When your dog looks up at you wistfully and sniffs at your deliciously tangy Panda Express order, you may wonder to yourself with a tinge of hopefulness,
“Can dogs eat orange chicken?”
While your dog’s yearning eyes scream “yes!”, your gut instinct may be telling you no. On this occasion, your gut instinct would be right.
Don’t get me wrong- one or two pieces of orange-flavored chicken aren’t going to hurt your dog.
It’ll be just fine. There is nothing in the ingredients list that will poison a dog.
However, it certainly isn’t healthy for dogs, especially in moderate to large quantities. This is because the Panda Express dish is usually high in fat, sugar and calories, which in the long term can lead to weight gain, obesity and diabetes.
If your dog happens to eat a large plate of orange chicken in a manner of minutes (which they are capable of doing especially if they don’t chew), or eats the dish frequently, they could be in danger of pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening and will require a visit to the vet for intensive therapy.
Therefore, your dog will definitely be better off skipping tonight’s takeaway, and stick instead to its own kibble or a just-as-delicious-for-your-dog bowl of plain chicken breast and rice.
Orange chicken is not as simple as the name makes it sound. Unfortunately, you can’t just mash up an orange and add it to pieces of chicken to create a delectable final dish, Overcooked style.
If that were the case, it’d actually be a lot healthier for dogs to eat!
It would also be so unsavory that they wouldn’t touch it anyway.
So what’s in the dish? A Panda Express copycat recipe lists the main ingredients as:
- Skinless chicken thighs
- White pepper
- Oil (6 cups!)
- Sugar (50 grams)
- Brown sugar (55 grams)
- Orange juice
- White distilled vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Garlic, ginger, and chili flakes
And according to The Takeout, one 5.7 ounce serving of the Panda Express staple contains 18 grams of fat, 610mg of sodium, and 380 total calories. All whopping figures!
Skinless chicken thighs: Orange chicken is usually made with skinless chicken, which is a point in its favor in terms of healthiness.
However, the recipe uses the thigh area of the chicken or other dark meat, rather than the much leaner chicken breast. This is no doubt for taste as well as affordability reasons, as breast is both more expensive and less tender and juicy than its thigh counterpart.
Chicken dark meat contains much more fat than the breast. In fact, the same amount of dark meat will have 3 times the level of fat and saturated fat that the breast meat contains.
Cornstarch and flour: Cornstarch and flour on their own have zero fat content. However they are composed nearly completely of carbohydrates, which when eaten in excess amounts leads to fat storage and weight gain.
Cornstarch and flour are combined with egg, salt and white pepper to make the delectably crunchy batter. The mixture is used to coat the chicken pieces completely, ready to be fried.
Oil: Finally, don’t forget about the vat of oil that the chicken is fried in. A lot of that greasy goodness will be sucked straight into that batter, and if you’re unlucky enough to drop the plate, sucked straight up by your dog.
Fat is a funny thing when it comes to dogs. A small to moderate amount is absolutely necessary in a dog’s diet in order to maintain overall wellbeing. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids along with collagen are especially helpful for brain, skin, and joint health.
However, too much fat will lead to weight gain, which will in turn put heavy pressure on multiple joints as well as on the organs such as heart, liver and kidneys. This will show in signs such as unwillingness to move, heavy difficult breathing and heart disease.
The body composition of the dog will change as lean muscle is replaced with fatty tissue, and if things get really serious, it could be affected by life-changing conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Eating too much fat too quickly can also put your dog at significant risk for acute pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis is where the pancreas becomes suddenly inflamed as the pancreas begins to digest itself.
While there are thought to be a few different possible causes for pancreatitis in dogs, the most common is in connection to being overweight or having a high-fat diet. If it is a severe case, it can result in shock, depression and death.
The most common symptoms of pancreatitis are:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
Serious instances of pancreatitis will need to be treated with painkillers, anti-inflammatories and IV fluids by the vet.
In most mild cases, dogs will recover with rest by allowing the body to mend itself. This may mean it goes without food, or eats only easy-to-digest meals, for a few days. The long term outlook for dogs with pancreatitis is good, though they may become more prone to future bouts.
This just means that it’s better to stay away from giving your dog high-fat human foods in general, and stick to feeding it vet-approved meals designed for dogs!
The best part of orange chicken is the sauce– hands-down. Sweet, sour, with a kick of zesty spice, it really takes the fried chicken up another notch and is undoubtedly what makes the dish the favorite choice of many.
