Can Dogs Drink Milk? Benefits and Risks

You dog might be keen to join you in drinking a glass of milk but do their bodies possess the necessary enzyme to digest it.

May 21, 2024By Donna Hobson
can dogs drink milk benefits risks

You may have noticed that your dog loves dairy, but is it okay for them to drink milk? Most of the time, a small milk sample won’t harm your dog and can make a tasty treat. However, your dog could experience adverse side effects if they over-consume this (or other) dairy products.

Discover how difficult it is for dogs to digest milk, the times when milk is not a suitable treat for your dog, and the best alternatives for a deliciously satisfying drink.

Can Dogs Digest Milk?

dog puppies with mother drinking milk
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Milk contains lactose, a sugar that requires a particular enzyme to break it down. This enzyme, lactase, is often found in significant quantities while puppies are nursing and breaking down their mother’s milk. However, as puppies develop and drink less of their mother's milk, they create lower lactase amounts.

The problem with this is that it causes many dogs to become lactose intolerant, making it difficult to digest any dairy product. Plus, dog milk is lower in lactose and higher in nutrients than cow’s milk.

Without enough lactase in the body to break down these sugars, a dog will have difficulty digesting the milk. Lactose passes through their GI tracts and into the colon still undigested, and these unprocessed sugars can draw water into the stomach and cause diarrhea.

In addition, the bacteria present in the colon can give your canine a tummy ache along with excessive wind.

Some dogs possess a mild lactose intolerance, while other canines react more severely. It all depends on your dog; some have a hard time with milk but can eat cheese without problem; others don’t respond well to cheese but can happily eat plain yogurt.

Is It Okay for Dogs to Have Milk Every Day?

dogs puppies drinking milk
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Milk is generally okay for dogs in small quantities. That means a couple of tablespoons of milk on the odd occasion, not every day. If your dog ingests too much dairy in one sitting or enjoys this treat daily, it may begin to experience the effects of overconsumption.

Symptoms of too much dairy food include vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, milk is a fatty drink, and consuming too much can cause severe health conditions in your dog such as obesity or pancreatitis.

When trying your dog with any dairy product, start with a tiny amount and monitor them for symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, gas, or loose stools. These are all indicators that your dog is struggling to digest lactose.

If your dog displays these symptoms after a small amount of milk (such as a couple of tablespoons full), then they have a reasonably high intolerance to dairy, and you should look for a different treat to offer them.

What Milk Is Best for Dogs?

dog drinking milk
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So long as your dog isn’t allergic, either cow’s or goat’s milk can make a nice treat for your canine now and again.

Goat milk has unique qualities that make it easier to digest than other milk. For example, cow milk contains alpha s1-casein proteins along with alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin, which can contribute to an allergic reaction. Still, goat’s milk possesses little to no quantities of these proteins.

Goat milk is a good source of protein, calcium, riboflavin, and phosphorus for your dog; unpasteurized, antibiotic-free, and grass-fed varieties offer the most nutritional value. Cow’s milk can also be an excellent source of nutrients, including calcium, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and phosphorus - just as long as your dog isn’t allergic.

Dogs can also enjoy the taste of Yak’s milk. This may sound exotic, but some Himalayan-based companies have begun to add this alternative milk source to their dog food products. And other milk alternatives can be suitable for dogs too, such as soy milk.

If you treat your dog to a non-dairy milk alternative, check the label carefully before proceeding. Many plant-based milks include artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which are poisonous to your dog and could cause severe health issues if ingested in a high enough quantity.

Always consult your vet before introducing new foods into your dog’s diet, especially if they are human foods.

Why Is Milk Not Good for Dogs?

dog drinking milk milkshake
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Milk can provide your canine with a rich source of calcium, vitamins, and potassium; still, milk is in the top two most prominent food allergens for dogs, and there’s no reason why they should drink it. The problem with milk is that it’s high in fat and calories, so you’re fighting unwanted weight gain as well as a potential allergy.

Common signs of food allergy in dogs include itchiness, paw licking, red or irritated skin, vomiting, diarrhea, and hair or fur loss. If you want to reduce the risks of intolerance, you could try lactose-free milk or specially formulated milk designed with dogs in mind.

The occasional drink of milk is unlikely to harm your canine; still, if they’ve managed to consume a significant amount, they could experience some unwanted symptoms. Gastrointestinal issues generally begin 12 hours from consumption, so monitor your dog carefully during this time.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.