Can dogs eat cheese?
Dogs love treats. They’re an effective tool to reward your dog during training, playtime, or even when they’re just being adorable. Treats come in many shapes, flavors, and forms. There are hundreds of varieties of commercially available dog treats on the market. Some fruits, vegetables, and human food can also be given as treats to dogs. Cheese, a popular snack and a favorite ingredient in dishes and sandwiches, is one of the most commonly used dog treats. Dog owners have often used cheese as treats or as a way to mask medications that their pets need to take. But is it okay to give cheese to dogs on a regular basis, even if given in small quantities? Keep reading to find out!
How is cheese made?
Knowing how cheese is made will help us understand if giving cheese is safe for dogs, or if it will cause any serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
Cheese comes in many types and variants, each with its own distinct texture and flavor, but all undergo the same basic process to become the yellow, flavorful, snack and food ingredient we have all come to love. All cheese products are derived from the milk of different animals such as cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo. In certain types of cheese, more than one type of milk is used to create a distinct flavor.
Milk is curdled on purpose to make cheese. It is initially poured into a vat and a bacterial culture is added to convert the lactose in the milk into lactic acid, making it more acidic. An enzyme called rennet is then added to the milk to curdle. The curds are then processed, and the whey is drained, salted, and shaped to produce the final cheese product. Variations of this step happen in different types of cheese, but pretty much all of them go through this basic process.
Is cheese safe for dogs to eat?
In general, yes, most cheese and cheese products are safe to give to dogs. In controlled amounts, cheese is well-tolerated and easily digested by most canines. But not all cheese is safe for dogs, and not all dogs can tolerate eating cheese without showing signs of illness.
While most cheeses are safe and do not contain any toxic components, some can cause serious health problems when ingested by dogs. Blue cheese is one of the types of cheeses that should be avoided.
Blue cheese is made by adding a fungal mold called Penicillium into the mix during the cheese-making process. The mold growth creates the distinct smell and flavor blue cheeses are known for. While humans can tolerate the fungal mold in blue cheese, dogs are very sensitive to it. When ingested, blue cheese can cause severe GI and systemic signs in dogs. Initial signs include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weakness. If a dog ingests a large amount of blue cheese, the mold can cause severe infection, resulting in fever and seizures. If your dog accidentally ate a huge chunk of blue cheese and shows the symptoms mentioned above, it’s best to bring your dog to a vet immediately.
Another concern most dog owners have with cheese is the risk of GI reactions due to its lactose content. Almost all dogs are lactose-intolerant to a certain degree, with individuals more sensitive than others.
As young puppies, their GI system produces an enzyme called lactase that helps digest lactose in their mother’s milk. But as they grow older, the enzymes in their digestive system change, and lactase pretty much disappears. This means older dogs have very minimal capacity to digest lactose in milk and are practically lactose intolerant.
Fortunately, concerns for lactose intolerance in cheese are very uncommon, as most cheese products lose their lactose content during the acidifying process. Lactose is transformed into lactic acid during this process, and the longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose it contains. Therefore, adverse reactions to cheese due to lactose intolerance are very uncommon in most dogs and most cheese types.
There are, however, dogs that are highly sensitive to lactose that even a tiny amount can trigger GI signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. There are also types of cheese that contain a higher lactose amount, enough to cause problems to severely lactose intolerant dogs.
Cheese also contains high amounts of fat, which can be a problem if fed to your dog in huge quantities, especially on a regular basis. High-fat food in dogs can cause rapid weight gain and obesity if not controlled properly. Overweight and obese dogs are highly predisposed to developing heart and joint problems.
The high fat content can also trigger pancreatitis, a serious and sometimes fatal health problem in dogs. Pancreatitis is always considered an emergency and is usually characterized by severe abdominal pain, profuse vomiting, and severe weakness.
Safe Ways to Treat Your Dog to Cheese
Most health hazards concerning cheese in dogs are mainly due to ingestion of excessive amounts regularly. The best way to avoid these hazards is to give cheese to dogs in small quantities at a controlled frequency. Cheese is a great tool for training and giving small cuts of it as positive reinforcement can help speed up the training of your dog.
Cheese also works best as a way to administer oral medications in dogs. Hiding tablets and capsules in a small chunk of cheese will make giving oral medications at home significantly easier. However, antibiotics should never be hidden in cheese as it can bind with the medicine and cause improper absorption.
Are there health benefits to feeding my dog cheese?
In theory, cheese contains great amounts of protein, calcium, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. But these nutrients can also easily be obtained with a regular, well-balanced dog food. Giving huge amounts of cheese for its nutritional content is counterproductive, as it significantly increases the risks of adverse food reactions.
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