Can dogs drink milk?

Call it a gut feeling: You suspect your dog is sensitive to milk. But can dogs be allergic to dairy?

What about lactose intolerant? Or are your concerns much ado about nothing?

Fur parents want to know!

So, join us for this deep dive into the facts about dogs and dairy. We even get to the bottom of that all-important question: Can you share ice cream with your pooch?

The trouble with dairy

When we think of milk, we’re usually talking about cow’s milk. After all, that’s a product we always have stocked in the fridge for its nutritional value.

Namely, milk is rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. But it also has fats and sugars—tummy troublemakers!

Let’s tackle each component.

Milk sugars: Once weaned off their mother’s milk, puppies no longer produce much (or enough) of the special gut enzyme lactase needed to break milk sugars (lactose) down so that they can be absorbed in the intestines. This deficiency causes lactose intolerance—milk passes through the colon undigested.

Milk proteins: Fido’s body mounts an immune response, thinking that the proteins found in milk are harmful. This is what happens when your dog is allergic to dairy.

Milk fats: Dogs’ stomachs aren’t designed to digest foods with a high saturated fat content. Fatty foods can bring about indigestion, acid reflux, obesity, and a disease called pancreatitis—even in dogs without milk sensitivities.

Dairy allergy vs lactose intolerance

We use these terms interchangeably, but they are not actually the same.

Food allergies involve the immune system. Antibodies mistake food proteins as a threat, producing chemicals to fight them. Among those chemicals is histamine, which causes the itching and rashes we know all too well. Like humans, canine allergies can happen at any age.

Food intolerance is a metabolic food disorder. In other words, dogs struggle to digest foods or ingredients in foods in small or “normal” quantities. Unlike allergies, food intolerances primarily affect the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

Whether allergy or intolerance, complications can range from mild to severe, so always consult your vet if you suspect food sensitivities.

Diagnosing dairy sensitivities in dogs

Here are the clinical signs and symptoms you need to know.

Skin-related dog dairy allergy symptoms

  • Itchy skin
  • Ear inflammation
  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Skin infection

Digestive disturbances from food allergies

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating and flatulence
  • Stomach pain
  • Stomach gurgling

Less common signs of a dairy allergy in dogs

  • Respiratory distress
  • Runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Hyper-salivation
  • Behavioural changes
  • Anaphylaxis

How long it takes to react to an allergen can vary. Sometimes, the adverse reaction is immediate—it happens shortly after exposure. In most cases, it takes a little longer: Anywhere from several minutes or hours up to 14 days after ingesting the allergen.

Dog lactose intolerance symptoms

Watch out for:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating and flatulence
  • Stomach pain
  • Behavioural changes like irritability, lethargy, or hyperactivity

Symptoms generally appear within 12 hours of having dairy.

Is your breed prone to dairy problems?

We can't say for sure, but the most common breeds vets see for dairy sensitivities are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, French bulldogs, West Highland white terriers, and cocker spaniels.

Alternatives to cow milk

If your dog is NOT sensitive to dairy or only mildly sensitive (and you are willing to take the risk), you can try the following:

  • Goat milk
  • Lactose-free milk
  • Low-fat (natural) yogurt
  • Quark
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soft goat cheese

Dairy products are not meals; they should only be occasional treats.

So, can you share ice cream with your dog?

Guys, we hate to say this, but ice cream? Just say NO! Sugar content and lactose aside, certain flavours (like chocolate and coffee) and ingredients (like xylitol) are toxic to dogs. Also, high-fat dairy products like ice cream put your beloved pet at risk for pancreatitis—a potentially deadly disease.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It is not and does not intend to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information on this website is at your own risk. Always consult with your veterinarian.

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