Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant?

By Anaƫlle Laurent. Updated: February 23, 2020
Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant?

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Feeding our dog is one of the most important factors we need to pay attention to as their care givers. We want our dogs to be healthy and happy. That's why it's fundamental that we inform ourselves of what they can eat and what is forbidden food for dogs.

In this article from AnimalWised we are going to elaborate on lactose intolerance in dogs, different types dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

You may also be interested in: Can Cats Drink Milk?

Is milk bad for dogs?

At birth, like other mammals, dogs feed exclusively on breast milk during the first weeks of life. In this period, their mother's milk is essential as it provides all the nutrition the puppies need. After around 8-12 weeks, puppies naturally begin to wean off their mother's milk and transition to solid food.

All mammals produce milk. In its composition of milk we find lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar composed of galatose and glucose subunits. When consuming milk, all baby mammals including puppies, produce an enzyme called lactase to break lactose down into simple sugars. These simple sugars are then absorbed into our bloodstream and turned into energy.

As a puppy starts to grow, the production of this enzyme reduces and the digestive system starts changing to adapt to the puppy's new eating habit: solid food. The body will then continue to change and adapt throughout the different stages of the dog's life. For this reason, when the puppy stops drinking milk, their body considers that it does not need to produce as much lactase and in some cases it might even develop a lactose intolerance. This is why it is not recommended to give milk to an adult dog.

Not all puppies stop producing it in the same way. Therefore, not all are lactose intolerant. Especially those who continue to drink cow's milk after weaning. These dogs may continue to produce a certain amount of lactase in order to digest that lactose. This is why it is possible to see dogs that drink milk without negative effects.

So is milk bad for dogs? It all depends on the organism of the dog. Whether it can tolerate lactose or not. If so, drinking milk can be positive as long as it is offered properly and moderately. It's also important to note that it is simply a complement to their diet, not the main basis of it.

Can puppies drink milk?

Puppies can drink breast milk without any problems as they produce enough lactase, as we've previously mentioned. After 3-4 weeks, they start to wean and transition to solid food. However, in this period they continue to drink breast milk. It is not until approximately two months of their life that breastfeeding ends. That's why it is not recommended to separate the mother from her puppies before the first 8 weeks. This is also because a premature separation will hinder these first relationships (their families) and may cause behavioral problems in the future.

Can a puppy be given cow's milk?

Occasionally, the mother of the puppies doesn't produce enough milk or sometimes we find a litter of orphaned newborn puppies. In these cases, can puppies drink cow's milk? The answer is no. In this case, it is necessary to purchase milk for lactating dogs. This is because these types of milk are especially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of puppies. Cow's milk is simply inadequate for a growing pup. For example, cow's milk produces only half the calories that a female dog's milk produces for her pups. So the problem isn't whether or not the puppy can digest it but it's that it simply doesn't reach the nutritional needs. Consequently, it cannot be the only source of food for a puppy.

In the case that it's not possible to go to the veterinarian to buy milk, there are some emergency infant formula recipes for puppies that can be made at home. This is only until they can visit a specialist.

How long to give milk to a puppy?

Ideally, after around 3-4 weeks you can begin to introduce solid foods. As they grow, milk intakes will be reduced and solid foods will increase. Naturally, the puppies stop drinking their mother's milk and base their diet around solid food after just two months.

It is important to highlight that to help with chewing, it is recommended to moisten the solid food in water until 3 months of life.

And if the puppy already eats solid food, can they drink milk?

If they have no symptoms of lactose intolerance, they can drink milk occasionally. In any case, it is always advisable to opt for lactose-free milk or vegetable milk with a low sugar index.

Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant? - Can puppies drink milk?

Can dogs have lactose intolerance?

