I am a big fan of Mexican food and try to have it once a week either by cooking at home or eating out. Unfortunately, where I live the Mexican options are rather limited, especially when it comes to finding tamales.
I am pretty much forced to learn how to cook this awesome bite-size delicacy that is great as a snack or a main meal. I am pretty sure my dog is happy when it is tamale night at home given his perpetual presence in my kitchen.
As yummy as tamales are, can dogs eat tamales without any health concerns? Tamales are generally safe for dogs. However, some spices and ingredients like onions and garlic are not safe for dogs and can be toxic. The corn husk wrapping isn’t digestible and can pose a risk to your dog.
Let us further understand what tamales are and how the ingredients used can impact your dog.
The humble tamale has been around for a very long time, dating back as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. Some ancient civilizations like the Mayans and Incas were fond of tamales due to its portability during long journeys.
It is said to have originated from Mexica and later found its way to Latin America and Spain.
The tamale is actually a rather simple dish to make. It basically consists of corn flour that is wrapped in a corn husk. A variety of fillings can be filled in the corn flour like meat, fruits, nuts, vegetables, etc.
The Ingredients In Tamale
There are about 350 different types of tamales found all over the world hence it would not be possible to list all the ingredients used.
But I will list the usual ingredients for one of the most common types of tamale which is one with a meat filling.
- Masa Harina/corn dough or flour
- Pork shoulder/loin (other types of meat can be used)
- Spices (cumin, bay leaves, etc)
- Chili peppers
- Pork lard
- Dried corn husks for wrapping
Can Dogs Eat Tamales Safely?
Feeding your dog tamales isn’t the worse type of human food that you can give. Generally speaking, tamales are safe enough for your dog to eat in small quantities. But a lot would also depend on what goes into the making of the tamale.
I will run through the ingredients of the most commonly made tamale and single out those which aren’t good for your pooch.
Masa Harina (Corn Flour)
Masa Harina is basically flour that is made from corn. This type of flour is made from grinding corn kernels and is considered a whole wheat flour.
The big difference between masa harina and normal corn flour is that the corn kernels used in masa harina have been treated in calcium hydroxide first. This allows the flour to bind better when making tamales.
It is usually yellow in color but can also come in white or blue, depending on the type of corn that was used in the manufacturing process.
Cooked corn flour in moderation isn’t bad for your dog. However, there are some dogs that are allergic to grain and can develop an allergic reaction.
Common allergy symptoms are:
- Constant scratching
- Red and inflamed skin
- Swelling of facial features and ears
If you give your dog anything which is made from corn flour and it reacts in this manner, there is a strong probability that your dog is allergic to corn or grain.
Flour Is High In Carbs
The biggest macronutrient in flour is always carbohydrates which is rather essential for us humans as a source of energy. However, too much carbs in your dog’s diet isn’t great for its overall health.
Our domestic dogs evolved from wolves which means that they are first and foremost carnivores. Carnivores are animals that thrive on a diet that is primarily from animal protein.
Yes, I understand that many dog owners are also making the point that our dog’s digestive system is no longer similar to that of a wolf thus making it more of an omnivore.
I do agree to an extent as dogs are able to turn into opportunistic scavengers and eat almost anything when food is scarce.
But that doesn’t mean being an omnivore is the best way for them.
Dogs certainly handle carbs a lot better than cats who are obligate carnivores (need animal protein to survive). A little carb in your dog’s diet isn’t going to do much harm.
The problem arises when your start feeding your dog too much carbs which can lead to many health problems like:
- Canine obesity
Too much carb heavy dog food will also tax your dog’s stomach causing it to feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Despite what you might have read about salt for dogs, sodium isn’t a bad thing and is in fact required for the proper functioning of your dog’s body.
The issue lies with the consumption of excess sodium in your dog’s diet which can very easily happen as the amount of sodium is often overlooked. A few years back, I had a big scare when my dog gobbled down half a bag of salt and vinegar chips when I wasn’t looking. Thankfully, his sodium levels were still ok when the vet gave him a check up.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that a dog’s daily diet should consist of about 0.3% of sodium. This translates to about 1o0mg per 100 Kcal of food consumed.
An average tamale already consists of about 350mg-450mg of sodium. Any dog is able to wolf down a couple without batting an eye.
That alone in addition to its daily dog food is already more sodium than required.
It is not a problem if it happens once in a blue moon. I’m sure we all have days when we overdo it on salty food and feel bloated for the next few days.
But excess salt in our dogs can lead to salt toxicity which can cause symptoms like:
- Excess thirst and urination
- Drunk like movements
- Bloated stomach
If your dog has eaten too much salt and is showing the above symptoms, you need to get it to the vet right away for medical treatment. Salt poisoning can be fatal in some dogs and should not be taken lightly.
Spices And Herbs
There are a wide range of spices and herbs that you can add when making tamales but the two most common ones that I see are usually cumin and bay leaves.
