Can Dogs Drink Milk?

Golden Retriever puppy drinking milk fron a bottle

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It is not uncommon for owners to ask 'Can Dogs Have Milk?'. The answer is not a simple yes, or no. Milk is not something highly toxic to dogs like grapes, dark chocolate or xylitol. But, if your dog has an intolerance, or is given too much, it can have serious effects.

Is Milk Necessary in a Dog's Diet?

When puppies have their mother's milk, it is during a time when they have an increased supply of the enzyme called Lactase. This enzyme helps to break down the sugars that are contained in milk, making it easier to digest. Of course, the natural and unprocessed milk the puppies receive is also from their mother, so this is very different from the likes of cows or goat milk.

Once they mature, it is not something they need in their diet. So, if in doubt, it would be best to avoid it, or save for an occasional bit of cheese or lick of ice cream.

Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant or Allergic to Milk?

As dogs mature and no longer need their mother's milk to thrive, the amount of the Lactase enzyme that they produce naturally decreases. This means that they are not able to break down the sugars in the milk as easily, and they are more likely to develop an intolerance to it.

Of course, not every dog will develop an intolerance, but, like with humans, it is recognized as being a relatively common issue for dogs.

What are the Signs of a Lactose Intolerance

Dogs that suffer from lactose intolerance will usually have an upset stomach. This can result in pain and discomfort, flatulence and diarrhea. Some dogs may also vomit.

The level of the intolerance can vary. Some may only show signs if they are given large quantities of milk, some having been given very little. You should monitor your dog whenever you introduce something new to their diet to allow you to assess if it seems to be causing any problems.

What are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction

Allergies are less common than intolerances, but, reactions to dairy are one of the more common food allergies seen in dogs. If any reactions happen after eating dairy, you should avoid feeding it altogether and, if the reaction is severe, you should seek veterinary advice.

Signs of Allergic Reactions in Dogs

  • Redness and/or irritation of the skin
  • Yeast infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchy ears

Possible Complications from Feeding Your Dog Milk

Aside from the fact that some dogs don't tolerate milk well, it is a food product that is high in fat in its whole form, and when it is in whole dairy products like cheese or cream.

Too much milk or dairy can contribute to obesity problems, and there is the chance that it could contribute to your dog developing a condition called Pancreatitis. This can be a very serious, sometimes even life-threatening, condition that can become a reoccurring problem after the first bout. It can be triggered by too much fat in a dog's diet.

How to Make Sure Your Dog Gets Enough Calcium

A lot of owners believe that giving their dog additional dairy products as part of their diet will provide them with a good source of calcium. While calcium is important for healthy bone development and other functions, this can be provided by dietary sources that are more appropriate for dogs.

A high-quality, balanced and complete dog food will already contain an appropriate amount of calcium. It is also found in meat, vegetables like broccoli, and even in ground bone. All of these would be better for your dog than regular servings of milk or dairy products.

Other Complications from Dairy

Don't forget that it is not just milk itself that could cause problems. Dairy products are often given to dogs as a treat or supplement to their diet. Cheese, for example, can be a popular training treat.

If this is chopped into small pieces and only given occasionally, it shouldn't cause any major problems. However, it would probably be better to look for a healthier treat alternative that your dog enjoys just as much.

If your dog does have an intolerance or allergy, you should always double-check the ingredients for anything new you are giving them. Even some commercial dog treats can contain dairy products.

What About Goat Milk Rather than Cow Milk?

Goat milk is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to cows milk. It has a lower amount of lactose than cows milk. So, in theory, it should be easier for your dog to digest, and it is believed to be less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Again, though, this is something that is not required by your dog and, given the potential for contributing to obesity, it would be best to limit this to small quantities. Don't feed your dog any milk until you have consulted your veterinarian.