As every dog owner knows, when it comes to food, dogs aren’t fussy. Cats might balk at anything other than the finest cuts of chicken breast, but their canine counterparts will snaffle just about anything that crosses their path. Which can be a worry. Whether they like it or not, not all foods are suitable for dogs. Some types can give them a mild case of tummy trouble, others can be downright deadly. But what about milk? Should you be worried if your dog likes to slurp up the milky remains from your cereal bowl in the morning? Concerned if they like to steal a lick or two of the white stuff from the cat’s bowl? If you’ve ever pondered over the question of whether dogs can drink milk, here’s what you need to know.
Can Dogs Drink Milk?
Technically, dogs can drink anything they like, The real question is whether that’s a wise move. Ultimately, milk isn’t poisonous to dogs. In the vast majority of cases, a few tablespoons here and there isn’t going to result in an emergency call to the vet. But there’s a difference between a few tablespoons as an occasional treat and a daily liter of the stuff. As Rover.com notes, on the surface, it can seem like milk is a powerhouse of nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamins A, D, and B12, all of which form a vital part of a dog’s diet. But while it’s true that milk has an impressive nutritional profile, it’s not necessarily the best vehicle for getting those nutrients into your dog’s tummy. For a start, milk’s carbohydrate content is mainly made of simple sugars (in this case, lactose). While complex carbohydrates are an essential part of a dog’s diet, simple sugars aren’t. Reduced-fat and skim milk are even bigger offenders than whole milk, offering less fat but a lot more sugar on a cup-for-cup basis. But then again, whole fat milk doesn’t get away scot-free either – according to petmd.com, dairy products that contain too much fat can lead to diarrhea and vomiting, and in some cases, even cause pancreatitis. Providing your dog isn’t lactose intolerant (more on which coming up), small quantities of milk won’t do them any more harm than a few chips will do us. Just be careful to monitor the intake – if it starts to creep up to bowlfuls every day, do their health and waistline a favor and cut off the supply.
What About Puppies?
Obviously, puppies do, can, and should drink milk. But there’s a difference between the milk they get from their mothers and the milk they get from your fridge. While nursing pups have the enzymes needed to digest their mother’s milk, they might have a harder time dealing with cow’s or goat’s milk. Like adult dogs, a tiny amount is unlikely to do them much harm, but larger quantities could soon result in some unpleasant digestive consequences.
Can Dogs Suffer from Lactose Intolerance?
As akc.org points out, lactose intolerance is a fairly common complaint in dogs, which means that many might experience problems in digesting milk. Some lactose-intolerant pooches can also have trouble handling other dairy products like cheese or yogurt, but as these types of foods are lower in lactose, plain milk tends to cause most of the problems. The extent to which lactose intolerance causes symptoms varies hugely, with some dogs experiencing extremely mild GI distress (if at all), and others experiencing severe reactions that may require intervention. Some of the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and loose stools. Even if your dog only experiences a mild reaction to milk, it’s best to take it off the menu entirely. No matter how passionate they are about it, there are plenty of other treats they’ll learn to love just as much.
Should I Be Worried If My Dog Drinks Milk?
After weaning, the abundant lactase enzymes that puppies have disappear, with the result that adult dogs can have a harder time digesting milk. If your dog is lactose intolerant, the lactose in milk will pass through their digestive systems undigested, which will then draw water into the colon, start to ferment, and produce a slew of unpleasant side effects like diarrhea and vomiting. However, if your dog has no obvious signs of dairy sensitivity, there’s no need to fly into a panic if you catch them lapping at your cereal bowl. Due to the high fat and sugar content, it’s not a habit you should let them indulge in freely, but neither is the occasional spoonful of milk reason to get on the hotline to your local vet surgery. If you’re not sure if your dog has a dairy sensitivity or not, keep an eye on them the first time they take a sip of milk- GI symptoms will usually appear within 12 hours, so monitor them during that time for any signs of discomfort, vomiting, or diarrhea. While mild symptoms will pass naturally of their own accord, continue to monitor them closely and seek assistance if you notice the symptoms worsening, or if they’re severe from the onset.
What About Other Dairy Products?
If your dog loves dairy, then providing they don’t suffer from lactose intolerance, it doesn’t need to be excluded from their diet entirely. Most dogs handle dairy with a low lactose content better than milk, so you might want to consider switching their occasional milky treat for a few tablespoons of plain yogurt (which contains 4 grams of lactose per 1.2 cup, plus plenty of gut-friendly probiotics) or hard cheese, which contains no lactose at all. Cottage cheese is also a good choice, containing just 3 grams of lactose per cup along with lower levels of fat than whole milk. Due to the high fat, sugar, and lactose content, ice cream should be limited to tiny amounts on special occasions only. You should also check the label before offering them a bite – if you notice raisins, chocolate, or xylitol among the list of ingredients, even a lick can be dangerous.