Dogs will eat just about anything. You apply Shea butter after your shower, and the next thing you know your dog is licking away your moisturizer. Perhaps they even got into the tub of Shea butter itself, making a meal out of your beauty routine. Is this safe for dogs? Should you be worried, or simply laugh it off?
Can dogs eat shea butter?
The good news is that Shea butter itself is safe for dogs. The bad news is that many products containing Shea butter also have other ingredients that shouldn’t be ingested.
What is Shea Butter?
You’ve heard of Shea butter, and even used it on your skin. But you may not have considered where this miracle beauty butter actually comes from.
Shea butter actually comes from the Shea nut. The Shea nut is from the Shea tree, which grows in Africa. The fat from the nut is extracted, creating Shea butter.
It’s used in many beauty products. The thick cream is solid at room temperature, and has an off white or light tan color. The creamy consistency makes it easy to spread, and it makes an excellent moisturizer.
Can You Eat Shea Butter?
In Africa, the main use of Shea butter is cooking. They use it as we use olive and vegetable oils. It has a pleasant nut aroma.
There are two basic types of Shea butter. Unrefined and refined. Unrefined Shea butter is made by hand in Africa, and is not filtered. It will have an ivory or tan color. It’s common to find particles in the butter, because it has not been refined, or even filtered.
To use it in cooking, heat the butter until it melts. Strain it through a cheese cloth. This will remove any particles present. You can then use it as you would any other cooking oil, or even as a replacement for butter spread.
Refined Shea butter is usually machine extracted and processed. It will be filtered, and in some cases, deodorized. This removes any potential contaminants. Both should be safe to eat.
However, unrefined Shea butter that has not been thoroughly heated or used in cooking should not be given to infants, due to the risk of contamination. Refined butter is often made using chemicals, so it shouldn’t be intentionally ingested.
Is Shea Butter Safe for Dogs?
Yes, the Shea butter itself is perfectly safe for your canine companion. There’s a potential for chemical residue to be left behind in refined Shea butter, and consumption of any product that isn’t food grade isn’t recommended.
That being said, there is nothing in Shea butter that should harm your dog if they happen to ingest some. If you want to get edible Shea butter, it should be Grade A Unrefined Shea butter. This should not contain any processing or chemicals.
Some products use a combination of cocoa and Shea butter. Cocoa is made from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are also used to make chocolate and cocoa powder.
You may know that chocolate and cocoa are toxic to dogs. Surprisingly, cocoa butter is safe. Theobromine and caffeine are the toxic ingredients in chocolate. These ingredients are also why humans love chocolate.
Dogs can’t process these compounds like humans can. Chocolate can make them ill, and can even be deadly in large amounts. Cocoa butter is made from the fat of the bean.
Because it’s made from the fat, it has very little theobromine and caffeine. It’s not recommended to serve your dog cocoa butter, but it shouldn’t harm them either.
Shea Butter Concerns
Shea butter itself, and its close cousin, cocoa butter, are safe for ingestion. However, your Shea butter lotion may not be.
There are two types of Shea butter products. Those made from only Shea butter, and those that use Shea butter as one of many ingredients in the product.
The concern is that products that contain Shea butter and other ingredients could be harmful due to the other ingredients or chemicals they contain.
What happens if my dog ate shea butter?
If your dog ate Shea butter, what will happen depends on several factors. Whether it was pure Shea butter or a product containing Shea butter will make a huge difference.
How much they ate and the size of your dog will also factor in. This is because how much they consume per pound of body weight is a factor in how their system reacts.
Vomitting and Diarrhea
If your dog ate a large amount of Shea butter for their size, you can expect vomiting and diarrhea. This isn’t because Shea butter is toxic. It’s simply too much fat for their system to handle.
They would have the same reaction if they chowed down on a tub of lard or a bottle of vegetable oil.
The large amount of fat causes gastroenteritis, which is inflammation and irritation of the stomach lining. Gastroenteritis can also occur for other reasons, like stomach viruses. It should pass within 24-48 hours.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It can occur due a diet high in fat, carbs, or both. Eating a high carb and high fat diet poses the greatest risk for pancreatitis. However, if the dog isn’t accustomed to high fat meals, intaking a large amount of fat can trigger pancreatitis.
The pancreas manufactures enzymes to aid food digestion. It also releases insulin, which controls blood sugar when carbs are consumed. It essentially helps process both fat and carbohydrates. This is why too much fat, carbs, or both can have a negative effect on the organ.
