Can Dogs Have Milk or Cheese? Dogs and Dairy Products Explained

A dog eating dairy.

Can my dog have milk? Can he have cheese or even eat ham bones safely?

If so, how much and what are the dangers?

These are all good questions that it’s only natural for a caring dog owner to ask.

As a dog owner, you may believe that giving your dog a lick or two of an ice cream cone, an occasional piece of cheese, or a tablespoon of milk is a great reward for your little friend. And the truth is it is! However, when it comes to dogs and dairy products you have to be careful. 

When it comes to dogs and the dairy products that they can never refuse, like milk and cheese especially, there is no one right answer as to whether or not they can have it. It varies from dog to dog– some dogs can have a little and some dogs can’t have any. Some dogs may have a food allergy you don’t know about while others may be lactose intolerant.

The important thing to note when thinking about giving your dog a dairy product is that moderation is key. The last thing you want to do is give your dog too much dairy.

The Problem With Dogs And Dairy Products

Have you ever seen a dog that didn’t like milk? Probably not. The same is true for cheese. The problem lies in that dogs will eat almost anything to break up the monotony of eating dry dog food. 

The majority of dogs enjoy milk mainly due to its rich fat content, however, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily good for them. In general, as with all human foods, you only want to give your dog milk in moderation, if at all.

Allowing your dog to overindulge in dairy can only lead to problems. Problems for your dog because they will become unhealthy and in a good amount of pain; problems for you because you don’t want a dog that’s in pain. 

Many Dogs Become Lactose Intolerant Later In Life

You’re probably wondering: “Don’t puppies drink their mother’s milk?” They do. As with the majority of mammals, puppies will nurse from their mother early in life. So the question is: Why can dogs have milk when they’re puppies but not when they’re adults?

A dog eating pancakes and milk.

Many dogs can become lactose intolerant later in life and if this is the case, it’s best not to feed your dog dairy products.

 

Understanding Lactose And Lactase

According to PetMD.com, lactose is the sugar found in milk. An enzyme called lactase is required to digest lactose. Dogs normally have excessive amounts of the enzyme as puppies, but lose it as they grow older. This explains why dogs lose the ability to digest milk as they age.

After the weaning process, dogs begin to produce less lactase. Without the lactase, adult dogs have a difficult time digesting the sugar found in cow’s or goat’s milk. This is the point at which your dog may become lactose intolerant. 

An important thing to note is that, due to this, the majority of dogs are lactose intolerant. There’s nothing we can do to change this phenomenon. It’s just the way it is.

The good news is that dogs and people generally have the same symptoms when it comes to being lactose intolerant. These symptoms normally start with diarrhea and progress from there.

So What Are The Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance?

In simple terms, lactose is the sugar found in milk. When humans– and dogs– can’t fully digest the sugar in milk, they are lactose intolerant.

As mentioned earlier, dogs and humans share the same symptoms when it comes to being lactose intolerant. It’s important to take notice of these symptoms so you can better understand what your dog can tolerate, and what makes him sick.

According to the American Kennel Club, dairy products are a leading source of food intolerance in dogs. Below are five signs your dog is lactose intolerant according to Rover.com:

1. Diarrhea

This is the most common sign and it usually occurs within 12 hours of your dog having dairy. A loose stool is the first sign that your dog has eaten something it shouldn’t have. Your dog’s stool should be shaped and firm, not watery and loose.

2. Vomiting

Vomiting is normal for a dog, however, it shouldn’t happen frequently. Vomiting can occur if your dog has eaten too fast or if he has eaten something that doesn’t sit well with his stomach. However, vomiting can also be a sign that your dog may have swallowed a toxic substance–in this case, maybe milk.

3. Lack of Appetite

The lack of an appetite is normally caused by gastrointestinal issues and a sudden change in appetite is always a concern that something could be going on, whether it’s lactose intolerance, a virus or an injury.

4. Bloating

Bloating occurs when there is too much gas present in the stomach or the small and large intestines. Being– or even feeling bloated– may cause abdominal pain and can be uncomfortable for your dog.

