Can dogs drink milk or eat dairy products?

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Can dogs drink milk or eat dairy products?

When considering whether dogs can drink milk, or eat products containing milk such as cheese, it comes down to whether your individual dog tolerates it in their diet. Milk isn’t bad for dogs as such, but some dogs (like humans) are lactose intolerant, meaning their guts cannot digest it. This can lead to stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhoea. In this article we discuss why some dogs are lactose intolerant, what symptoms to look out for and what to do if your dog does become ill after eating dairy products. Read our vets advice here.

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What does lactose-intolerant mean?

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. As puppies, dogs have the enzyme lactase within their gut to help digest the lactose in the mother’s milk. However, most dogs stop producing lactase and lose the ability to break down lactose in milk shortly after they are weaned and begin eating solids.

What foods contain lactose?

Lactose is found in all dairy products including cheese, cream, butter, ice-cream, yoghurt, and dog ice-creams that contain dairy products.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance typically involve intestinal discomfort and symptoms will start within thirty minutes to two hours after ingestion of a dairy product. However, they are not generally life-threatening unless they continue for an extended period of time. The main symptoms in dogs are:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Abdominal tenderness or pain

  • Bloating

  • Dehydration

  • Excessive thirst

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

  • Weight loss

Milk and bottle feeding puppies

It is important to note that puppies that need to be bottle fed (for example if separated from the mother too early) must be fed special puppy milk e.g. brands such as Beaphar Lactol Puppy milk or Royal Canin baby dog milk. Do not feed pre-weaned puppies cows or goats milk. Lactose concentrations in a nursing bitch’s milk is about 3%, whereas cow’s milk contains 5%. So, even unweaned puppies may not produce enough lactase to digest cow's milk properly, and may show signs of lactose intolerance.

Puppies that have been weaned (all puppies are weaned by rehoming at 8 weeks) can be offered very small amounts of lactose containing products in a similar way to adults. It is important to remember that puppies often have more sensitive digestion than adults and you must monitor if the lactose containing product causes a stomach upset. If so, avoid these in the future.

What can you do to help your dog?

Try to avoid feeding dairy products to your dog if they are lactose intolerant. Cheese is often used as a training treat but it is also very calorific. It’s best to only allow your dog to eat cheese in very small amounts every now and again, and only if it doesn’t lead to stomach upset. Avoid feeding blue cheese as it contains live fungal spores which can be toxic to dogs.

Treatment of lactose intolerance

Treatment of the specific gastrointestinal signs include feeding a bland diet to allow symptoms to settle, and treatment of vomiting or diarrhoea, if it occurs. Read more about the causes and treatment of vomiting and diarrhoea here. The mainstay of lactose intolerance management is avoiding lactose altogether in your dog’s diet.

When to see your physical vet

  • If your dog has eaten dairy products and is showing symptoms of lactose intolerance

  • Please contact your vet straight away if your dog has eaten mouldy or blue cheese

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