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, and its effects range from mild to life threatening. Generally, eating a large amount of Shea butter is likely to cause acute pancreatitis. This will likely resolve quickly with a healthy diet.
Nausea and vomiting are common with pancreatitis. Other symptoms include pain or tenderness in the abdomen, fever, and a rapid pulse.
Shea Butter Containing Products
If your dog ate lotion containing shea butter, the risk is a little higher. The good news is, lotions don’t typically contain ingredients that are highly toxic. However, depending on the amount ingested, they can still wreak some havoc on your dog’s system. You can expect vomiting and diarrhea.
Severe vomiting and diarrhea is possible because the oils and chemicals can cause major irritation to the stomach and esophagus. When your dog vomits, it will cause further irritation, which can make the situation worse.
There’s also the risk of aspirating when puking, which means pulling the contents into the lungs by breathing. If this occurs, your dog will likely develop pneumonia.
What if my dog licked shea butter?
If your dog licked pure shea butter, you have nothing to worry about. They will not ingest enough to cause stomach upset.
You may have noticed that anything you put on your dog’s body will end up in their stomach, because they will lick it. Shea butter is an excellent moisturizer to use on your dog, because it’s safe for them to ingest small amounts.
What to do if my dog eats shea butter?
Your dog ate shea butter, and you are wondering what to do. Should you take them to the vet? Monitor them at home? Should you be worried?
Remove Access to Shea Butter
If your dog accidentally eats shea butter, the first step is to ensure they can’t eat any more. Remove the shea butter, and put it out of their reach.
Monitor Your Dog
Now comes the waiting. Assuming your dog ate pure shea butter, there’s no worry of them ingesting anything toxic. However, it can still cause stomach upset.
Vomitting and diarrhea are normal, particularly if they consume a large amount for their size. However, if you notice other symptoms, you’ll need to take them to the vet immediately.
Things to watch for include tremors or seizures, severe abdominal pain, fever, disorientation or loss of consciousness, and breathing difficulties.
There’s a slight but unlikely chance of it triggering a severe case of pancreatitis, which would need immediate medical care. The other concern is a potential allergic reaction. It’s highly unlikely your dog is allergic to shea butter, but better safe than sorry.
Treating Stomach Upset
Your dog is vomiting but showing no signs of a more severe reaction. You can help them get through this at home.
One treatment option is pepto bismol. It can be given every 6-8 hours for diarrhea and vomiting. You’ll need to give one teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight.
Famotide is another option. It’s a heartburn medication for humans, but it’s also used effectively to treat a wide variety of dog stomach issues. It is often prescribed for acute pancreatitis, as well as acid reflux and nausea. It can help calm inflammation and soothe your dog’s stomach.
It’s administered at .5 mg per pound. You can find the medication over the counter in 10,20, and 40 mg tablets. Before giving it to your dog, be sure to determine the correct dosage.
For example, a small dog weighing 10 pounds would need 5 mg of famotide. This is one half a 10 mg tablet, or 1/4 of a 20 mg tablet. If you are in doubt, you can also contact your vet about usage and dosage of famotide.
Settling the Stomach With Diet
If your dog gets an upset stomach from consuming shea butter, you’ll need to give them a bland diet for a few days. It’s best to avoid their regular dog food. Instead, feed them lean protein and complex carbs.
These can help calm the stomach and bulk up loose stools as well. Boiled chicken and brown rice are excellent options. Pumpkin is a great addition to your dog’s meals as well, and has stomach-soothing properties.
How much shea butter is likely to be too much for a dog?
Too much Shea butter can cause stomach upset. It’s difficult to say how much is too much, because the product isn’t designed for canine consumption.
Since Shea butter is high in fat, the easiest way to determine how much is too much is to look at the fat content. A 30 pound dog should have 14 grams of fat each day as part of a healthy diet.
Most dogs will get this from their standard dog food. If you notice a dull coat or hair loss, you can try supplementing your dog’s diet with a little more fat. This can improve their coat quality and be good for their health.
However, too much fat in the diet can lead to obesity and pancreatitis, so moderation is key.
One tablespoon of Shea butter has 14 grams of fat. This means if you have a medium-sized dog, one tablespoon will be their entire fat allowance for the day.
Their dog food will also contain fat, so it’s easy to go over this allowance with even a moderate amount of Shea butter.
If you have a 10 pound dog, 5 grams of fat is all they need for the day. This is about one teaspoon of Shea butter.