Saltine crackers are a staple snack food in many households. These crunchy, salty crackers can be found in just about every pantry. But what about our canine companions? As dog owners, we often wonder if it’s safe to share our favorite human foods with our pets. So can dogs eat saltine crackers too? Before determining if saltines are safe snacks for dogs, let’s first take a look at what exactly saltine crackers are.
What are Saltine Crackers?
Saltine crackers, sometimes called soda crackers, are thin, square crackers made from white flour, yeast, and baking soda. The crackers get their name from the main ingredient – salt! A key ingredient in the cracker dough is sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt.
Saltines have a crispy, brittle texture thanks to food additives that inhibit gluten development in the dough. This stops the crackers from rising too much when baked. A sprinkle of salt on top gives them their iconic salty taste.
Nutritionally, saltine crackers offer little more than carbohydrates and sodium. Here’s a quick look at the nutrition facts for a serving of 4 crackers:
|1 Serving (4 crackers)
|% Daily Value
As you can see, these crackers provide minimal protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals. The main components are refined carbohydrates from enriched wheat flour and a high amount of sodium, coming in at 6% of the recommended daily sodium intake.
Saltine crackers consist of the following ingredients:
- Enriched wheat flour – This refined white flour has nutrients like iron and B vitamins added back in after processing. The refining process removes beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals from whole wheat kernels.
- Soybean oil – This added vegetable oil gives the crackers a bit of fat and flavor. Too much can be unhealthy.
- Salt – Simply table salt, added for flavor. This provides the high sodium content.
- Calcium phosphate – An additive that enhances crispness in the baked crackers.
- Baking soda – Helps the crackers rise and bake evenly for that signature bubbly texture.
- Malted barley flour – Made from sprouted barley, adds a nutty, wheat-like flavor.
- Sugar – A small amount of sugar adds sweetness.
- Yeast – Leavening agent that makes the crackers rise when baked.
So should you share these nutritionally-lacking snacks with your dog? Let’s explore further.
Can Dogs Eat Saltine Crackers?Are Saltines Safe for Dogs to Eat?
The answer is yes, saltine crackers are generally safe for dogs to eat in small amounts. A few crackers here and there likely won’t cause any issues for your dog.
However, saltines don’t provide much nutritional value for dogs. They are essentially empty carbs and excess sodium. The refined grains offer little fiber or protein, and the added fats and sugars are unhealthy in large amounts.
While non-toxic, we don’t recommend making saltine crackers a regular part of your dog’s diet. The cons tend to outweigh the pros when it comes to dogs and saltines.
It’s best to view them similarly to white bread – a “junk food” snack food lacking nutrients. Saltines really offer nothing beneficial for dogs. The minimal protein or vitamins they may get from the enriched wheat flour does not justify the unhealthy carbs, fat and sodium.
Occasionally giving your dog a bite of a saltine cracker in moderation is unlikely to cause harm. But they provide zero health benefits and nutritional value. There are far better snack options if you want to give your dog a treat.
Potential Health Risks of Dogs Eating Saltines
If your dog eats more than just a cracker or two, excessive saltine consumption could lead to some health issues:
- Obesity – The refined carbohydrates and fats in saltines provide lots of empty calories with minimal nutrients. It’s easy for dogs to pack on extra pounds if humans frequently feed them carb-loaded snacks like crackers. Excess weight stresses joints, the heart, and can lead to diabetes in dogs.
- Gastrointestinal upset – Too many salty crackers could easily irritate your dog’s stomach, leading to vomiting, diarrhea or other GI issues. Both the wheat and added salt may cause problems for sensitive dogs.
- Dehydration – The high amounts of sodium in saltines increases thirst and urination as the kidneys flush out excess salt. Dehydration is a risk if a dog eats a whole stack of crackers and does not have adequate fresh water available.
- Heart and kidney problems – All that excess sodium places strain on the heart and kidneys as they work overtime to filter and excrete it. Eating too many saltines could potentially worsen pre-existing organ issues.
- Salt toxicity – In rare cases, dogs can develop hypernatremia or salt toxicity from eating too many salt-laden foods like saltine crackers. They can exhibit vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, muscle twitches and weakness. Severe toxicity leads to seizures, coma or even death.
How Many Saltines Can Dogs Eat?
Dog owners often wonder how many crackers their pup can safely eat. The answer depends on your individual dog’s size and health status. While a large, healthy dog may tolerate a couple crackers, a small or ill dog should avoid them altogether.
For very small dogs under 10 lbs, we recommend avoiding saltines completely. Their tiny bodies cannot handle excess carbs and sodium well. At most, a small dog could possibly have half of one plain saltine cracker on very rare occasions – but healthier snacks are best.
For medium sized dogs between 10-50 lbs, one or two small saltine crackers given a couple times a month poses minimal risk. However, even just 2 crackers provides almost 10% of their recommended daily sodium intake. Too much salt builds up over time, so moderation is key.
Larger dogs over 50 lbs can handle a slightly higher saltine intake than tiny dogs, but they should still be limited to no more than 2-3 crackers at a time. Provide no more than once or twice per month. Large dogs have bigger appetites and can easily overindulge if given unlimited access to boxes of crackers.
