Are dairy products safe for dogs? A question dog parents wonder about when putting together the best, healthiest, most nutritious diet for their dogs. Dairy products are so ubiquitous amongst human foods that we often think about sharing them with our furry friends.
While your dog might be able to tolerate the milk you drink (pasteurized), it is not the best for them. Most milk in the West is A1 milk, which contains alpha-s1 caseins. These caseins are proteins in milk that can cause inflammation in your dog.
While we wouldn't recommend adding milk to your dog's diet, if you do, some kinds of milk are better than others.
Raw milk is similar to breastmilk in many ways: both are completely natural, fresh, and unprocessed. They both contain a wide variety of essential nutrients, fats, proteins, anti-inflammatory and digestive enzymes, bioavailable vitamins, and minerals, all in a natural form that is most easily utilized by the body. In addition, raw milk facilitates the production of lactase enzymes in the intestinal tract, allowing many lactose-intolerant dogs to digest raw milk with no problems.
Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Dogs and Lactose Intolerance
So, if milk and other dairy products are healthy for our canine companions, why do dog parents keep their dogs away from consuming milk? Why do we vilify dairy as such? It all has to do with lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance has become a scapegoat for symptoms and medical issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and gas. We are always quick to jump the gun and judge these signs as symptoms of lactose intolerance before even researching how the canine body interacts with this compound.
Lactose is a chemical compound consisting of two sugar molecules. Dogs interact with lactose from their first meal; newborn puppies ingest lactose through their mother's milk, making the case for canine lactose intolerance hard to stick.
The Role of Lactase in Milk Digestion
The canine digestive system must break the two sugar molecules apart to process lactose in a safe manner. This job falls under the jurisdiction of the enzyme called lactase. However, if you've ever done a quick Google search on lactose intolerance, you've undoubtedly found articles about the absence of the enzyme lactase from the canine body.
But if the canine body is devoid of lactase, how come dogs drink milk from a fragile age? That's because the online information surrounding lactase mainly concerns myths, anecdotal evidence, and distorted facts. In fact, the canine body is equipped with lactase, something demonstrated by scores of scientific studies! So, it's not about not feeding but about how much milk and dairy your dog eats. Although dogs do produce lactase in their bodies, the levels of this enzyme are not high enough to support sustained dairy consumption. Therefore, your dog can eat dairy products peacefully, as long as moderation is observed!
But How Come Some Dogs Get Sick after Drinking Milk?
Although we've established that dogs are not lactose intolerant, it's vital to point out that not all milk products are created equal. After all, a mother's milk cannot be compared with the milk we purchase in stores. It's all about the way we treat our cows. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, our cows have been fed inappropriately while being treated with hormones and antibiotics. That's why parents who care about their dogs' safety advocate for the return of humane, organic, small-scale dairy farming!
The problem goes even deeper than the improper treatment of our cows. Nowadays, genetics make it harder to determine what sort of cow's milk our dogs should consume. Research has unearthed that many American dairy cows, especially Holstein cattle, are now producing a protein called A1 beta-casein, which was proven to cause health issues like indigestion, allergies, digestive upset, and going as far as autoimmune disorders. The A1 beta-casein replaced the original A2 protein found in other dairy cows. Finding healthy cow's milk has become even more challenging, which is why we recommend going back to the roots of organic dairy farming!
Should I Pasteurize the Milk My Dog Drinks?
If finding the right type of milk for my dog's diet is such a challenge, how about sticking with pasteurized milk? Well, no matter how much is touted as a precaution measure, pasteurization is a double-edged sword: besides killing the milk's harmful bacteria, it also kills the helpful bacteria, yeasts, and molds with the sole purpose of extending the milk's shelf life. So, what we have left is a product that brings little to no nutritional benefit to your dog's body. That makes milk drinking a useless supplement.
Instead of pasteurized milk, we recommend that you introduce raw milk to your canine companion. The way raw milk is regulated varies from state to state, although in some states, selling raw milk products in pet stores is legal. Take a look at this resource to find the closest raw milk provider in your county.
Raw Milk Compared to Other Milks
Extensive studies have found that raw milk consumption is associated with lower rates of:
- Ear infections;
- Respiratory infections.
Allergy protection ceases when raw milk is heated to 149 F, which is the same temperature at which the whey proteins are denatured. It is likely that the raw whey proteins are responsible for raw milk's beneficial effects on allergies, asthma, and inflammation.
Childhood consumption of raw milk correlates with higher pulmonary (lung) function and lower incidence of allergic diseases in adults.
Raw milk's beneficial effects on asthma are partially mediated by regulatory T cells.
The benefits of raw milk are independent of the environment, such that these benefits are observed in both farm and urban settings.
