Before you share a sip of milk with your best friend, you need the answer to two questions: Can dogs drink milk, and more importantly, can your dog drink milk?
The answer to the first question is easy — yes, in general, dogs can drink milk. This beverage is non-toxic to dogs, but as with humans, dairy products are a common food allergy in dogs. Many dogs are lactose intolerant, but that's not the only health issue to consider before giving your dog milk. If your dog has any pre-existing health concerns, you should always talk to your vet before introducing a new food into their diet.
Here's a look at the different types of milk and how they might affect your dog, plus tips to help you determine if milk is a good choice for your dog, and guidelines for feeding your dog healthy dairy products.
Can Dogs Drink Milk From Cows, Goats, Soy, and Other Sources?
Answering "Can dogs drink milk?" becomes more complicated when you consider the many kinds of milk on the market. So, before we get into potential health concerns to rule out before giving your dog milk, consider how each type of milk can affect your dog differently:
- Cow's milk: The most conventional form of milk, cow's milk is high in protein and calcium and is generally safe for many dogs. However, it's also high in lactose, which can cause food sensitivities. Dairy milk is also one of the most common food allergies in dogs.
- Goat's milk: Another all-natural animal-derived milk, goat's milk is typically safe for dogs and often touted as healthier than cow's milk. While it has a higher protein content and lower lactose content, it still contains lactose and is slightly higher calorie and higher fat than cow's milk.
- Mother's milk: A common supplement for dogs, mother's milk products are usually sold in powdered form and are formulated to have similar nutrients to a mother dog's milk, including colostrum, a nutrient that can be beneficial for a dog's immune system. Mother's milk is not lactose free.
- Lactose-free milk: One of the specialty milks you'll find in grocery stores, lactose-free milk is cow's milk that's had its lactose content removed. It can be a safe option for dogs with lactose intolerance.
- Plant-based milk: Plant-based milks like soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, or rice milk are often safe for dogs. But unlike cow's milk or goat's milk, which only contain one ingredient, plant-based milks often contain a long list of ingredients. Always check the label for ingredients that are dangerous for dogs before giving a plant-based milk to your pet.
- Flavored milk: Dogs have a sweet tooth — it's part of the reason they enjoy milk (lactose is a natural sugar). But, flavored milks often contain high levels of sugar or more dangerous sweeteners like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Avoid giving your dog flavored milks of any kind, including flavored plant-based milks.
When Should Dogs Avoid Milk?
While most forms of milk are safe for dogs as long as they don't contain added ingredients, there are a few reasons to reconsider giving your dog milk. If your dog has any of these health concerns, avoid giving them conventional, animal-based milks.
Lactose-intolerant dogs can't digest lactose because they're missing a digestive enzyme known as lactase. Lactase helps break-down the lactose sugars naturally present in cow's milk, goat's milk, mother's milk, and other animal-derived milks. If your dog is missing this enzyme, drinking milk can cause an upset stomach, abdominal pain, and other uncomfortable side effects.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Loose stool
- Gastrointestinal upset
To determine whether your dog is lactose intolerant, introduce dairy into your dog's diet slowly. If your adult dog hasn't had milk since they were a puppy and you suddenly feed them a large amount of milk, it can upset their digestive system whether they're lactose intolerant or not.
As with any new human food you add to your dog's diet, start by feeding them a small quantity. Try offering your dog a small amount of milk every day for three days. Then, don't feed them any dairy for the next two days. If no symptoms develop, your dog can digest lactose, and you can safely offer them a small bowl of milk as an occasional snack.
However, if you notice any of the symptoms listed above, your dog may be lactose intolerant. Avoid feeding them conventional dairy products, and consider trying dog food for allergies to conduct more in-depth dog allergy testing. If you still want to offer your dog milk as an occasional treat, opt for lactose-free or plant-based milks instead.
Dogs who suffer from pancreatitis need to avoid high-fat foods. Whole milk has a high fat content, and whole goat's milk is slightly higher in fat than whole cow's milk.
If your dog has pancreatitis, avoid giving them high-fat dairy products of any kind. They may be able to enjoy skim milk or plant-based milks. However, before introducing a new food into your dog's diet, talk to your veterinarian to make sure it's safe to feed them.
Milk is both high fat and calorie dense. If your dog suffers from obesity, this snack may get in the way of their weight loss plan. You can opt for dog-friendly fruits and veggies as a healthy human food alternative, or you can make sure to reduce your dog's calories throughout the day whenever your dog drinks milk.
While conventional wisdom may suggest you turn to skim milk to address weight problems, recent research in humans suggests that full-fat milk may be better for weight management than fat-free milk — just make sure to keep the serving size small.
Healthy Dairy Products for Dogs
If your dog is not lactose intolerant and doesn't suffer from pancreatitis or a dairy allergy, you can safely feed them dairy products as an occasional snack. Milk is high in protein and calcium, so it can even be beneficial for your dog. However, because of its high calorie content, we don't recommend offering your dog a whole bowl of milk. Instead, try these serving suggestions to give your dog a little dose of dairy:
- Use milk as a dog food topper: Adding a little milk on top of your dog's dry food can entice a picky eater. It's almost as exciting as adding all-natural bone broth to your pet's food.
- Make your dog a pumpkin spice latte: This DIY dog treat recipe is made with powdered organic pumpkin, which helps promote healthy digestion.
- Serve up some frozen yogurt: Many dog owners let their dogs lick the bottom of their ice cream bowl, but ice cream has few nutritional benefits for dogs. Instead, make them their own “pupsicle” by stirring together peanut butter (make sure it's xylitol-free) and plain yogurt, a natural source of probiotics for dogs. Freeze it in a small dish, ice cube tray, or puzzle toy, and serve it to your dog as a special treat.
- Keep your dog entertained with a Yak Chew: Yak Chews are an all-natural dog chew made from organic yak's milk, organic cow's milk, organic lime, and sea salt. They keep your dog occupied and can even help clean dogs' teeth.
‘Milk It’ for All It's Worth
Next time you're drinking a glass of milk and your dog looks up at you with their big puppy dog eyes, you can give in. It's generally safe to share a little milk with your pooch — as long as they don't suffer from pancreatitis or lactose intolerance.
If you're not sure whether your dog is lactose intolerant, give them a small quantity of milk each day for three days, and watch to see if any signs of an upset stomach start to develop. Once you're sure your dog can safely digest milk, try adding it to a dog-friendly recipe or offer them hours of entertainment with an all-natural Yak Chew.
To discover more dog-friendly human foods and learn more about your pets' health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.