Adult dogs produce a very small amount of the enzyme lactose or sometimes they don't produce it at all. In that case, it's possible that they've developed lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance in dogs

To know if a dog can really drink milk, you need to know a little more about this disorder. When the small intestine of the dog stops producing lactase, the lactose in the milk cannot break down. That's when the body will automatically pass it to the large intestine without being digested. This causes a fermentation and consequently, develops a series of reactions in the body to expel it. In these cases, the body is not able to digest lactose and cannot tolerate it. Here are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Abdominal swelling

Lactose allergy in dogs

Intolerance and allergy are different pathologies, so it is necessary to differentiate them. Intolerance affects only the digestive system. Allergy affects the immune system.

An allergic reaction occurs when cells in the immune system interpret a foreign substance as harmful. Then, the immune system overreacts and produces allergy symptoms. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Coughing
  • Itching
  • Redness of the skin
  • Otitis
  • Inflammation around eyelids and snout
  • Urticaria

Food allergy dermatitis is usually one of the first symptoms, along with respiratory distress. If any of these signs appear, it's important to remove milk from their diet and go to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Are there any benefits to feeding them milk?

If the dog tolerates milk without any problems, there are many benefits that this cow's milk can provide. Cow's milk is rich in protein, carbohydrates, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin C, group B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin D and lipids. However, cow's milk is also known for its high calcium content. The consumption of this mineral is very important at all stages of the dog's life, but it is even more crucial during their the first months of their life, since it encourages proper bone growth. During adulthood and old age, as long as the dog shows no signs of intolerance or allergy, he can drink milk moderately.

Can dogs drink soy milk, oat milk or almond milk?

Vegetable-based milks do not contain lactose so they are a good option when giving milk to a dog. Now, what kind of vegetable-based milk is better? Those that contain less sugar. Thus, soy milk, rice milk, oat milk and almond milk are the most recommended. Make sure the package indicates that it has no added sugar.

Another common question is whether dogs can drink coconut milk. The answer is that it is not suitable for dogs due to its high caloric density. In fact, coconut milk is one of the most caloric vegetable milks. This is why it is not recommended.

How can I give milk to my dog?

Once there is no doubt your dog doesn't have lactose intolrance or allergies to dairy products, it is time to know how to give it to them. Well, the first thing is to choose the type of milk. For puppy dogs, whole milk is no problem because they produce enough lactase to break down the sugars. However, for adult or elderly dogs, it is best to opt for lactose-free milk or vegetable-based milk.

As for the ways to give a dog milk, the easiest and fastest way is to pour some milk into a bowl and them drink it. The amount of milk will vary depending on the age and size of the dog, but it is always good to observe and start with small doses.

If you are one of those people who enjoy preparing homemade foods for your dog, we encourage you to have a look at these recipes:

Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant? - How can I give milk to my dog?

Are other dairy products safe for dogs to eat?

We have already learned that dogs can drink milk if they are able to tolerate it, but what about yogurt or cheese? Can dogs eat yogurt? In short, yes. This is because yogurt is a milk derivative that contains a very small amount of lactose. In addition, it can benefit your dog's diet since natural yogurt has an excellent source of probiotics. These microorganisms aid digestion and modulate the immune system.

As for cheese, it shouldn't cause any harm as long as it's fresh. Cured, semi-cured or blue cheese are not recommended. Thus, a good breakfast for a dog can be a natural yogurt mixed with a teaspoon of oat flakes and pieces of fresh cheese.

Kefir is another dog food highly recommended by canine nutritionists. This product contains even more probiotics than natural yogurt and its properties are even better. Kefir is good for puppies, adult and elderly dogs in small doses.

However, when thinking of giving dairy products to your dog, it is important to remember a dog's nutritional needs. Dairy is not necessary for a dog to have a balanced diet. For this reason, we should only give a dog any of these products in small amounts as a supplementary treat and not as part of their regular meals.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Dogs Be Lactose Intolerant?, we recommend you visit our Homemade diets category.

  • Knwoles, G. (2016). Healthy Cooking for Your Dog. La Esfera de los Libros.

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