Can dogs drink milk?

Can dogs drink milk? You might assume they can. When puppies are born they naturally have to drink their mother’s milk to survive, so why wouldn’t dogs be able to drink milk in adulthood?

Though milk is not toxic to dogs, many dogs are lactose intolerant just like many humans. This means when a lactose intolerant dog drinks milk, acute intestinal symptoms may arise like gas, diarrhea, or vomiting. This article will look into which dairy products are considered safer for dogs than others.

The Science Behind Lactose Intolerance

We’re going to talk chemistry for a minute here. Newborn puppies only drink milk before they are weaned, so why aren’t puppies lactose intolerant?

Puppies can drink their mother’s milk in abundance because they have a large amount of an enzyme called lactase at this age. Lactase is required for proper digestion of milk because milk contains a sugar called lactose, which is the component many dogs (and people) are sensitive to. The enzyme lactase is used to break down the milk and digest lactose while puppies are nursing.

As dogs age they don’t have nearly as much of that key enzyme. Adult dogs become lactose intolerant because after they have weaned from their mothers, they produce less and less lactase. As a result, many dogs have trouble digesting milk and other dairy products.

Wondering if your dog is lactose intolerant? Symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs include side effects like:

  • Diarrhea and loose stools
  • Bloating
  • Stomach upset
  • Abdominal pain notes that there are many safe dairy products lactose intolerant dogs can enjoy. These products include some cheese and yogurt varieties that have considerably less lactose than straight milk. American cheese and Swiss cheese, for example, only have 1 gram of lactose per ounce. Cheddar cheese has none. On the opposite end of the lactose spectrum, whole milk has a whopping 11 grams per cup.

In summation, “the lower the lactose content of any dairy product, the more likely it will be for your dog to tolerate consuming them without distress,” states Dog Food Advisor. As with all human food treats, it is best to give it to your dog in moderation.

What Dairy Can My Dog Have?

Can dogs drink milk: Small dog licking ice cream cone

As mentioned above, the lower the amount of lactose content, the safer it is for dogs to consume.

Can dogs drink milk from other sources, like cow’s milk or goat’s milk?

“Most dogs can drink cow’s milk or goat’s milk, however some dogs may be allergic or lactose intolerant,” Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM and owner of Pure Paws Veterinary Care of Clinton Hill Brooklyn, N.Y. tells PetMD. Basically, don’t go pouring your dog a bowl of milk just yet: Cow’s milk is higher in lactose than dog’s milk, however, and must be given in moderation.

If your dog does not have a dairy sensitivity, you can give them a little bit of dairy like plain yogurt, cheese, and ice cream in small quantities. Cheese in particular is an irresistible treat — it’s great for training sessions.

If you share ice cream with your dog, vanilla ice cream is the safest type to feed your pet because there is less flavor and fewer ingredients added to it. Just be sure to read the ingredient list to make sure it contains nothing potentially harmful to your dog like xylitol, a sugar substitute found in many human sweets that is toxic to dogs.

Ultimately, in small quantities, dairy is OK to give your dog if they do not display lactose intolerance and can digest milk safely. Otherwise, stick to lactose-free treats.

Remember that dogs are omnivores and don’t need animal protein alone like cats do. Your dog needs a balanced diet. Dogs can survive off of non-meat-derived food groups like veggies and carbs, so milk is not absolutely vital to the diet of an adult dog.

What to Do If Your Dog Eats Too Much Dairy

Black and white dog playfully bites finger of human

Did your lactose intolerant dog break into the cheese drawer, attempt the milk gallon challenge, or feast on an unattended pint of Chunky Monkey? Your dog will likely display some non-life-threatening digestive issues like gas, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal upset if so.

There is no need to jump into panic mode — remember, milk isn’t toxic to dogs. Make sure your dog has access to plenty of clean water in order to avoid dehydration. A common way to reset your dog’s digestive system is to feed them a bland meal of boiled white meat chicken and plain white rice. In the event of stomach upset, basic chicken and rice is more gentle on a dog’s tummy than traditional dog food like kibble.

If your dog’s vomiting or soft stool seems more serious than a passing occurrence, or if it worries you in any way, play it safe and call the vet’s office. There’s no sense in putting your dog’s health at risk.

Safer Dairy Treats for Dogs

Yogurt is a great healthy treat for your doggo that doesn’t have as much fat as other dairy products do. Best of all, it’s much lower in lactose than other dairy products and only contains 5 grams of lactose per cup.

One of the most popular ways to DIY dog ice cream (or in this case, frozen yogurt) can be done using just two ingredients: peanut butter and yogurt. Simply mix plain Greek yogurt and peanut butter in a blender, then freeze it in an ice cube tray. Your dog will benefit nutritionally from the probiotics yogurt provides and from the protein content in the peanut butter.

DIY Lactose-Free Dog Treat

Does your dog have a food allergy like lactose intolerance? Going the DIY route with dairy-like treats for your pooch is better than grabbing a milk carton from your fridge or offering them a lick from your ice cream cone.

An easy lactose-free treat that is safe for dogs can be made by pureeing fresh fruit like banana slices or blueberries in a blender. During the hot summer months you can freeze this mixture for refreshing “pup”-sicles.

Make Smart Moves When It Comes to Dairy Products

Can dogs drink milk and eat foods that contain milk? It all comes down to the particular dog and how well they can or cannot break down lactose due to their specific lactase levels.

If you know your dog has lactose intolerance issues, it is best to not give them any ice cream, yogurt, milk, cheese, butter, or any other product that contains dairy. If your dog does not have a dairy sensitivity, however, you can give them a little bit of those dairy treats in moderation. Don’t forget to consult your veterinarian before changing up your dog’s diet by adding in dairy products.

Would you like to learn more about your dog’s diet and nutritional needs? Want more great content about your pooch’s health and wellness delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Wag Insider newsletter today.