We can all picture a cat lapping up a bowl of milk and for many families, milk is a central part of their diet. However, whether dogs can drink milk might not be immediately obvious.

Milk has many health benefits, including being a great source of calcium and vitamin D, essential for strong bones. Not to mention it tastes good and helps to rehydrate our bodies. So, it would be great if your dog could get in on the action too, right? Well not so fast…while it may be safe for some dogs to drink milk, it isn’t suitable for all.

Is it safe for dogs to drink milk?

The answer to this question is that it depends. Just like in us humans, while some of us get along well with milk, others can’t drink it without suffering the consequences – dogs are the same.

This is all due to lactose intolerance. Milk contains a sugary compound called lactose which requires a specific enzyme to break down.

Without this enzyme, the lactose accumulates in the gut and results in the undesirable side effects that we will go over in a little while…

When a dog is a young puppy, they often have plenty of this enzyme available as they rely on their mothers’ milk to survive. However, as dogs grow older the amount of this enzyme available decreases as they no longer need milk. The rate at which this enzyme declines will change from dog to dog, but this is what causes some dogs to become lactose intolerant.

Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing whether a dog is lactose intolerant or not without letting them try some. So as with introducing any new food to your dog, start slowly.

Is my dog lactose intolerant?

The degree to which a dog may be lactose intolerant is a sliding scale, and some dogs will be able to handle eating or drinking a lot more dairy products than others. Whole milk and cream also contain a lot of fat which can result in other complications such as pancreatitis. So if you know that your dog is susceptible to this condition then you should avoid milk entirely.

Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs are:

  • Soft stools or diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Bloated belly appearance
  • Excessive gas or flatulence
  • General lethargy

If you notice your dog showing any of these symptoms even after consuming a small amount of milk then they are likely lactose intolerant. These symptoms will usually appear within 12-24 hours.

If your dog can get away with drinking a little bit of milk here and there then it’s safe to give them some. However, it’s important to realise that any dog will likely become intolerant to lactose when consuming a large enough amount of milk or dairy products. Therefore, milk should only be given to your dog in moderation and as an occasional treat.

If your dog is unwell and you think that they’ve had a more serious reaction to dairy products then consult your veterinarian immediately.