Puppies should avoid saltines altogether – their small bodies cannot process excess carbs and sodium well. And dogs with certain medical conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes should steer clear of saltines unless your vet approves.
For optimal health, we recommend skipping saltine crackers altogether and choosing healthier snacks made specifically for dogs. But if you absolutely must give your dog the occasional “treat” of a bite of your saltine, use these general serving guidelines:
Saltine Serving Size Limits Based on Dog Size
- Small dog (<10 lbs): No more than 1/2 a cracker
- Medium dog (10-50 lbs): No more than 1-2 small crackers
- Large dog (>50 lbs): No more than 2-3 crackers
- Puppies: Avoid giving saltines
- Ill dogs: Follow vet guidelines
And limit saltine intake to no more than once or twice per month. The rest of the time, feed premium dog foods and snacks made for canine health.
Signs of a Dog Eating Too Many Saltines
What happens if a mischievous dog manages to scarf down a whole sleeve of saltines? Here are some common signs of a dog eating too many crackers:
- Increased thirst and urination – All that salt will make them thirsty as their body tries to dilute the sodium levels. They’ll drink more and pee more frequently.
- Vomiting and diarrhea – The high salt and carb load may cause gastrointestinal upset.
- Loss of appetite – They may skip meals due to feeling unwell.
- Lethargy – Lack of energy from GI upset or salt toxicity.
- Weight gain – Too many starchy crackers on top of their regular diet can easily lead to unhealthy weight gain.
- Confusion and depression – Advanced signs of hypernatremia or salt toxicity as sodium levels build to dangerous levels.
- Muscle tremors and twitches – Another symptom of sodium toxicity as it impacts muscle and nerve function.
- Seizures – In extreme cases, salt toxicity can cause seizures, coma and lead to death without treatment.
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms shortly after eating a large quantity of saltines, monitor them closely. Look for improvement over the next 24 hours as the salt works its way out of their system. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek vet care immediately.
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Too Many Saltines
Accidents happen. Dogs manage to get into things they shouldn’t all the time. So what should you do if you discover your pup chowed down on a sleeve of saltines when you weren’t looking? Here are the steps to take:
- Prevent dehydration – Offer fresh water immediately so your dog can rehydrate. The fluids will help flush excess sodium from their system. Make sure water is freely available over the next 24 hours.
- Avoid other salty foods – Don’t give any other high-sodium human snacks like chips, pretzels, etc. while your dog recovers from excess salt intake.
- Monitor for concerning symptoms – Keep an eye out for vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, confusion, muscle twitches or seizures which may signal sodium toxicity. Seek emergency vet care if these symptoms develop.
- Contact your vet – Give your vet a call and ask for their advice based on your dog’s size and medical history. They may recommend bringing your dog in to get checked out.
- Limit activity – Avoid strenuous exercise for the next day or so while your dog recovers. The extra activity could worsen GI upset or dehydration.
- Adjust future diet – Going forward, lay off the starchy, fatty and salty human foods and stick to quality dog foods and snacks to get your dog’s nutrition back on track.
Safer Crackers and Alternatives for Dogs
The healthiest snack options are those made specifically for canine nutrition requirements. When looking for cracker alternatives, choose:
- Low sodium or no-salt-added crackers – Varieties without excess salt are safest, but only give in moderation since they still contain carbs.
- Whole grain crackers – Look for crackers using all-natural whole grains like whole wheat flour, brown rice flour, oats or barley. These provide more nutrients than refined white flour.
- Limited ingredient crackers – The shorter the ingredient list, the better. This minimizes the risk of GI upset from preservatives or additives.
- All natural flavors – No onion, garlic, or other seasonings that are toxic to dogs.
- Homemade dog crackers – Bake DIY crackers using dog-safe ingredients like whole wheat flour, pumpkin puree, peanut butter, shredded carrots, blueberries or bananas.
- Monitor portion sizes – Too many crackers increase carbs, so always feed crackers in moderation, even healthy ones. Treat them as an occasional snack, not a dietary staple.
- Unsalted pretzels or rice cakes – These provide crunch without excess sodium or unhealthy fats. Break into small pieces for safe snacking.
- Fruits and veggies – Fresh produce like apple slices, baby carrots, cucumber rounds or green beans make way healthier alternatives to starchy crackers.
No matter what crackers or snacks you choose, examine ingredients lists carefully and stick to your vet’s recommended feeding guidelines. They can provide personalized advice based on your dog’s health, medical history, age and dietary needs.
When to Go to the Emergency Vet
Head to the emergency vet right away if your dog shows any of the following signs after overindulging on saltines:
- Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
- Lethargy or loss of coordination
- Muscle tremors or seizures
- Collapsing, losing consciousness or going into a coma
These all indicate salt toxicity, which can quickly become fatal without swift medical intervention to lower sodium levels. Don’t wait – seek emergency vet care immediately if your dog eats a concerning amount of saltines and exhibits any of these troubling symptoms.
Prevention is best when it comes to protecting your dog from unhealthy human foods. Avoid feeding Fido your saltines, and he’ll avoid an unnecessary trip to the vet’s office!