5. Flatulence

This isn’t a concern, however, it could be a sign that there is food fermenting in your dog’s gut. Passing gas frequently could be a sign of an upset stomach or that your dog is lactose intolerant.

How Much Milk Is Safe For Dogs?

We all know how healthy milk is for humans. After all, milk contains 18 out of 22 essential nutrients, but it does affect your dog differently.

After gaining a better understanding of how dairy products affect your dog, the question still remains: Is giving milk to your dog safe?

The short answer is yes, you can give your dog milk. How much milk to give your dog is where it becomes a little tricky. 

If you happen to have an adult dog, there’s a good chance he is lactose intolerant, as we’ve covered. Thus, giving your dog more milk than he can tolerate will, more than likely, cause him to get sick.

However, milk does contain essential nutrients that are not only great for humans but dogs as well. These nutrients include calcium, protein, and vitamins A, D, and B12.

Despite the nutrients, however, milk is only safe for dogs in small amounts. The reason for this is due to the amount of sugar milk contains. Giving your dog a large amount of milk too often can lead to obesity and pancreatitis.

The good news is that you’re not depriving your dog by not allowing him to drink large quantities of milk regularly. Quite the contrary. Milk is in no way an essential part of your dog’s diet.

As puppies, they gain all of the vital nutrients they need to grow into healthy adults. Once there, normal dog food will sustain him for the long run.

So, giving your dog just a few tablespoons of cow’s milk or goat’s milk occasionally can give you the peace of mind that you will have a happy and healthy dog.

What About Cheese?

When it comes to dogs eating cheese, the answer is very similar to the question of a dog drinking milk. After all, cheese is also a dairy product.

While there are many similarities between milk and cheese, there are also a few differences. Before we dive into those, let’s start with the question: Is it safe for my dog to eat cheese?

The short answer is yes, dogs can eat cheese too. This is because cheese itself is non-toxic to your dog. The answer could change due to your dog’s individual sensibilities. 

For example, if your dog is lactose intolerant, and he most likely is, choosing to feed him cheese has the potential to put him in the same boat as allowing him to drink milk. The main reason is simple: Cheese contains lactose.

Other than lactose, cheese is also known for being high in fat. Adding cheese to his diet can cause him to gain weight. If your dog is already overweight, you should definitely lay off on the cheese. 

Although cheese alone is non-toxic, some cheeses contain ingredients that are toxic to your dog. These ingredients include chives, garlic, and onions.

Lastly, as with milk, too much fat in your dog’s diet may also put him at risk for pancreatitis. That would be even more problematic, as pancreatitis is a condition that is sometimes fatal.

Pancreatitis in Dogs

While diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are all signs that your dog might be ill, they may also be a sign of pancreatitis. The medical definition sounds simple and easy: “inflammation of the pancreas,” however, pancreatitis is much more complicated than that. 

Pancreatitis can be deadly. One study from 2016 reported that out of 136 dogs admitted to a hospital with acute pancreatitis, 33% died within 30 days. 

The treatment for this condition can vary. For mild cases, your dog will often be required to fast for 24-48 hours. The treatment can become more extreme for severe cases.

But first, what is pancreatitis? 

What Does The Pancreas Even Do?

For starters, the pancreas has two functions: endocrine and exocrine. 

The production of insulin is included with the endocrine function. Insulin is then discharged into the blood for carbohydrate and protein ingestion. The exocrine function deals with the secretion of enzymes. 

The primary responsibility of the pancreas is to help aid in digestion by releasing enzymes. When the pancreas is functioning properly, the enzymes become active once they reach the small intestine. 

If your dog suffers from pancreatitis, however, the enzymes activate as soon as they’re released. This not only inflames the pancreas but causes damage to surrounding tissue and other organs as well. If not treated quickly enough, the enzymes can begin to digest the pancreas itself, causing terrible pain for your dog.

Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis

The gravity of your dog’s pancreatitis can be measured in two forms: acute and chronic. Both acute and chronic can range from mild to severe, and they both result in pain for your dog.

Acute pancreatitis normally happens very suddenly. With acute, your dog probably hasn’t experienced the condition before. Acute pancreatitis can become life-threatening if the inflammation spreads to other organs.

