than others? Let’s find out.
Is Cereal Safe for Dogs?
If you’ve ever been to a grocery store, you’ll know the word ‘cereal’ covers an almost mind-boggling number of products. There’s Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Rice Chex, Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes, Fruit Loops, Raisin Bran… the list goes on. Some of these are safe for dogs. Others really aren’t. While the worst thing that can happen to us after a big bowl of cereal is a mild sugar rush and a full-blown case of indigestion, dogs face a much bigger threat. If that cereal you’re filling their bowl with contains raisins, chocolate, xylitol, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, or one of any number of other very dog-unfriendly ingredients, you’d better stop pouring right now.
These aren’t ingredients that are just a problem in big doses. Even the smallest amount of xylitol can bring a dog to its knees. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious from the front of the package as to whether or not the contents are safe to come within sight of your dog. If you want to avoid any possible problems, the only thing to do is to educate yourself on exactly what ingredients should be avoided and then scour the full ingredients list before you buy.
Under no circumstances rely on your brand knowledge to get you by. Just because a certain type of cereal has always been xylitol, chocolate, or raisin free doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever. Brands like to mix things up from time to time, and unless the change ties in with a particular marketing campaign, they’re not always inclined to tell us. Regardless of how long you’ve been buying the cereal, always check the label of any new box you buy. When it comes to the health of your pet, it really is better to be safe than sorry.
Is Cereal Healthy for Dogs?
There’s a world of difference between ‘safe’ and ‘healthy’. If your dog eats anything that isn’t ‘safe’, they’re probably going to need a trip to the vets. If they eat a few mouthfuls of a cereal that isn’t ‘healthy’, nothing terrible is going to happen – in the short term at least. But that doesn’t mean you can (or should) leave your dog free to enjoy just as much cereal as they want. While cereal makers love to tout their products as the ‘healthy breakfast choice’, they’re often anything but. Look at the back of the packet on a lot of cereals (especially those aimed at kids) and you’ll find sugar listed as the number one ingredient. And unfortunately, no amount of fortification with vitamin D, omega 3, or anything else is going to compensate for that.
Unlike us, dogs don’t have the luxury of being able to swish their mouths around with mouthwash every time they indulge in a little too much sugar. If they grab a mouthful of the white stuff when you’re not looking, don’t sweat it. But if you want to avoid any doggy dental problems (not to mention obesity, heart disease, and all the other problems linked to a high sugar diet), do as dogtime.com recommends and avoid regularly treating your pet to any cereals that have a high sugar content. This includes Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, and Frosted Flakes, among others.
Even if we take sugar out of the equation, we still couldn’t call cereal a ‘health food’, not in a canine context at least. As The Spruce notes, cereal simply doesn’t pack a big enough nutritional punch for it to form a regular part of your pooch’s diet. While your vet may occasionally recommend certain, high fiber cereals such as oatmeal to help dogs with digestive complaints like constipation, most cereals add nothing more than a bunch of empty calories to your pet’s diet. Even those that are fortified with vitamins and minerals don’t add much value – their nutritional profile might be fine for us, but a dog would have to eat a lot more than was good for them to get any benefit.
Which Cereals are Best for Dogs?
While giving your dog a great big bowlful of cereal is never a good idea, making it an occasional treat isn’t going to cause too many issues… providing you choose wisely. As doggiedesigner.com notes, small pieces of a dry cereal like cheerios that are low in calories, sugar-free, and easy to eat can make a good training reward. Steer clear of anything with artificial flavorings and ingredients. It also stands to reason that anything with marshmallows, chunks of chocolate, or sugar coatings should be avoided like the plague. If you do choose to offer cereal as a treat, make sure you only use it either dry or mixed with water. Many dogs struggle to digest milk, and while some can tolerate it in small quantities, it’s best avoided where possible.
Providing you don’t use cereal as a substitute for their normal food, and providing you steer clear of anything containing high quantities of sugar or even the smallest quantities of toxic ingredients, there’s no harm in treating your pet to an occasional bite or two of cereal. Just make sure it stays exactly that – a treat. If you find yourself pouring more cereal into their breakfast bowl than you do your own, it might be time to rethink their diet.