Bamboo on the outside- sweet, sweet, sugar on the inside.
That’s the easiest way to describe the sugar cane plant. Many may confuse it with the candy cane, which is a completely different branch that only grows on Christmas trees.
Chewing on sugarcane while watching the latest soap episode is a favorite pastime of many people in many different countries, but the question remains unanswered for their favorite companions:
Can dogs eat sugar cane too?
While the green and purple sticks might seem harmless, they could actually be more of a danger than you think.
Sugar cane contains- you guessed it- sugar, and quite a lot of it too! You may or may not know it, but sugar is not something that canines really need in their diet. Excess consumption of the sweet stuff can lead to complications like an upset stomach, weight gain, and diabetes.
Not only that, the plant splinters easily and in large, long chunks that can easily scrape the inside of a dog’s mouth and throat- not to mention the choking risk.
Assuming that it makes it safely into the stomach, the fibrous material can become stuck and cause an internal obstruction as dogs weren’t really designed to chew hardy grass stalks. If that happens, it’s off to the vet for a sometimes risky and expensive removal surgery.
Best to just keep them on the dog food, eh?
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Sugarcane is a perennial grass crop, originating in Southeast Asia, which can grow to heights of 13 feet. It is cultivated in hot, tropical climates, mainly for the high sucrose content it provides.
Sugarcane is the source of cane sugar (who’d have made that connection?) that we all know and love. Well, what we really love is the further refined product of raw, cane sugar: crystallized white sugar!
In fact, the crop accounts for about 80% of the world’s entire sugar supply.
While they are most commonly processed into raw or refined sugar, sugarcane sticks themselves can be eaten in a variety of ways. The stalks can be peeled and chewed for a sweet treat, or can be pressed by machine to extract a refreshing juice.
Though you might expect sugarcane to just have the plain taste of sugar, the flavor is actually a little more nuanced. With hints of vanilla and a distinct ‘plant’ tang, it’s definitely a unique profile that has to be experienced first-hand.
Additionally, unlike white sugar, the plant when eaten in its pure form possesses some surprising health benefits.
Due to its high concentration of potassium, calcium, iron, manganese and magnesium the juice is alkaline in nature, which improves liver function, soothes the digestive system, and can even help to fight off cancerous cells.
With that said, while it may be a helpful food and drink for human beings, it is debatable whether it also provides those same positive benefits for canines.
There are two main factors that make sugarcane an unsuitable food for your dog:
- The amount of sugar it contains, and
- Its hard, brittle exterior and tough, fibrous center.
The single primary component of sugar cane, i.e. sucrose/sugar, is not something that dogs need to consume in order to be their best selves- not even in small quantities.
In fact, moderate to large amounts of sugar consumption can cause some serious health issues in your dog.
While of course the sugar level of sugarcane doesn’t compare to man-made candies like Swedish Fish or Sour Patch Kids, it does still contain 12.85 grams of sugar and 58 calories per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of juice.
To illustrate just how unnecessary sucrose is to a dog’s diet, let’s just say this: even if your dog only eats 12.85 grams of sugar, that’s 12.85 grams too many.
When a dog eats too much sugar over a prolonged period, it will be in danger of gaining weight. The more weight that is gained, the more likely that the dog will develop increasingly serious issues like metabolic changes, obesity and diabetes.
Once a dog develops Type II diabetes, it will no longer be able to process sugar at all since the pancreas won’t be able to produce insulin.
While problems can and will occur over months and years, don’t discount the potential short-term negative side effects either. Stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea resulting from a sudden onrush of sugar is just as common.
This is due to the microorganism balance being thrown off in the gut. Though not fatal, it sure is uncomfortable- both for the dog, and the unfortunate owner who has to clean up the resulting mess.
Finally, as we’ve all been taught since elementary school, sugar causes teeth decay and cavities. The bacteria that live in mouths love to feast on sugar, and when they do they produce corrosive acids which then attack teeth enamel and coating.
Over 80% of dogs experience dental disease by age 3, and so adding sugar to that equation surely won’t help.
To reiterate: Sugar is one ingredient that your dog simply doesn’t need, and the sugar cane plant is literally where it comes from. Sugarcane juice for dogs is definitely not recommended.
If that isn’t enough to put you off throwing a sugarcane stalk to your dog…
Given how it looks, you might imagine sugar cane to be similar to bamboo in anatomy, construction, and texture.
You’d be half right.
The exterior of sugar cane is indeed very similar to bamboo, in that it is segmented, smooth and hard.
Peel back the brittle outer layer though and you’ll soon discover that there’s a big difference. Instead of being hollow, the inside of a sugarcane stick is composed of a moist, pulpy, and fibrous material.
When broken or chewed, the outer skin of sugar cane is prone to splintering into sharp, rigid shards. As you the middle of the plant is continually grinded, sugary water is extracted and the material becomes drier and more stringy, and increasingly clumped together.
The nature of sugar cane will automatically create difficulties for any dog that tries to eat it.
The tendency of the outer skin of sugarcane to splinter into sharp chunks is obviously a significant choking risk. They can easily become lodged in a dog’s throat, or cause scratches and cuts on the way down.
