If you’re a dog owner, it’s understandable that you’d only want to give your four-legged friend food and treats that are good for them. Sometimes, you may even want to provide them with “human” items that won’t make them sick. One of the most common food groups people wonder about is “Can dogs eat dairy?”
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very straightforward. The safety of dairy consumption in dogs is dependent on a few factors.
Some dogs can eat dairy products with no problems. Others can be lactose intolerant, similar to humans, or have a dairy allergy. Knowing what kind of dairy products you give to your dog is also essential.
Even if they aren’t lactose intolerant, some popular dairy products could contain chemicals or other toxic ingredients to your pet. In those situations, it’s not necessarily the dairy causing a problem but whatever else is on the ingredient list.
In general, most dogs should be able to eat small doses of dairy without problems, but you should probably avoid giving your furry companion large quantities of dairy products.
To ensure you aren’t harming your pet, let’s dive deeper into dairy consumption for dogs and what’s safe for them to eat.
The lactose issue
If your dog seems to have digestive issues after having any dairy, it might struggle with lactose intolerance. Like humans, some dogs have a hard time with lactose.
Dogs that don’t produce lactase — a natural enzyme that splits lactose into two easy-to-digest sugars — can’t digest lactose comfortably. As a result, they might experience symptoms of lactose intolerance like:
Even if your dog isn’t lactose intolerant, it could be allergic to the specific kind of protein found in milk. Allergy symptoms tend to show up differently. Instead of experiencing gas or bloating, your dog might start to itch or develop a rash.
However, pay attention to potential signs of fleas and ticks as these could be the real culprit of excessive scratching.
A good rule of thumb if you want to offer your dog a dairy product is to start with something low in lactose, like cheddar cheese or cottage cheese. If they don’t seem to have an adverse reaction, you can try giving them some ice cream or milk.
Remember, though, that even if they seem okay with dairy products, give human foods in moderation as a special treat.
Which ingredients are harmful?
If your dog isn’t lactose intolerant and they aren’t allergic to dairy, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can have whatever milk-based products they want. Depending on the type of dairy product you’re considering, it could contain other ingredients that might not be safe for your pup.
For example, giving your dog a lick or two of vanilla ice cream might not be a big deal. However, a low-calorie or low-fat ice cream could contain a sweetener called xylitol — which is incredibly toxic to dogs.
Even if the ice cream doesn’t contain xylitol or other harmful ingredients, its mix-ins or toppings could cause problems.
Certain brands of peanut butter and candies contain xylitol or birch sugar. Watch out, in particular, for items that claim to be “low in sugar.”
Things like chocolate and raisins can also be harmful mix-ins to dairy products.
If you want to give your dog a frosty treat, thoroughly look through all of the ingredients in your tub of ice cream before sharing, and play it safe by sticking with plain vanilla.
Alternatively, consider making dog-friendly frozen treat alternatives. Dogs love many different types of fruits, including bananas.
Consider blending a few frozen bananas and add pumpkin or dog-friendly peanut butter to your concoction. It’s healthier than ice cream, safe, and refreshing.
You can also give your pooch a few bites of frozen pineapple to cool them off and give them the benefit of immune and digestive system support.
When evaluating dairy products that claim to be low in sugar, remember that not all sweeteners are necessarily harmful to dogs. While it’s just as important for dogs to limit their sugar intake as it is for humans, you should know that different sweeteners can do other things. Sometimes, complicated ingredient names can make it difficult to see whether they’re dangerous.
It’s helpful to do your research on sweeteners beforehand. For example, erythritol is a common sugar replacement in many foods, including dairy products. It’s often found in cheese and is entirely safe for dogs to consume.
You can also find it in things like:
- Soy sauce — but the sodium content should be a warning sign not to give this to your dog;
- Watermelon — but avoid the rind and seeds;
- Peaches — but be mindful not to give your dog any of the pit as it contains cyanide;
- Mushrooms — but opt for store-bought, organic, unsalted versions instead of any you come across on dog walks that may be poisonous.
Final thoughts on can dogs eat dairy
When it comes down to it, researching ingredients you’re unfamiliar with is the best way to determine whether a specific dairy product is safe for your dog. Thankfully, we live in a time when it’s easier to do that than ever. A quick search online will let you know exactly which ingredients are safe and which ones are harmful. When in doubt, it’s best to avoid that product until you can do your research.
Whether you want your canine companion to share your ice cream on a hot day or wondering if it’s safe to wrap up their prescribed medications in a piece of cheese, understand not all dairy products are created equally.
Take the time to see how your dog reacts to products with lactose and become a stickler for ingredients. Of course, if your dog becomes sick, care for them immediately. These tips and tricks will help to keep your pup safe while they enjoy some of your favorite foods.
Miles Oliver is a proud dog lover and an outdoor enthusiast. He often writes on his patio with a hot cup of tea and his 4-year-old border collie mix by his feet. When Miles is not working as an independent freelance writer, he is most likely mountain biking and roaming the great outdoors with his four-legged companion.