Unfortunately, it is also positively frothing with sugar content. The above recipe calls for the addition of two types of sugar (white and brown) as well as orange juice, which is high in fructose. There are other recipes that throw in a dollop of honey for good measure.
This amount of sugar can give humans fits- let alone dogs.
Similarly to eating too much fat, eating too much sugar from foods like Thin Mints or sugar cane will cause weight gain and will gradually lead to problems like metabolic changes, obesity and diabetes.
When a dog contracts Type II diabetes, it will be unable to process sugar at all due to the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin.
Sugar can also cause short-term problems like vomiting and diarrhea due to it ruining the balance of microbiomes in the dog’s stomach and causing GI upset.
While this is not fatal, it’s sure to make your dog feel miserable- and you as well, when you have to clean up half-digested orangey meat vomit.
It can also cause teeth cavities if the dog’s teeth are not cleaned afterwards. Sugar is used by bacteria in the mouth to produce acids, which then decay the teeth by eating away at the enamel and coating of the bone.
Simply put, sugar is really the one ingredient that your dog doesn’t need ANY of in its diet.
Among the remaining ingredients, there are a few that stand out as being unnecessary or even potentially harmful to a dog.
Soy sauce and salt both contain high concentrations of sodium. Not only will a high amount of sodium make dogs very thirsty and prone to dehydration, it can also lead to more serious conditions such as hypernatremia and sodium ion poisoning.
The symptoms of excess salt consumption can include:
- Loss of balance
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle spasms
In the most dangerous cases, salt poisoning can even lead to death.
The dish also contains garlic, which can kill a dog’s red blood cells, causing anemia. Anemia prevents a dog’s blood cells from carrying the proper amount of oxygen it needs throughout its body.
Admittedly, the amount of garlic in this Panda Express meal is probably not large enough to harm a dog, but it’s better to be safe than sorry especially with foods that your dog doesn’t need to eat.
If it eats a piece or two, then nothing, really. Your dog will likely be completely fine and just got to enjoy a bit of a fine culinary treat, at least by doggy standards.
Just make sure you’ve left out an ample amount of clean, fresh water for your dog to drink whenever it feels thirsty. In case you want to be extra careful, feed it a bland diet of rice and boiled lean meat the next day.
If you left a plate of orange-flavored chicken on the table, went to wash your hands, and then came back to it mysteriously missing without a trace, then you will have to keep a close eye on your dog for the next few hours.
You will need to monitor especially for signs of salt poisoning and pancreatitis. If your dog starts to vomit, become lethargic, experience stomach pain, or show any other symptoms described in the above sections, then take it immediately to the vet.
For your dog, there is no fundamental difference between the cuisines of the world. Chinese food, Western food, Indian food, Thai- it’s all the same in your pup’s opinion!
What makes a particular food good or bad for dogs therefore is not so much what its origins are, but how much salt, sugar, oil and spice is in the food. If a food has too many of those components, then it is unhealthy for your dog- end of story.
Fried noodles with chilli, garlic, a gallon of oil and soy sauce? Bad.
Pizza topped with salami, bacon, and mozzarella and Funyuns? Equally bad.
Tossed Thai seafood salad with lemon juice and fish sauce? Good!
As you can see, any nation’s food can be made healthily or unhealthily for dogs. It all comes down to the ingredients.
So yes, Chinese food from the takeaway shop around the corner is probably not the best thing to feed your dog.
This is due to the high amounts of salt, oil and soy sauce that would likely be used. You may even worry about MSG, though that has been shown to be potentially beneficial to dogs that have coprophagia.
Its stomach probably wouldn’t be able to handle that level of bombardment, and would result in GI upset, diarrhea, vomiting, or worse.
However, every Chinese favorite can be made as a healthier version too. So if you ever decide to cook Chinese at home, make it a meal with the right ingredients that both you and your best friend can enjoy!
If you wanted to know once and for all whether dogs can eat orange chicken, the simple answer would most likely be no.
The high fat and sugar content see to that, as both are not good substances for a dog to have even in moderate amounts. Excess fat and sugar consumption can and will lead to immediate problems such as pancreatitis, as well as long term issues like obesity and diabetes.
If your dog gives you the best puppy eyes that it can muster and you simply can’t resist, give it a piece or two of this Panda Express delicacy at most- then direct it straight to the water bowl.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat for your pup, but the best way to make sure it lives a long, healthy, happy life is always to feed it the food that it is meant to eat.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.