Even if a dog successfully gets past/avoids the exterior, or is only given the juicy interior of the stalk, it can still be in danger of choking.
Sugarcane is customarily eaten by chewing the juice out of the plant flesh, and then spitting out the dry, woody residue. As you might expect, dogs can’t be relied on to do the second part properly, and may swallow the waste material instead.
Since the material will likely have clumped and expanded while being chewed, it becomes a tangible choking risk that realistically can suffocate a dog.
Assuming that the sugarcane piece makes it successfully into the stomach of a dog without causing it to choke, it will still be in danger of an intestinal blockage.
This is otherwise known as a pyloric obstruction, which is where a foreign material becomes stuck in the passage area between the small intestine and stomach. Dog stomachs were not made to digest rough plant material, and will instead pass it out in its original chewed form.
When the pyloric sphincter becomes clogged, a dog will begin to become restless, nauseous and show signs of stomach pain. Even if the sugarcane debris makes it to the small intestine, it may then become tied up within the digestive tract, especially if it is a long segment.
This is due to the sugarcane being so fibrous that it has the potential to separate into strings or strands. If these strands then become entwined in the intestines and cuts off circulation, it can cause surrounding organs to decay.
Though a blockage may begin in a partial state, it may move towards being a full blockage at any point- where it then becomes rapidly life-threatening.
Additional symptoms of internal obstruction can include:
- Visible stomach bloating
- Loss of appetite
- Bloody stools
- Heavy panting.
Unless your dog ate a truly prodigious number of sugarcane sticks, or regularly eats a segment of sugar cane a day, you don’t need to be overly concerned about the sugar content.
In the short-term, it may experience a bit of gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea if its stomach is bombarded by a sudden and significant rush of sugar.
Make sure that it has access to plenty of fresh, clean water, and if the stomach discomfort seems particularly bad, you can give it Pepcid-AC (famotidine) at a dosage of 0.25mg/pound of body weight every 12 hours.
Unfortunately, it is more of a possibility that your dog will either choke or develop an internal obstruction after swallowing sugar cane.
If your dog appears to be choking on a sugarcane chunk, drop everything and make it your immediate, vital mission to remove the piece from its throat as quickly as possible.
If you can see it visibly stuck in the throat, use your fingers. However, if you can see that it is a particularly long or sharp piece, you will want to be as gentle as you can.
For the same reason as not using pliers or other long objects to try to remove the piece, it’s imperative to avoid any action that will risk cutting the inside of your dog’s throat. A cut in the throat will bleed profusely, and that will only make matters much worse than they already are.
If you don’t see the sugarcane chunk at all, don’t try to locate it with your fingers by pushing deeper. If you do this, you will potentially lodge any material even further in.
If you can’t see the piece of sugarcane, attempt the Heimlich maneuver shown in the following video:
If that doesn’t dislodge the mass or make it visibly removable with your fingers, pick your dog up and take it to the vet immediately.
Even if your dog doesn’t seem to be choking after swallowing pieces of sugarcane, you’re unfortunately not out of the woods just yet.
It still needs to be monitored carefully over the next 2 or 3 days for any behavioral changes or signs of pain or distress. That means looking closely at its poop for any pieces of sugarcane that might emerge. Great job, I know.
Giving your dog fiber-rich foods such as high-fiber bread, bran flakes, plain pumpkin paste, or oatmeal will help to speed up this process. Just make sure that the foods don’t contain secondary toxic ingredients like raisins, chocolate powder, or certain nuts!
You can also give your dog psyllium husk (commercially known as Metamucil) in dosages of ½ teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight.
Psyllium helps with internal blockage as it is not broken down in the digestive tract and it absorbs water. This means as psyllium passes through the intestines, the psyllium mass will gradually expand and drag along the pieces of sugar cane till it reaches the rectum.
If your dog does pass the pieces of sugar cane smoothly, then luckily you no longer have anything to worry about and your dog will be just fine.
However, if your dog instead begins to have diarrhea or pass bloody/black stools, or if it starts to vomit, experience abdominal pain, have constipation or lose its appetite, you need to take it to the vet immediately for assessment and treatment.
An initial X-ray will be taken to see how much sugar cane was eaten and what the exact situation is.
In cases such as these where the dog may have swallowed sharp shards or large mats of material, it is likely that the vet will decide not to induce vomiting since it could potentially lodge in or damage the throat on the way back up.
If the pieces have not yet passed to the intestines, the vet may be able to perform an endoscopy to pull the plant fragments out. In the worst case scenario, your dog may need to undergo surgery in order for the pieces to be safely removed from its intestines.
So, what happens if a dog eats sugarcane?
Oh, not much. Just some potential sugar-induced illnesses like obesity and diabetes, and a heightened risk of choking and stomach blockage. Nothing that a trip to the animal hospital and expensive vet bills can’t handle.
While a dog will likely be just fine if it only chews a small piece, there is always the possibility that it could escalate into something much more dire.
Hopefully, the potential consequences will be enough to make you have serious second thoughts about handing your dog a sugarcane stick for their next snack.
There are better options for your best friend to have, and if you are ever in doubt about what’s good or what’s not (it sure can get confusing)- stick to the vet-approved treats found in your friendly local pet store!
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.