Yes, dogs can drink milk, however, you may not want them to. While most dogs will happily lap up a bowl of milk, enjoy a chunk of cheese as a treat or sneak a few licks of an ice cream cone, in essence, milk and all other dairy products, aren’t always good for dogs. The reason: Some dogs, but not all, are lactose intolerant, and dogs who aren’t used to milk may experience some digestive issues after having milk, just like they would any food they don’t usually eat.
How to tell if dogs are lactose intolerant
Symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs include:
- Signs of abdominal pain
“Dogs can develop antibodies to milk proteins which will result in them being allergic to milk. This can and lead to mild, and sometimes even more serious, life-threatening allergic reactions,” explains Dr. Chad Maki, a veterinarian in Huntington Beach, California.
“In addition, most milk products are high in fats which can cause gastroenteritis and pancreatitis. Besides, the proteins that exist in dairy products are not nutritional essentials for dogs. They get all the nutrition they need from properly formulated and balanced canine diets,” adds Dr. Maki.
Let’s take a look at the amount of lactose in some common dairy products people feed to dogs. If you are unsure, check the brand’s website or contact the company to find out:
|Dairy Product||Lactose Content|
|Milk||1 cup = 12-13 grams of lactose|
|American Cheese||1 slice = 1-4 grams of lactose|
|Chedder Cheese||1 oz = less than 1 gram of lactose|
|Mozzarella Cheese||1 oz = less than 1 gram of lactose|
|Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt||1/2 cup = 2-6 grams of lactose (varies by brand)|
|Whipped Cream Topping||2 tbsp = less than .5 grams of lactose|
|Low-Fat Yogurt||6 oz = 5-12 grams of lactose|
|Greek Yogurt||6 oz = 4 grams of lactose|
See more lactose content in the list created by the University of Virginia.
The best milk and dairy products for dogs
Currently, there are many dairy products for dogs on the market. Some products don’t include lactose or have a small amount making them easier for your dog to digest without problems. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Dog goat milk: Goat milk has less lactose than cow’s milk. Raw Goat Milk (a Boss Nation Brand product) contains about half as much lactose as regular cow’s milk so therefore dogs who might have dairy milk sensitivities can usually digest Raw Goat Milk without trouble,” says Shea Samuelsen-Russo, marketing and support manager for Boss Nation Brands. Shea recommends pouring goat milk over dog food or freezing it into ice cube trays, or Bosspaws Treat Tray, for a tasty treat.
Dog yogurt: “The live and active cultures break down the lactose and create the enzyme lactase,” says Matt Meyer, founder of The Bear & The Rat frozen treats company. “Lactase is the enzyme necessary for lactose digestion. So, yogurt can actually help most dogs digest lactose.” The Bear & The Rat adds In Clover Pet’s Optagest into its yogurt, which provides one serving of organic prebiotics, plus four digestive enzymes. The prebiotics grow the pet’s native bacteria, and the enzymes help them absorb their food better, explains Matt.
Lactose free dog milk: K9 Natural’s lactose free dog milk is also made with lactase, which makes it easy for your dog to digest the dairy products. The milk, which is a supplement, not a meal replacer, includes Taurine, flaxseed oil and calcium. Check the website, for feeding suggestions.
Dog dairy chews: The dairy in EcoKind’s Yak Chews is made from yak milk, which, according to its maker, contains higher levels of healthy fat, protein, iron, magnesium and calcium than cow’s milk. Yak milk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. The milk is processed to remove lactose, so it’s gentle for sensitive stomachs.
With these products, only give your dog a little bit the first time (as with all new foods) to ensure your dog does not have a food sensitivity or an allergic reaction.
Are milk or milk products for people bad for dogs?
Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and ice cream, have varying amounts of lactose (see chart above), which can cause gastrointestinal issues. Read the label of any dairy product before giving to your dog. Most are loaded with calories, and if given as a regular snack, can lead to obesity. Some dairy products that are low in fat may contain the artificial sweetener xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death.
Milk can also cause another condition called food allergy dermatitis.
Is milk safe for puppies?
From birth, puppies rely on their mother’s milk for sustenance. The “key ingredient” in this milk is colostrum, which provides essential nutrition for growth and allows puppies to obtain important protective antibodies from their mother. Colostrum is particularly vital in the first few days after birth.
Dr. Maki points out that if you are fostering a young puppy, and canine mother’s milk is not available, never substitute with regular milk, even the lactose-free type from the grocery store. There are specially formulated puppy milk replacers that can be bought from a veterinary office or online
“Once a puppy is weaned from its mother at approximately 6 to 8 weeks of age, and can digest regular puppy food, there’s no longer a need for its mother’s milk nor a puppy milk substitute,” he adds.
Discuss a young puppy’s diet with a veterinarian who can best advise about the various nutritional stages of puppyhood as the dog approaches adulthood. For example, for optimal long-term growth, bigger breeds may need to remain on a puppy food for a lengthier period than a smaller dog.
Remember, never equate treats or food with love. So, resist the temptation to give your dog a regular ice cream cone. That milk-based Instagram moment could give your pooch a tummy ache.