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Can dogs drink cow’s milk?

Labrador puppy drinking milk
© Pixabay

Milk can be a safe treat if given in small quantities. A few tablespoons of milk given in moderation can be a nice reward for your canine friend, but too much can cause signs of gastrointestinal upset.

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS

Updated on the 17/02/2021, 13:43

Cows milk contains a mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, fat and sugar. It isn’t toxic and is unlikely to cause any serious health problems unless fed in large quantities.

Like humans, dogs can be sensitive to the lactose in milk and milk products. If milk causes any signs of illness like vomiting or diarrhoea, stop feeding dairy products straight away.

Can puppies drink milk?

Puppies receive most of their nutrition from their mothers milk, particularly in the early weeks of life. As they begin to wean onto solid foods this milk becomes less important, but during the first few days and weeks of life milk provides vital nourishment and helps the pup to develop a healthy immune system. This milk is much easier for a puppy to digest than cows milk. Puppies should have no adverse reactions to their mother’s milk.

Puppies shouldn’t be fed cows milk as a replacement if they aren’t receiving enough from their mum. If you’re concerned your puppy isn’t feeding well, speak to your vet about safe milk replacement powders.

Why is cow’s milk bad for dogs?

Fed as a treat in moderation, cows milk isn’t bad - unless your dog is sensitive to the lactose sugars in milk. Milk isn’t a necessary part of your dog’s diet, and a complete good quality dog food should provide them with everything they need to live a happy and healthy life. Feeding additional foodstuffs like milk, can increase your dog’s risk of becoming obese, and may cause unwanted side effects like vomiting and diarrhoea.

Milk allergies

Dairy products like milk and cheese, contain lactose. This sugar is something that both canines and humans can be sensitive or allergic to. Thankfully most reactions are mild and resolve once the food is removed from the diet, but care should always be taken when introducing a new treat or food group. Lots of dogs enjoy yoghurt and cheese as a treat, but if fed too much you may see your pet becoming unwell.

In order to be digested, lactose must be broken down into its component parts by an enzyme called lactase. Dogs and humans can have a reduced amount of this enzyme, which makes breaking down the sugars more difficult. The inability to effectively process and digest the sugars is what leads to the symptoms of an allergy.

Signs of a dairy intolerance or allergy can include skin irritation or itchiness including recurrent skin and ear infections, vomiting, diarrhoea or gassiness.

If you are concerned your pet may be allergic to something in their diet, speak to your vet about investigations and treatment.

Fat

Milk contains fat in varying amounts. Fat can be used by the body as a source of energy and a healthy level of fat is important to the normal function of the body. Your dog should get all the fatty acids they need from dog food, and the addition of extra fat and calories in the form of dairy products can lead to weight gain and obesity. High fat treats, or consistent levels of high fat foods in the diet can lead to serious problems like pancreatitis and diabetes, and a chunky dog is more prone to developing osteoarthritis.

Cow’s milk isn’t toxic for a dog but for dogs that are lactose intolerant, dairy products present a real problem. A diet regularly supplemented with extra calories from dairy products may cause long term health problems associated with being overweight.

Many pet shops now sell dog-safe versions of milk, ice cream and yoghurt - these are a much better treat for your furry friend! All dogs deserve a treat, but a well balanced diet should provide all the nutrients your pet needs.