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Can dogs have milk?

Updated on May 1, 2012

"Drink your milk... Its good for you". How many times have you heard parents telling this statement to the children? Milk really does have a lot of health benefits. With the calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorous, vitamins D, A, B12, B2 and niacin it contains, milk is considered to be a complete food. Good skin, healthy bones and teeth, an excellent immune system that will ward off a lot of diseases... these are the benefits anyone can get by drinking milk. Dogs have about 82% genetic similarity with humans. Does this mean that dogs would gain the same benefits from milk too?

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Milk is a big no for dogs

A dog would certainly enjoy licking milk and ice cream. A dog would love eating yogurt as well. However, we dog owners know that our pets do not know what is good for them and what is not. Generally, dogs would suffer from gastrointestinal upsets if milk is included in the diet. This is due to the fact that dogs are lactose intolerant. Some dogs would have no ill effects after consuming milk but these dogs seem to be the exception to the rule as generally, dogs does not have the ability to digest milk.

Lactose in milk

Lactose is the sugar found in milk and in other dairy products. This disaccharide is formed when glucose and galactose are bonded together. Lactose is the first carbohydrate consumed by a newborn mammal. The lactase enzyme is necessary to digest lactose. This enzyme will split lactose into two smaller sugars for easy absorption by the dog’s intestines.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the dog’s adverse reaction to milk and to other dairy products. Puppies and any other young mammals have high levels of the lactase enzyme. This enzyme is very necessary for the survival of these animals that subsist on the milk of the mother. When the puppies grow older, the ability to process lactose decreases as the level of lactase enzyme declines. From its peak, the level of lactase activity will decrease to about 10% when the puppy is weaned. This means that the dog can no longer digest ingested milk (lactose) effectively so that digestive disorders will occur.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

Undigested lactose that remains in the digestive tract will ferment resulting to stomach upset. Humans that have ingested foods that do not agree with the stomach will have abdominal pains. The same is true with lactose intolerant dogs. Gastro intestinal distress after milk consumption is a sign that the dog has lactose intolerance. Abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea are the typical symptoms of this condition. The dog may also have reddened, inflamed itchy skin. This symptom can be mistaken for an allergic reaction but food intolerance does not involve the immune system of the dog.

Alternative foods

Some dogs are lactose tolerant. Milk and milk products can be given to these dogs sparingly so as not to tax the digestive system. For lactose intolerant pets, substitute products can be given. Lactose free dairy products can be included in the diet of the pet. Processing removes lactose from cheese and unpasteurized yogurt. These dairy products are well tolerated by dogs.

Can Dogs Drink Milk?

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