Why Do Dogs Love Peanut Butter?

Dogs never seem to tire of eating peanut butter, but we're not sure why.

Peanut butter's salt, fat, sugar and protein offer a tasty mix for dogs. (Photo: Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock).

If my dog could talk, here's what he would say: “More peanut butter, please.” It's clear that dogs love the stuff. What’s not so clear, though, is why.

Fat or Sugar or Salt?

Although dogs seem to crave salt and will lick your fingers if you've been eating chips, they’re not as turned on by it as humans are. Because they lack salt-specific taste buds, they don’t crave it like we do. Nor is it something they particularly need. In the wild, more than 80% of a canine’s diet comes from meat. Humans might deem raw meat as rather bland, but it contains more than enough sodium for a dog. Most dog foods also have plenty of salt. Besides, natural peanut butters often have no added salt and dogs seem to love them just as much.

What about fat? Peanut butter is full of it. And fatty foods do seem to taste better—a fact as true for dogs as it is for humans. Indeed, it may be truer for dogs because they have more fat-related taste buds than we do. Does that make fat the key to peanut butter's appeal? Not quite. The extra buds seem to apply only to fats that come from meats—not from vegetables or legumes. And there are plenty of other high-fat foods that dogs don’t like, especially ones they have a hard time digesting.

What about sugar? Unlike cats, dogs have a sweet tooth—or a sweet tongue, actually. They respond positively to the chemical furaneol, a flavor that cats are basically “blind” to. Indeed, “sweet” is something dogs can smell. And the furaneol taste buds are concentrated on the tip of a dog’s tongue. If they’re licking peanut butter out of something like a Kong toy, that’s perfect placement for maximum contact. The problem is that dogs seem to like natural, no-sugar-added peanut butters just as much as Jif or Skippy. As with salt, the only sugar comes from the actual peanuts.

The Lure of Protein

dog looking at meat

Most peanut butter has gobs of fat, sugar, and salt—all easy things for a dog to like. But is that really why they love it so much?

All that’s left is protein. Peanut butter is loaded with the stuff. In fact, that’s why it was created in the first place, by a doctor looking for a high-protein, easy-to-digest food for his patients. Those two qualities—high in protein and easy to digest—might be just the clues we’re looking for.

Although dog owners may worry that too much protein is bad for their pups, causing joint problems or even kidney damage, there’s really not much to worry about. Anti-protein claims have largely been proven false. In fact, growing pups need fairly high amounts of protein. As long as a grown-up dog's kidneys are fine to begin with, they shouldn’t have any trouble removing excess protein from the body.

In fact, your dog needs plenty of protein to help replace skin and hair, which its body does constantly. A healthy coat is often a sign of sufficient protein in a dog’s diet, while brittle fur and bald patches point to a protein deficiency. Protein is also a big part of your dog’s immune system. And if you have a working breed, the dog will need even more protein to stay healthy while being active. But lots of dog foods are low in protein because of old concerns. If dogs have a protein deficiency, they may look for it elsewhere. They find a quality source in peanut butter.

Other than from meat, it can be hard for dogs to find high-quality, easy-to-digest proteins. Most herbivorous foods have a starchy type of protein that can't easily be used by the body. Peanut butter is an exception. As noted by the doctor who invented the stuff, peanut butter’s protein is easy to digest—and not just for humans. Dogs tend to have a taste for the foods their bodies need.

Veterinarian Dr. Susan Wynn has yet another suggestion—that dogs are attracted to the scent of peanut butter. "The roasted aroma of peanut butter comes from proteins and fats that have been changed during roasting, and they probably smell a bit like caramelized meat," she suggests. No wonder they want it so badly!

In the end, the question might not have just one answer. It might be a little bit of everything: salt, sugar, fat—and protein.

Or maybe the answer is very simple: Dogs love peanut butter because it’s fun to eat. When put in the right toy, it can make dogs lick their lips for hours.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

View Article Sources
  1. "Why Dogs Love Peanut Butter." Petmate Academy.