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Acorns and conkers: are they dangerous for our dogs?

Springer Spaniel in the autumn leaves advice © Unsplash

Dogs are natural scavengers, so it’s no surprise that they are constantly on the lookout for anything they could sink their teeth into.

By Justine Seraphin

Luckily, evolution is on their side: dogs are able to vomit faster than any other species (specifically to be able to clear out any toxic foods they might’ve inhaled), as fast as possible.

Still, it is our job as responsible dog owners to be on the lookout, and to make sure they don’t pick up anything they shouldn’t.

At this time of year, there are two particular ‘treats’ that dog owners should look out for : acorns and conkers. As the seasons change, these brown nuts ripen and fall off the trees and onto the ground, making themselves easy prey for our four-legged friends.

Can dogs eat acorns or conkers?

To be brief, no, dogs should not eat conkers or acorns. Luckily, acorns and conkers do not have a particularly strong smell, and they taste quite bitter - so they’re not a favourite of canines. But, considering the oak (source of the acorn) is the most common tree in the United Kingdom, which is also home to 470,000 horse chestnut trees (source of the conker), it’s worth keeping an eye open for them.

Acorns contain chemicals known as tannins (or tannic acid),  which can be toxic to cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, and horses, if eaten in large quantities. Little data is available about acorn poisoning in dogs. However, it can be assumed that if ingested in large quantities, as in the case of the aforementioned species, acorns and dogs would not mix. Avoiding them is the best strategy to keep your pet safe.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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As for conkers, they contain a variety of sterols, alcohols, and alkaloids which can be toxic to dogs. Most importantly, their seeds contain a chemical called aesculin, which is a poison to dogs. Poisoning can cause both serious stomach upsets and neurological problems. Again, this is only likely if the nut is eaten in great quantities, but steering clear of it is the best choice. Indeed, conkers are quite large, and just one could be enough to get stuck in a dog’s throat, causing choking, or, if swallowed, intestinal blockages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What are the signs of conker poisoning?

Usually, signs of conker poisoning start to appear within 1 - 6 hours of ingestion, however, in some cases, symptoms can take up to two days to show. Symptoms of conker poisoning include:

  • Vomiting (sometimes bloody)

  • Diarrhoea

  • Excessive drooling

  • Abdominal pain

  • Decreased appetite

  • Increased thirst

  • Dehydration

  • Restlessness (due to discomfort)

  • Wobbliness

  • Muscle tremors

If you think your dog has eaten a conker, contact your vet immediately.

How will the vet treat conker or acorn poisoning?

Vets will usually start by giving your dog medicine to induce vomiting. In some cases, gastric lavage is necessary. Surgery, however, is quite rare.

Since your dog will be dehydrated, it is likely your vet will put him on intravenous fluids to help him recover.

How to prevent conker or acorn poisoning

As always, prevention is the best method when it comes to keeping your pets safe!

It may be difficult to watch your dog constantly, especially during an off-lead walk in the forest. But you can easily prevent your dog from being tempted by any acorns or conkers lying around on the ground.

Bring a toy with you when you go for walks, in order to keep your dog’s focus on this rather than any other ‘natural toys’. Never, under any circumstances, use a conker as a replacement for a ball, and make sure children are aware of this too. Throwing conkers for dogs to play with is the easiest way to ensure poisoning.

You could also train your dog a ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’ command, to make sure that you can take the poisonous nuts away if he does get his mouth on them.

Finally, for the more curious and bottomlessly hungry pooches, you could purchase a basket muzzle, with which your canine pal could run around freely without you feeling concerned that he will eat anything unpleasant or dangerous for his health.

Whatever you decide, always keep a close eye on your dog when out on walks - they don’t know any better, but you do!