November 3, 2015
Categories: Shelter Medicine, Animal Behavior

It’s a stickily delicious solution to a lot of common dog challenges, and it’s being celebrated during National Peanut Butter Lovers Month!

Peanut butter can help relieve stress in shelter dogs, keep dogs in homes occupied and happy, and distract dogs from frightening or disruptive situations. And of course, it can be made into a tasty, albeit high-calorie, dog treat.

“In the shelter, we use peanut butter for enrichment the same way it’s used for dogs in homes, stuffed in Kongs or in a ball of kibble, to give the dogs something tasty and fun,” said Dr. Sheila D’Arpino, a board certified veterinary behaviorist and Maddie’s Fund Director of Research. “But where it really helps shelter dogs is as a management tool.”

When a shelter dog needs to be moved and will have to pass by potentially distressing stimuli, such as a row of barking dogs in their kennels, D’Arpino recommends holding a spoon of peanut butter in front of a dog’s nose while walking through the area.

At home and in the vet’s office, peanut butter can be a miracle worker, too, says veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker. “In my work creating fear free veterinary visits for pets, I consider peanut butter a sticky solution to a sticky problem,” he said.

“Frequently, pets who are just adopted can find it stressful to adjust to their new home,” he said. “Some dogs suffer from varying degrees of anxiety, and tried-and-true diversions like a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, and then frozen, can reliably keep them diverted while their new human family heads for errands, school, or work.”

Not only that, Becker said, “Working their jaws is very soothing to dogs — as anyone who’s ever seen a dog chew up a wall, sofa, or table leg can attest. Peanut butter is so enticing to most dogs that they’ll stay focused on a safe, virtually indestructible toy like a Kong far longer than they would on the toy alone.”

Whether in the shelter or at the veterinary hospital, peanut butter also serves to distract dogs from fear or worry during medical procedures such as injections or blood draws. “A little peanut butter on a spoon can keep a dog occupied while you do what you need to do,” said D’Arpino.

Is there any downside for dogs to this tasty miracle? Two, said Becker.

“One, and this is critically important, a few smaller peanut butter manufacturers have started putting a sweetener called Xylitol into their peanut butter,” he said. “Along with many other veterinarians, I’m concerned that this trend will spread, because even a tiny amount of Xylitol will kill your dog. So before giving your dog peanut butter, read the ingredients, and if has Xylitol in it, make sure he can’t get anywhere near the jar.”

Problem two is that peanut butter is very high in calories. “If your pet is lean and gets plenty of exercise, peanut butter is a great treat,” Becker said. “If he or she is starting to resemble a walking footstool, look for something less fattening, or rely on games and long walks to take the edge off instead.”

So have a happy and stress-free Peanut Butter Lovers Month, everyone — in moderation!

Photo of Quora Becker and her favorite PB treat courtesy of Dr. Marty Becker