For a comprehensive list of studies about the health benefits of raw milk, visit the British Columbia Herdshare Association.
How Much Dairy Should My Dog Have?
There's no precise amount of milk and other dairy products your furry friend can have; it's all about starting small and observing how your dog reacts to them. As a general rule, start at 1 teaspoon of milk per 20 pounds of body weight. Once they eat dairy, dogs need 24 hours to see how their bodies react to it. Then, if nothing unexpected occurs, you can feed up to 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt or kefir per 20 pounds of body weight. In the end, it's all about your dog's reaction to the dairy product: Do they enjoy it? Feed some more! Does it lead to an upset stomach? Maybe feed less.
When Dairy Products are Too Much
Although we've dispelled the myth surrounding lactose-intolerant dogs, there is a limit to how much dairy a dog can safely digest. It's all about finding an adequate balance, which, when crossed, can lead to symptoms such as:
- GI upset;
- Loose stools;
What Sorts of Dairy Products Should My Dog Eat?
Can Dogs Drink Goat Milk?
Thinking about including goat cheese and milk in your dog's diet? That's a splendid idea! Goat's milk is as nutritious to dogs as traditional cow milk (it scores higher on potassium and calcium levels, although it contains less folate and vitamin B12). Furthermore, the lactose content found in goat's milk is lower than the one found in cow milk; if your dog has a digestive upset every time they drink milk, switching to goat's milk might be the answer! As always, start low, then increase the amount of milk depending on your dog's reaction to it.
Can Dogs Eat Cheese?
Afraid that plain milk might cause a ruckus in your dog's belly? Cheese is the ideal alternative! Both Swiss cheese and cheddar cheese are recommended by canine nutritionists for their reduced lactose levels (considerably lower than whole milk!). Not to mention their healthy levels of nutrients such as:
- Essential fatty acids;
- Vitamin A;
- B-complex vitamins!
But not all cheeses will delight your dog's taste buds. Expert nutritionists advise against feeding aged, hard cheeses, and for poignant reasons. Old, hard cheeses present a higher sodium content, a big red flag for dogs suffering from heart or kidney diseases. Furthermore, the mycotoxins found in some cheese varieties (e.g., blue cheese) will mess up a dog's digestive system, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. We recommend sticking with safer options, such as ricotta, goat cheese, and mozzarella.
How about Cottage Cheese?
Cottage cheese is another deserving dairy product to find its spot in your dog's food bowl. Rich in protein, micronutrients, and healthy fats, this food is ideal for improving the flavor and texture of kibble and alleviating a stomach upset.
The one caveat about cottage cheese has to do with the amount of calcium and phosphorus found in its chemical composition: 69 mg of calcium and 151 mg of phosphorus per 1/2 cup. Although these amounts are not dangerous in and of themselves, overfeeding may lead to kidney stones and improper bone growth.
As always, moderation is the right approach when feeding your dog. When it comes to cottage cheese, make sure it doesn't exceed 10% of your dog's daily nutritional intake; 1-2 spoonfuls will be enough, although it's best to skip it from one day to another.
How about Lacto-Fermented Dairy Products?
Is your dog's gut microbiome out of whack? Does it need a strong boost of helpful bacteria to bring the bacterial balance back in order? That's where lacto-fermented dairy, such as yogurt and kefir, is most helpful. As we've seen in past articles, yogurt and kefir help repopulate the gut in a healthy way. Dogs suffering from skin issues, allergies, yeast infections, and inflammation have the most to benefit from lacto-fermented dairy. Not to mention that they aid the digestive process and fortify the canine immune system!
Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream?
How many times has your dog jealously stared at you while you were enjoying a couple of scoops of your favorite ice cream? Fortunately, you no longer have to meet your dog's requests with refusals! Dogs are free to have ice cream as long as it's xylitol-free (we've discussed xylitol in our post on canine oral care). Even better, you can follow a healthier path by storing kefir or yogurt in ice cube trays and freezing it. As a helpful tip, your dog will appreciate it if you made their natural ice cream more palatable by adding a scoop of peanut butter to it!
But how about those pup cups you can get at a drive-thru? Although tailored explicitly for dogs, drive-thru ice cream may contain other artificial sweeteners you might not be aware of. Therefore, it's best to stick with natural ice cream as much as possible.
Can Dogs Eat Dairy Products? Of Course!
Milk is the first food puppies encounter once they are brought into this world, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to have it once they grow up. If you believe your dog to be lactose intolerant, take a closer look at the dairy products you're feeding them: Do they come from organic sources? Am I feeding too much? Answering these questions might elucidate the reasons and improve your dog's relationship with dairy products. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!