Cumin is fine for dogs in very small amounts. Too much of it can cause some stomach and digestive issues.
The main concern here is when bay leaves are used in the tamales. Bay leaves can be toxic for dogs due to a chemical compound called Eugenol in them.
Your dog doesn’t have to eat the bay leaves directly for them to have an effect. Giving your dog food that has been simmering in bay leaves can already be harmful.
Ingestion of bay leaves can cause:
It is best to not feed your dog anything that has bay leaves in it.
Garlic And Onions
I love lots of garlic and onions when I have my Mexican food but these food items are definitely not something you want your dog to eat.
Onions and garlic are very toxic to dogs and need to be avoided at all costs.
When we eat too much onions and garlic, we will just walk away with a stinky breath and a stinkier fart.
But when our dogs eat them, it can lead to the following health problems:
- Bloody urine
Garlic and onions contain dangerous compounds that can attack and destroy your dog’s red blood cells. This prevents the blood cells from carrying enough oxygen to other parts of your dog’s body and organs.
Studies have shown that for garlic to be toxic, your dog needs to eat about 15g-30g of garlic for every kilogram of body weight. And it only takes about 1-2 medium-sized onions to be toxic to dogs.
It does seem like a lot of garlic and onions for your dog to eat before hitting the danger zone. But you will never know if your pooch is very sensitive to them until it eats it. Furthermore, garlic and onion powder or salt are a lot more concentrated and can do a lot of damage with just a small amount ingested.
Anything that belongs to this allium family like leek, scallions, chives and shallots are toxic to dogs and cats.
If your dog has eaten food that contains something from the allium family, it would be better to give your vet a call to see if there’s a need to bring your dog in or to just monitor for the next 24-48 hours.
In serious cases, the vet will have to induce vomiting or even give your dog a blood transfusion to replace the damaged red blood cells.
Lard is often used in the cooking of tamales as it adds a ton of flavor to the tamales and prevents the corn flour from sticking to the tamale husk when cooked.
Pork lard is often used which is basically fat from the pig which has been separated from the meat through a process called rendering. The lard is collected in liquid form and allowed to cool before being packed for shipment.
Anything that contains lard tastes delicious but it is also high in fat content. Lard is 100% animal fat which means it has a lot of saturated fats which isn’t healthy for our pets and us. You need to be careful when feeding your dog fatty meat like pig’s feet as it contains a very high fat content.
Too much fat in your dog’s diet can lead to:
- Heart disease
If you are feeding your dog a good and balanced diet, it is already getting all the fats that it needs. The number of overweight dogs in America is alarmingly high due to bad diets and frequent feeding of unhealthy human foods.
We need to start being more conscientious of what we are feeding our dogs.
Dried Corn Husks
Even though corn husk is listed as an ingredient in the making of tamales, it is just used as a wrap and should not be eaten. But when it comes to our dogs, even dried corn husk can look tasty to them.
When dogs eat tamale husk, I wouldn’t consider it to be toxic but it can pose a risk to them. Corn husks are very fibrous and tough which makes them hard to digest.
It also depends on the size of your dog in relation to the amount of corn husk ingested.
If you have a St Bernard that ate one piece of corn husk, it will most probably be expelled in its poo without any problems.
But if your teacup Chihuahua ate the same amount, there is a high chance of the corn husk becoming a choking hazard or getting stuck in your dog’s digestive system.
If you feel that your dog has eaten a little too much corn husk, you can try to get your dog to poo more by feeding it some raw pumpkin or psyllium husk.
This adds more bulk to your dog’s intestines which helps to eliminate the husk in the poo. But if your dog stops eating, vomits, becomes weak and has a bloated stomach, you need to get your dog to the vet right away as there might be an obstruction.
What Happens If My Dog Eats A Hot Tamale?
Another common ingredient that is added to tamales is chili peppers. This gives the tamale some spiciness to bring out the flavor. Feeding hot tamales to your dog is a bad idea as the heat can really irritate your dog’s stomach and gastrointestinal system.
This can lead to vomiting, stomach discomfort and explosive diarrhea which is the last thing you want happening at home.
What If My Dog Really Loves Tamales?
I doubt your dog really has a thing for actual tamales even if it is a true blue Mexican. Your dog is just being greedy and likes the way it is being made.
If you wish to feed your dog tamales, the best way to do it is with homemade tamales.
Make sure to only use whole wheat flour is healthier for dogs. Do not use anything with the word ‘enriched’ as it has been processed and contains fewer nutrients.
Do not add any herbs, spices or chili to the tamales for taste as it isn’t necessary for dogs.
Just keep it as plain as possible. All you need is to wrap some plainly cooked meat with the flour, steam it and your dog will be a happy camper.
Such human food should only be given as an occasional treat and not be part of your dog’s usual diet.