This Popular Treat Is Not a Good Choice

I often hear clients say they hide medications in peanut butter, make treats with peanut butter, and fill toys with peanut butter for their pets. I cringe because I don't think this is a good choice.

Some companies have been adding xylitol to peanut butter, which is deadly for dogs. Be sure to read the label carefully, as this ingredient can cause low blood sugar, liver failure, seizures, and death.

Peanuts are a legume, which puts them in the same family as peas, lentils, chickpeas, and starchy beans. Many pets do not digest legumes very well. There are a few reasons for this.

Peanuts are high in lectins. Lectins are thought to play a role in immune function, cell growth, cell death, and body fat regulation. Dogs are unable to digest lectins, so the body may produce antibodies against them, producing an immune response. This is particularly problematic in pets with inflammatory bowel disease. Leptins can block absorption of nutrients by binding to the cells lining the intestinal tract.

Peanuts are also high in phytates and phytic acid. Phytates can bind calcium, magnesium, and iron in animals and humans. Consuming 5-10 mg of phytic acid can reduce iron absorption by 50%.  Phytates reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats by inhibiting the enzymes pepsin, trypsin, and amylase.

Contamination with aspergillus fungus, which produces aflatoxin, is a common problem found in peanuts. The molds can contaminate food before harvest or during storage, especially following prolonged exposure to a high-humidity environment, or to stressful conditions such as drought. In the United States, ten states grow 99% of the U. S. peanut crop: Georgia (which grows about 42% of all U. S. peanuts), followed by Texas, Alabama, Florida,  Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. All of these states have problems with either high humidity or drought. Organic crops which are not treated with fungicides may be more susceptible to contamination with aflatoxins.

Aflatoxin causes cancer and liver disease. Chronic low level exposure to aflatoxins in pet feed can cause chronic liver disease in dogs. Many times dogs with elevated liver enzymes will show improvement when taken off diets containing legumes and placed on high protein/fat diets.

Salmonella is another potential contaminant that can be found in peanut butter. Salmonella is America's most common cause of foodborne illness, causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and possibly death. In 2015, a peanut plant owner was sentenced to life in prison for knowingly shipping contaminated peanut products that killed at least nine people and sickened hundreds. We will never know how many pets may also have been affected.

While the FDA does regulate contamination of peanut butter with salmonella and aflatoxin (allowing a low level to be present), it also has standards that might make you want to turn away from eating peanut butter yourself:


The following represents the criteria for direct reference seizure to the Division of Compliance Management and Operations (HFC-210) and for direct citation by the District Offices:


    1. The peanut butter contains an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams;
    2. The peanut butter contains an average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.


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