Oh, how Penny used to love ice cream. All I had to do was simply open the freezer door, and in a flash, she’d be there. Looking up at me. Wagging her tail in utter anticipation.
Well, that was before I’d heard that dogs weren’t supposed to eat milk or dairy products. When I asked why, I was simply told that milk was “bad for dogs”.
Until then, I’d never given the subject much thought. After all, Penny’s vet used to suggest hiding her pills inside a slice of cheese.
So, that made me think. What’s all this fuss about dairy products and dogs? Is it OK. Or not?
Well, that all depends on your dog’s specific body chemistry.
Milk’s Most Disagreeable Feature
Some dogs have no problems digesting dairy products. Yet others experience acute intestinal distress — like gas, diarrhea or vomiting.
It all comes down to how your dog handles a specific nutrient found in milk — a nutrient known as lactose.
I know you’ve probably heard of lactose before. Yet what exactly is it?
Well, lactose is actually a kind of sugar. Not just one single sugar, but two sugar molecules chemically linked together.
In order for a dog to digest milk, the lactose must first be broken apart into its two more basic, easy-to-absorb sugars.
And that’s just it. You see, a dog’s body must be able to produce its own special lactose-splitting enzyme. An enzyme known as lactase.
And that’s one thing most dogs can’t reliably do.
Like Humans — Dogs Can Suffer
from Lactose Intolerance
Without lactase, a dog simply cannot digest dairy products. And acute intestinal symptoms nearly always arise. This inability to digest milk is infamously known as lactose intolerance.
The same lactose intolerance so many humans suffer from every day.
So, if you’ve ever noticed your dog tends to develop gas or loose stools after having milk, there’s a good chance your pet may be suffering from lactose intolerance.
Knowing a Food’s Lactose
Content Can Help
To be fair, I do have to mention (in rare cases) a dog can be allergic to the protein in milk1.
Other than that, milk shouldn’t be considered toxic for a dog. And no, it doesn’t cause worms either (no kidding, I’ve actually heard that silly rumor myself).
Yet for dogs that are lactose intolerant (as so many actually are), dairy products can present a real problem.
For those pets, there’s still hope.
That’s because a dog’s reaction to lactose can be directly related to the “dose”. The higher the lactose content, the greater the likely response.
Thankfully, not all dairy products contain the same amount of lactose. Many kinds of cheese and yogurt contain considerably less lactose than milk.
Take a look at this table. Notice how some milk products contain only a minimal amount of lactose per serving.
For example, notice how most cheeses contain very little lactose. About a gram per serving. Sometimes less. Now, compare that quantity to whole milk, which clocks in at a whopping 11 grams.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, the lower the lactose content of any dairy product, the more likely it will be for your dog to tolerate consuming these foods without problems.
So, depending on the particular food, then it may be OK to offer some dairy products — in moderation.
However, if you do notice any digestive issues, then why not try one of these low lactose products instead?
- Wills J, Harvey R, Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, “Diagnosis and management of food allergy and intolerance in dogs and cats”, Australian Veterinary Journal, 1994 Oct; 71(10):322-6 ↩