There's something about breakfast food that makes our besties come begging. And sure, bacon, sausage, and eggs are perennial pup favorites, but our dogs magically appear when they hear the cream cheese wrapper open, too. If your best friend is an equally skilled beggar, then you'll need to know: Can dogs eat cream cheese?
The short answer is yes, most dogs can eat cream cheese and feel fine. But as many people know, dairy can be a tricky food. And if your dog doesn't digest dairy products well, they can lead to an upset stomach and other digestive problems.
To make matters more complicated, cream cheese also comes in a variety of flavors with different added ingredients. Plus, it comes in full fat and low-fat options, which can be an important choice for some dogs.
To help you decide if you want to give your dog cream cheese, we'll cover this food's pros and cons, and we’ll share tips to help you safely feed it to your pet.
Dogs and Dairy
The main ingredients in cream cheese are milk and cream, so asking "Can dogs eat cream cheese?" is similar to asking if dogs can drink milk or have dairy products in general.
Dairy is one of the most common food allergens for dogs, but according to research by Banfield Pet Hospital, only 0.2% of dogs have any food allergies at all. So, your dog only has a two in 1,000 chance of being allergic to any food, let alone dairy.
However, science does make a distinction between food allergies and food intolerances, and Banfield's study primarily looked at skin allergies in dogs. A lactose intolerant dog is more likely to show digestive symptoms like bloating, flatulence, upset stomach, loose stool, and diarrhea.
While lactose intolerance is still relatively uncommon in dogs, it's worth testing your pup to make sure dairy doesn't upset their stomach before you start feeding cheese or other dairy products on a regular basis.
To test your pet for lactose intolerance, start by removing dairy from your dog's diet for 30 days. Check the ingredients in their dog food and dog treats to make sure they don't contain any dairy. (If they're dairy-free and you've never given your dog a dairy-based human food, you can skip directly to the next step.)
Next, give your dog a little bit of cream cheese everyday for three days, stop feeding them cream cheese for two days, and watch to see if any digestive issues or skin allergies develop over the five day period. If so, avoid giving your dog dairy in the future. If not, your dog isn't lactose intolerant and doesn't have a dairy allergy.
So, Can Dogs Eat Cream Cheese If They're Not Lactose Intolerant?
If your dog doesn't have issues digesting dairy, then they can likely eat at least one type of cream cheese. We'll help you choose the right variety for your dog below.
But, the fact that they can eat it doesn't make cream cheese good for dogs. Take a look at the nutrition facts first to decide if this treat is the right choice for your furry friend.
Nutrition Facts of Cream Cheese
Cream cheese is typically made from pasteurized milk and cream, whey protein, cheese cultures, and salt. Plus, it often includes a thickener or binding agent, like locust bean gum or carob bean gum. One of the most popular brands of cream cheese also adds a natural mold inhibitor and vitamin A palmitate, an easy-to-absorb variety of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for dogs — it promotes the healthy function of their skin, coat, muscles, and nerves. Most dogs will get enough of this vitamin from their diet, but an extra dose certainly won't hurt.
Cream cheese also contains a small amount of calcium, which promotes healthy bones and muscles, and a small amount of protein, which is an essential macronutrient.
However, compared to other types of cheese you can feed your dog, cream cheese has a poor nutrient profile and offers few health benefits. A one-ounce serving of cream cheese contains about 2 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, and 2% of a human's daily calcium needs. As a comparison, a one-ounce serving of parmesan contains 10 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and 26% calcium.
Even when you compare cream cheese to other fresh cheeses, like mozzarella and cottage cheese, it comes out behind. Mozzarella contains 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 14% calcium. Cottage cheese contains 12 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and 10% calcium.
Because of this nutrient profile, cream cheese is one of the last types of cheese we reach for when we want to treat our dogs. But, with a texture similar to peanut butter, cream cheese does have some unique talents.
A small amount of cream cheese can help you hide a dog's pills (goat cheese is also good for this), and cream cheese is easy to spread and freeze inside a treat toy, like a KONG (but so is cottage cheese).
Additional Precautions for Feeding Cream Cheese
Cream cheese's high fat content not only makes this food less healthy than other types of cheese, it also makes it bad for dogs with pancreatitis. Dogs that have pancreatitis need to be on a low-fat diet.
Low-fat cream cheese, which has around 6 grams of fat, may still be too high in fat for dogs with pancreatitis. Dog owners whose pups have this problem should look for fat-free cream cheese or a low-fat cheese like mozzarella, which, in addition to having a lower fat content to start with, is also available in low-fat varieties. Always consult your vet before introducing a new food to a dog with pancreatitis.
A Case for Fat
Counter-intuitively, dogs struggling with obesity may be better off with a full-fat cream cheese. Recent research in humans showed that people who consumed full-fat dairy saw less weight gain than those who ate low-fat dairy. Just be sure to limit your dog to small portions.
Also be cautious of flavored cream cheese. While it's safe for dogs to eat plain cream cheese, flavored varieties may contain ingredients that aren't pet-friendly. Alliums, like onions, garlic, and chives, are toxic to dogs in large doses, so you shouldn't give your pet a chive or vegetable-flavored cream cheese.
If you're giving your dog a little bagel with their schmear, you'll also need to look out for added ingredients in the bagel. Although wheat is a common food allergy for dogs, plain bagels are safe for most pets. But don't give your dog a bagel that has garlic, onions, scallions, chives, spicy peppers, or raisins (grapes are toxic to dogs).
How Much Cream Cheese Can Dogs Eat?
Dogs should only eat small quantities of cream cheese at a time. Feeding a large amount of cream cheese can lead to an upset stomach — even in dogs that aren't lactose intolerant — because of the sudden change in their diet.
Veterinarians and nutritionists recommend that treats make up no more than 10% of your dog's daily calories. If you're not sure how many calories your dog needs, use this calorie calculator to find out. Then, keep cream cheese combined with all other snacks below 10%.
It's Okay to Be a Little Cheesy
Not only can most dogs eat cheese, but most dogs love cheese. While cream cheese might not be the healthiest option in the dairy aisle, it is a safe choice for most pets. But, if your dog is on a special diet, consult with your vet before introducing cream cheese or any other new foods.
And if you're looking for a healthier cheese to feed your dog, try feeding goat cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, or cottage cheese. Or reach for a Himalayan Yak Chew made just for dogs. These hard chews are made with just four ingredients. They're long-lasting, so they keep your dog occupied when you need a little chill time. Plus, they're high in protein, and they scrape away plaque and tartar as your dog chews.For more information on your pet's health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.