On the flip side, chronic pancreatitis is a condition that has developed over time. It generally happens slowly, without any symptoms, and normally results from multiple battles with its acute counterpart.

Either way, it’s important to seek proper veterinary care if the symptoms occur, especially if the symptoms occur suddenly.

Pancreatitis is a severe condition that may not be obvious at first. According to the BluePearl Pet Hospital, a high-fat diet is a leading cause of pancreatitis in dogs

This is why it’s essential to limit the number of dairy products you feed your dog. If you’re having a debate on whether to give your dog milk or cheese, choose cheese. 

Most cheeses contain very little to no lactose at all. For the majority of cheeses, the number is around one gram per serving. 

Milk on the other hand, whether it’s whole milk or skim, has approximately 11 grams per cup! 

You should ultimately aim to give your dog food that has the lowest lactose content. However, if giving your dog dairy is a must, you may be able to do so more often with the use of probiotics.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics may sound like an unusual term if you’ve never heard it before. It all has to do with bacteria.

Not all bacteria are equal. As we all know, most types of bacteria can make us ill. However, there are certain types of bacteria that are good for us– the type of bacteria known as beneficial bacteria– probiotics.

The same is true for our pets.

Probiotics are bacteria that live in our dog’s body. They aid in boosting our dog’s immune system, help in the digestion of food, and produce vital nutrients for our dog. Overall, probiotics strive to maintain the health of your dog.

Why Give My Dog Probiotics?

Even if you never give your dog dairy products, he can still suffer from digestive issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting. This is where probiotics come in.

There are certain bacteria that specialize in improving the quality of your dog’s stool. This will help reduce the frequency of diarrhea for your dog. 

Other than helping with digestion, probiotics can help improve the overall mood of your dog, reduce bad breath, and improve the appearance of his fur and skin.

Types of Probiotics

Probiotics come in many sizes and shapes. There’s the classic capsule and pill form, while some are even in the form of chewy treats. 

A dog eating ice cream.

Dairy products are not good for dogs with digestive issues but probiotics might be able to help.

The Importance of the Ingredient’s List

We’ve discussed the importance of limiting the amount of dairy you allow your dog to consume, however, none of that matters if you accidentally give your dog something toxic. This is especially true when it comes to dairy– most notably ice cream.

We all know that chocolate is one of the most dangerous things you can give your dog, but do we know why? The reason comes down to one word: Xylitol.

It is important to recognize that word. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.

What Is Xylitol?

In complex terms, Xylitol is labeled as sugary alcohol. It is found in many fruits and vegetables, and can even be used to make medicine. 

In simple terms, Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is used as a sugar substitute. More importantly, it is toxic to your dog.

Products like Xylitol are becoming popular in the modern diet, as added sugar is considered unhealthy. If a product says “sugar-free”, it most likely contains Xylitol.

How Dangerous Is Xylitol For My Dog?

Very. 

This is the main reason we never give dogs chocolate: chocolate contains Xylitol. 

Xylitol can poison your dog. Xylitol poisoning usually has symptoms that include tremors, shaking, weakness and vomiting. If you think your dog may have consumed even the smallest amount, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435. 

Conclusion:

Understanding how much dairy to give your dog is much more complicated than it should be. But we care for our pet, that’s why we take the necessary safety precautions to be sure we don’t allow our dog to consume anything that might bring him harm.

When words like Xylitol, lactose, and lactase are thrown into the mix, deciding what to do when it comes to our dog and dairy becomes even more difficult. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the majority of adult dogs are lactose intolerant. Giving a lactose intolerant dog more than a couple of tablespoons of milk can, and probably will make him sick.

It is also vital to check the list of ingredients on the product you’re about to give your dog. If you see the word “Xylitol”, keep it as far away from your dog as possible.

Lastly, when it comes to anything–dairy especially– that isn’t dog food, moderation is key. It’s important to limit your dog to small amounts of anything it may not be natural for him to consume.

Remembering this advice can give your dog a long and healthy life.

 

 

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.