Dogs love milk for its rich fat content. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. While cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium that’s great for building strong bones in humans, it’s not necessary for adult dogs. Yes, dogs can drink milk in small quantities, but it’s not a vital part of a dog’s diet. They get all the nutrients they need from regular dog food.
It’s superfluous for dogs to drink milk after they’re weaned from their mother’s milk. When they’re puppies, their mother’s milk contains all of the essential nutrients, vitamins, electrolytes, and antibodies that build a pup’s immune system.
Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM, reasserts the notion that milk is no longer necessary for dogs after they have weaned from their mothers: “In general, no mammals in nature consume milk past weaning, which clearly suggests that milk is not essential and that applies to dogs.” However, they can take part in the occasional ice cream cone lick or cheesy cheddar treat if their stomachs can tolerate and digest lactose from dairy products.
Read on to learn how to recognize lactose intolerance in dogs, what to do about it, and how much dairy is safe for dog owners to give as a treat to a pooch with a strong stomach.
Lactose Intolerance in Dogs
While it’s not the end of the world if your dog drinks milk, there are many lactose intolerant dogs who have trouble digesting milk and other dairy products. Many people have the same problem and opt for lactose-free milk and plant-based milk alternatives like soy milk.
What does it mean for a dog to be lactose intolerant? The condition develops in dogs who do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase. Your dog needs this enzyme because it’s essential for breaking down lactose. Without the ability to digest dairy products easily, pet parents will notice side effects like loose stools, bloating, excessive gas, upset stomach, or abdominal pain in their dog.
If you have a dog who doesn’t handle lactose well, try lactose-free, dog-safe human foods like frozen peanut butter or blended bananas as an alternative treat. If you regularly feed table scraps, be careful about quantity and consider giving your pup a quality, natural digestive supplement as well.
Talk to your veterinarian before feeding new human foods, and seek veterinary care if your dog starts to show symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Safe Dairy Products and Treats for Dogs
Ultimately, it’s OK to feed your dog dairy products as long as it’s done in moderation and they don’t have any known sensitivity. Dr. Dobias explains that some dogs “enjoy a spoon of yogurt or a small piece of cheese or even the odd lick of ice cream and, occasionally, it is OK unless your dog has suspected diet allergies.”
So be mindful of what you’re feeding your dog. If you choose to feed your dog dairy, watch for the signs of lactose intolerance and other signs of a food allergy like itchy skin, ears, and paws.
Dog Food Advisor suggests feeding dogs dairy products that have the lowest lactose content. These include cheddar cheese with 0 grams of lactose, cottage cheese with 3 grams of lactose per 1/2 cup, and plain Greek yogurt with about 4 grams per 1/2 cup. Greek yogurt, in particular, is packed with probiotics that will help your dog’s digestive tract if they’ve been experiencing diarrhea or gas.
Cheeses typically run low in lactose and are safe for dogs. A long-lasting, cheesy, and popular dog chew these days is made from yak’s milk. Himalayan dog chews are safer alternatives to many other chews because yak’s milk is more easily digestible and is lactose-free. They also soften as your dog chews, so there is a lower risk of tooth damage or splintering.
Protect Sensitive Stomachs With Probiotics for Healthy Guts
With lactose intolerance triggering such an assortment of digestive problems in your dog, consider a probiotic dog treat. A probiotic supplement will promote healthy digestion and intestinal health, as well as keep your dog regular. Probiotics are also designed to help break down lactose the way enzymes do, so your pup can digest dairy products more easily.
Probiotics are good bacteria that boost your dog’s immune system to make sure your pup stays healthy. According to Jerry Klein, DVM, of the American Kennel Club, probiotics are believed to “help treat or prevent a variety of illnesses and diseases, especially those related to the gastrointestinal system.”
If your dog has a sensitivity to dairy or any other foods, probiotics will help by firming up loose stools and reducing gas.
Probiotics can be administered as needed (for example, when your dog is experiencing digestive upset or is on a course of antibiotics from an infection or as a preventative) or on a daily basis.
Supplements in pill or treat form aren’t the only options for giving your dog good bacteria for a healthy gut. There are several foods you can feed them that are naturally high in probiotics.
Some dairy-based foods that are high in probiotics and are safe for dogs to eat include plain yogurt, kefir, goat’s milk, and cheese. Probiotic-rich vegetables and fruits include asparagus, bananas, and apples.
A Warning on Xylitol and Chocolate
If you are going to treat your dog to a tiny bit of milk-based products like ice cream, don’t overlook the ingredient list. Vanilla is usually safest as it has the fewest ingredients. Some ice creams and yogurts could have xylitol in the recipe, which is a sugar substitute that is toxic to dogs.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning include tremors, shaking, lethargy, weakness, and vomiting. Be on the lookout for this deadly ingredient before feeding your dog any human food. As an artificial sweetener, xylitol gets snuck into many products. If the packaging is marked “sugar-free” anywhere on the label, it most likely contains xylitol.
For the same reason you don’t give dogs chocolate, don’t give your dog anything flavored with cacao, including chocolate ice cream, fudge, etc. If you think your dog has eaten something with xylitol or chocolate, call animal poison control as soon as possible and alert your vet.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 888-426-4435. Save the hotline number in your phone so you’re prepared in case of an emergency.
Can Dogs Drink Milk? The Bottom Line
Should you be giving your dog a bowl of milk? No, but you can safely give your dog small amounts. Milk is not toxic to dogs, but it’s also not an important part of a balanced dog diet. Once weaned, dogs do not require milk in order to thrive.
If you feel like giving your dog milk or any other dairy product, do so in moderation and look out for symptoms such as upset stomach, loose stools, and abdominal pain. And don’t forget to check with your vet before introducing new foods into your dog’s diet.