It’s summer, so go ahead and make your dog some ice cream

Watermelon-Mint Sherbet, not exclusively for dogs
Watermelon-Mint Sherbet, not exclusively for dogs
Photo: Aimee Levitt

As long as ice cream has existed, I’m sure dogs have been eating it, because who can resist a dog when they sit down, open their eyes very wide, and tilt their head just so? The nutritional expert in your head will whisper, “The fat! The sugar!” and the experienced dog owner will say, “There is no fart more powerful than a canine silent-but-deadly,” but somehow, you’ll find yourself reaching down and holding out your cone anyway.

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Vets don’t recommend sharing ice cream with dogs. For one thing, many commercial ice creams contain a sweetener called xylitol that’s poisonous to canines. For another, dogs have a tendency to eat garbage and shit (literally), and you don’t want that bacteria anywhere near anything that you’re eating.

Amazingly, it took until 1979 before anyone thought to produce and sell ice cream especially for dogs. (Amazingly because it’s a known fact that humans will spend any amount of money to make their pets happy: $95.7 billion in the U.S. in 2019, $36.9 billion of which was on food and treats.) That person was William Tyznik, a professor of animal science at Ohio State. Tyznik told the AP that he envisioned the frozen treat as “something like fruit for kids. For dogs.” It ostensibly tasted like vanilla. He claimed that each serving contained a higher vitamin content than meat. Dogs in general (though perhaps not in particular) are notoriously unfussy eaters and dog owners are suckers, so maybe it’s not surprising that Tyznik’s invention, which he originally called Pet79 and later Fido Freeze, was a success. It was beige and packed tightly into a dixie cup; dogs could hold it between their paws and lick it like a popsicle. In 1985, he sold out to Nestle Purina, which began marketing the product as Frosty Paws.

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I can’t remember exactly when my family discovered Frosty Paws, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime in the late ’80s when one of my parents saw it in the freezer section of our local grocery store and brought it home for our yellow Lab, Trixie. Trixie went bonkers for it, quite obviously preferred it to Milk Bones, and happily ate it when she could get it for the rest of her life.

Recipe tester Joe enjoying some ice cream
Recipe tester Joe enjoying some ice cream
Photo: Aimee Levitt

My next dog, Abby, was also a fan. She preferred the peanut butter flavor, which Trixie never got to try because it wasn’t invented until after she died. And then, when we were living in St. Louis, we discovered that Frosty Paws did not have a monopoly on dog ice cream: a local shop, I Scream Cakes, made its very own dog ice cream, too, not just with vanilla and peanut butter but also with cheese and bacon. When we moved to Chicago, we discovered the Fido To Go truck, which conveniently parked beside the entrance to the Montrose Dog Beach every Saturday and offered a dozen different flavors, and like that, Saturdays at the dog beach became Abby’s Perfect Day.

Abby is gone now, too. A new puppy, Joe, came to live with us last winter. For months we told him of the wonders of the dog beach, but then COVID-19 came and closed all the beaches. Fido To Go was still traveling around the city, but not near us. But I work for The Takeout now! If I couldn’t take my dog to the beach, I could at least make him some ice cream.

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I turned to the internet and discovered a plethora of dog ice cream recipes, including one for Watermelon Sherbet by Kiki Kane, resident dog baker at Rover.com. It’s essentially frozen watermelon blitzed with yogurt in a blender or food processor. I mixed up a batch for Joe. He took his cup and carried it off to another room and refused to let anyone near it until he had licked it clean. (I tried it, too, and I have to say, it was pretty good, especially with some mint added to it.) Clearly Kane was onto something. I called her up for some advice on expanding my ice cream repertoire.

“As long as the ingredient is safe for dogs, you can use it,” she told me. “For me, ice cream is a great way to use up stuff you have on hand that’s going to turn. It’s up to you and your preferences and creativity.” It doesn’t have to be fruit or the other sweet ingredients that go into human ice cream, either. Kane has been thinking about using broccoli stems and slimy bits of kale for her own dog, Pickles. She has also made an elaborate mold with layers of yogurt and watermelon. It was very fancy and it made her porch very sticky.

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Kane recommends using yogurt as a base for dog ice cream since it’s more easily digestible. Dairy tolerance varies from dog to dog: Some dogs can eat it without any problem, while others will experience what we will politely describe as gastrointestinal distress. “You’ll know immediately if your dog can’t have dairy,” said Kane. For those dogs, you can use nondairy yogurt instead.

I made up a few more batches of yogurt for Joe: peanut butter and banana, cheese and bacon, and Fat Elvis (peanut butter, banana, and bacon). He didn’t seem to discriminate between them, although if I have to make a choice, I think he liked Fat Elvis best. (He’s a bacon fiend.)

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I sent out an email to the other dog owners in my apartment building to ask if their dogs would like to try some ice cream. Soon I had several testers of various sizes, ages, and dietary preferences. They were all just as enthusiastic and greedy as Joe. None of them farted excessively afterward or developed brain freeze. The human testers reported complete canine happiness, which is, as we all know, infectious. As Kane told me, “Once you start making dog treats, you become the most popular dog person in the universe.”


Cheese and bacon ice cream in progress
Cheese and bacon ice cream in progress
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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Fat Elvis Dog Ice Cream

Yields 12 oz.

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 banana, cut into pieces
  • 2-3 strips of bacon

Combine all ingredients in a blender or a food processor and whiz into oblivion. Pour into a freezer-safe container (or containers; I used paper dixie cups that I bought on Amazon, but Kane says silicone molds also work very well) and freeze for at least four hours. Serve to your delighted pup.

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Feel free to make any substitutions depending on your dog and their preferences and digestive capacities: nondairy yogurt, fruit (melons, berries, bananas, etc., rinds and seeds removed), cheese, meat, fish, vegetables, any other random thing you have lying around in your fridge.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

My LabberGolden (Just trying to get into the Chic Mutt dynamic) is not picky and likes all treats great and small, thank you for the recipe. Perfect for our family he likes everyone and eats joyfully. I make him Pupsicles—Bone broth frozen in bone shaped molds as “cooling off” treats for a hot day. Also great for teething pups, it soothes their sore gums. You can add stuff to the molds such as bacon, etc before pouring in the broth to boost the flavor and texture a bit!