Conkers or Chestnuts?

Can they hurt my dog? How do I tell the difference?

In this season of orange leaves, dewy mornings and (hopefully) sunny skies, we as dog owners are often out and about.  We are also aware of some risks that may emerge for our pooches. In this article, we explore the difference between conkers and chestnuts, and whether they should worry us on our autumn walks.

What do horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts look like?

Both sweet and horse chestnut trees are found in UK woodland in our area.  They provide a great resource for much woodland wildlife. 

Conkers are from the horse chestnut tree and can be identified by their casing – they have fewer wide spikes on their thick green casing.  Sweet chestnuts are similar, but their cases have many more, much finer, spines.  The leaves of the sweet and horse chestnut trees are also different – horse chestnut leaves are like hands, with multiple fronds, while sweet chestnut leaves are long and slim. 

Can sweet or horse chestnuts harm my dog?

As we recently posted on social media, we should be careful when out walking in the autumn because conkers (from the horse chestnut tree) can cause harm to dogs. They can cause a toxic reaction in large amounts.  They can also cause tummy upsets, choking and blockages to the intestines.  But what about sweet chestnuts? Are these also dangerous to dogs?

Well, sweet chestnuts are not specifically toxic to dogs, but they too can cause harm – especially if hoovered from the forest floor.

It’s best to be cautious of both sweet and horse chestnuts (conkers).  When fallen from the tree in the woods, both could cause our dogs upset tummies if eaten, especially in large amounts.  As they are hard, they are a choking risk – especially if a dog picks one up and runs away with it*.  They could also cause a blockage of the stomach or intestines if swallowed – especially in smaller toy breeds.

*Be cautious of chasing your dog when he has something in his mouth that you don’t want him to swallow – he could run and choke on the item.  He may be more likely to swallow something if he thinks you’ll take it away when you catch up with him.  Try recalling him, rewarding him for the recall, and rewarding him for surrendering the item – a skill you can practise at home with toys, using a command like ‘drop’ or ‘give’.

Can dogs eat chestnuts?

Technically yes, but caution should be applied! Chestnuts can be fed to dogs if they are prepared properly – cooked thoroughly and cut into very small pieces so they won’t cause choking or get stuck in the intestines.  BUT nuts and seeds contain a lot of energy (calories) and our dogs need far fewer calories than we do.  With a significant percentage of UK dogs being overweight, please think carefully about chestnuts as a treat for your canine friend. 

If you do choose to feed chestnut to your dog, please feed only a few tiny pieces, and only very occasionally.  Please be aware that any unfamiliar food can cause a tummy upset, even in small amounts.  Some humans are allergic to chestnuts, there is always a chance of an allergic reaction in a dog too.

What if my dog eats some chestnut by mistake?

It is not our recommendation to feed chestnuts or other nuts to your dog. The risks probably outweigh the benefits when there are plenty more safe and suitable food and treat choices out there. However, if your dog sneaks a small piece of cooked chestnut this autumn, don’t worry – this is unlikely to cause an issue.

If your dog snaffles a lot of chestnuts, then please feel free to give us a call for advice.  We may want to see them straight away or may advise you to monitor them at home – advice will be dependent on your individual dog, their general health, how much they have eaten and when. 

Out on walks, if you are worried your dog will scavenge fallen horse or sweet chestnuts, then pop your pooch on a lead until you are well past the trees. If your dog does scavenge a lot of chestnuts, then please call us ASAP for advice.

If your dog is unwell in any way after eating something, at home or on a walk, even if you’re not sure what it is, then please get in touch with us. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.