Some human foods are safe for dogs, some not, and some are in that gray area in which there’s no firm “yes” or “no” answer. Milk is one of those products. While milk isn’t toxic to dogs, many dogs are lactose intolerant and can be left with an uncomfortable, upset stomach after drinking it. Moreover, some dogs are allergic to dairy.
In this post, we’ll explain why it’s best to be cautious about offering milk to your dog.
Is Milk Safe for Dogs?
Puppies drink milk from their mothers which contains all the nutrients they need for the initial stage of their lives. Before weaning, puppies have higher levels of lactase (digestive enzymes), which allows them to tolerate their mother’s milk without any problems. Puppies that cannot drink their mother’s milk for some reason are offered puppy milk replacement formulas.
However, cow’s milk or goat’s milk, especially when offered in large quantities, isn’t good for dogs because it can result in a tummy upset with vomiting and/or diarrhea. This happens because, once puppies have been weaned from their mothers, their lactase levels begin to reduce, which makes it harder for them to digest the lactose in milk.
Moreover, dogs don’t need cow’s or goat’s milk to stay healthy—they get their nutrients from other sources—and milk is high in fat and sugar. This means that too much of it could cause your dog to gain weight. If you do offer milk to your dog and they can tolerate it, it’s best to only give a tablespoon or two from time to time as a treat.
Lactose Intolerance in Dogs
Just like humans, dogs can suffer from lactose intolerance, which means that their bodies can’t digest lactose—a sugar that milk contains. Milk and other dairy products are common sources of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance in dogs can range from mild to severe, and the level of tolerance sometimes varies between products.
For example, some dogs might be fine with a bit of yogurt or cheese but show signs of lactose intolerance when offered milk. Some dogs, however, show signs when given any kind of dairy product, and some show signs even if offered only a little bit of dairy (like a few tablespoons of milk).
It’s important to note that even if a dog isn’t lactose intolerant, they could still get an upset stomach from drinking a large quantity of milk (like a bowl) because dogs in general don’t produce much lactase.
Dairy Allergies in Dogs
It’s also possible for dogs to be allergic to dairy. Allergies are different from food intolerances in that they occur when the immune system reacts to something, which isn’t the case with food intolerances.
Food intolerances tend to result in gastrointestinal signs like diarrhea and vomiting, whereas a broader spectrum of signs is possible with allergies, commonly affecting the skin. These include:
- Itchy skin, especially on the ears, paws, stomach, and/or rear end
- Redness of the skin
- Swelling of the lips, eyelids, or ear flaps
Can Dogs Drink Soy Milk?
Alternative types of milk, like almond milk, oat milk, and soy milk, may be easier on your dog’s stomach (unless your dog has an allergy to one of these ingredients) because they don’t contain lactose. However, they should still only be offered occasionally in small amounts, especially since they’re often high in calories.
While soy, almond, and oat milk are okay in small quantities, steer clear of flavored milk, like strawberry or chocolate milk. These are packed with sugar and sometimes contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Deciding whether or not to offer milk to your dog is a tricky business, especially given that dogs display varying levels of sensitivity to it. If your dog can tolerate a few spoonfuls of milk, it should be fine to offer it now and again as a treat, but some dogs are sensitive to even the smallest amount of milk, so it really depends. You might decide that it’s just not worth it, especially since there are many tasty, nutritious, and safer treats you could offer.
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