Unlike most other mammals, dogs have this unexplained fascination for human food. For pet owners, this could mean a perennial task to keep their pooches off their dining tables and the refrigerator. Dogs fancy milk too, and this makes many dog owners wonder should dogs be drinking milk in the first place.
Dogs can drink milk, but there are certain grey areas. Like every foreign food you feed your dog, cow or goat’s milk must also be served in moderation. If your dog ends up ingesting milk excessively or is lactose intolerant, that could lead to stomach and general health issues in your pet.
Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between dogs and milk, milk or dairy food alternatives for your dog, and more.
Do Dogs Need Milk?
Dogs do not need milk. Cow’s milk is a great calcium source for humans, but not for mature dogs. Milk is not an essential aspect of any dog’s diet because regular pet food affords it all the nutrients it requires to build strong bones, muscles, tendons, immune system, etc.
When young, however, dogs need their mother’s milk as it contains all the important nutrients, vitamins, antibodies, and electrolytes needed to build a strong immune system. The milk contains colostrum, a protein-rich ingredient that boosts the immune system of the puppy. However, after having weaned or stopped drinking their mother’s milk, dogs do not need milk anymore.
If a puppy is weaned prematurely or is orphaned, or an alternative to mother’s milk has to be found, milk replacer is a better option than cow’s milk. Dog’s milk has an increased number of calories and protein than cow’s milk. Also, it’s easier to digest. A milk replacer for puppies comes closer to a mother dog’s milk in chemical structure and nutrient profile than cow’s milk.
Dogs and Lactose Intolerance
As mentioned above, and like with every mammal, dogs drink their mother’s milk when they are newly born. During that stage, their bodies have an abundant supply of lactase, an enzyme naturally produced by several organisms to assist with whole milk digestion. In other words, the enzyme breaks down the sugars found in milk, making digestion easier.
When puppies grow to become mature dogs, the quantity in which they make the lactase enzyme decreases. This means they are no longer inherently capable of breaking down milk sugars as effectively as they did when they were young, increasing the likelihood of them becoming intolerant to milk. This natural progression explains why mature dogs do not need milk in their diet.
Having said that, not all dogs develop this intolerance, like how not all humans are lactose intolerant. However, the intolerance issue is quite common among dogs. Therefore, when you are clueless about your dog’s tolerance to lactose, it’s best to not serve it any milk.
Signs of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs
Dogs with lactose intolerance typically develop stomach problems after milk consumption. The issues could be stomach discomfort and pain, diarrhea or loose stools, flatulence, etc. Some dogs could even end up vomiting.
The magnitude or seriousness of these problems varies based on the level of lactose intolerance in the dog. Some dogs exhibit intolerance signs only after having consumed milk in large quantities. Other canines could give out warning signs just after having licked milk off its plate. If you suspect your dog is intolerant to milk, keep a close watch on its response when you feed it milk for the first time.
Certain dogs could also be allergic to lactose, but those are quite rare. Here are a few signs of milk allergy in dogs:
- Yeast infections
- Skin irritation and/or redness
- Itchy ears
To best ascertain the state of your dog’s allergy to milk, get in touch with your vet.
Some Other Complications from Feeding Milk to Your Dog
Milk is a high-fat food product. Even if your dog is quite capable of digesting milk, feeding it too much dairy or milk could lead to obesity issues in your pet. There is also the possibility of your pet developing pancreatitis, a condition that denotes inflamed pancreas.
This is a serious and at times life-threatening medical condition that could turn into a recurring issue after the initial bout. It could be easily triggered by excessive fat content in your dog’s diet.
No Dairy Foods for Dogs with Lactose Intolerance
If your dog has trouble consuming milk, it is likely to have issues assimilating other dairy products too, which include cheese. But if your dog likes cheese, you may feed it in limited quantities. It’s, however, recommended you feed your dog a cheese alternative if it absolutely loves cheese, as it won’t take too long for the limited cheese consumption to turn into an overdose.
Kindly note if your dog is extremely sensitive to lactose, do not give it any dairy at all. And when introducing any new food item into its diet, thoroughly check its ingredients as some commercial dog treats could contain dairy products. If your dog’s stomach can tolerate milk, licking on the occasional ice cream or cheesy cheddar should not be an issue.
Dog-Safe Foods (Non-Dairy and Dairy)
Dog-safe, lactose-free human foods like blended bananas or frozen peanut butter could be a solid alternative treat. If your dog is lactose intolerant and it loves its dairy food, you could try giving it the following food items. These are dairy products with zero to minimal lactose content:
- Cheddar cheese (0 grams of lactose)
- Cottage cheese (3 grams for every half a cup)
- Plain Greek yogurt (4 grams per half a cup)
Besides packing in very little lactose, Greek yogurt also contains probiotics that can soothe your canine’s digestive tract and remedy various stomach issues such as gas and diarrhea.
Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
Probiotics not just promote intestinal health and healthy digestion, but also ensure regular bowel movements in your dog. Probiotics also break down lactose similar to how the enzymes break lactose down when your dog was still a puppy.
Probiotics are basically good bacteria that boost the immune system of your dog. The bacteria supposedly help prevent or treat a range of diseases and illnesses, particularly those related to your dog’s gastrointestinal system. If your pet canine is sensitive to dairy or any other food, probiotics would help reduce gas and firm up loose stools.
Probiotics could be administered as required – for instance, when your pooch is having digestion concerns or is on antibiotic drugs to ward off an infection or prevent one from developing. You could even feed your dog probiotics-rich food on a routine basis to ensure good health in general.
Though there are probiotics supplements on the market, it’s recommended you give your dog canine-safe, probiotics-rich food instead – which include kefir, goat’s milk, bananas, apples, and asparagus – besides the aforementioned cheese and yogurt varieties.
Can Dogs Drink Plant-Based Milk?
When talking milk, cow, and goat milk comes to most people’s minds – not realizing that there are many other varieties of milk being sold on the market. The two popular non-dairy milk options are almond milk and soy milk. So, can dogs drink this milk?
Unlike cow or goat’s milk, almond milk poses no lactose concerns. However, though lactose-free, it is not necessarily safe for dogs to consume.
Certain nuts, particularly macadamia nuts, could be toxic to canines. Though almonds are nowhere close to as harmful to canines as macadamia and some other nuts, dogs usually do not digest almonds too well.
Also, almonds are high in fat, which could cause pancreatitis and obesity problems in your pet. When fed in small quantities (a few tablespoons) or as an occasional treat, however, almond milk should not cause any major problems.
Soy milk is another plant-based, non-dairy milk alternative. Unlike almond milk, soy milk is a lot more palatable to a dog’s stomach and is typically considered safe for dog consumption. But then, you still cannot afford to go overboard with soy.
Soy milk contains isoflavones, a kind of protein. According to some experts, isoflavones have certain health benefits for dogs. Some anecdotal evidence indicates soy protein could reduce urinary incontinence issues in dogs. Some veterinarians, in fact, recommend isoflavones-containing supplements to affected dogs.
Soy, however, is among the leading food allergens. Soy milk, therefore, must be avoided if your canine pet has food allergies. Another issue with soy milk, and with almond milk, are the added calories. A single cup of soy milk contains approximately 100 calories. Almond milk contains a similar amount too.
Besides causing your dog to put on weight, these calories are empty or provide no real nutritional value. Some soy or almond milk could be sweetened too, which means added sugar that could result in tooth decay and obesity.
If your dog has lactose intolerance, do not feed it animal milk. After all, milk is not an essential food for dogs. If your pet is, however, able to work with milk, serve it milk in limited quantities and not every other day – once or twice a week should be fine.
Feeding it milk regularly could lead to obesity and a host of other issues, if not allergies or lactose problems. Also, if you had to choose between cow’s and goat’s milk, go with goat’s milk as it has lower levels of lactose, which means lesser chances of an adverse reaction.
Before serving any new food item (lactose or lactose-free) to your dog, make sure you talk to your vet so that you know what to expect and how to respond in case anything untoward happens after the feeding session.