Dogs love people food. Whether it’s begging for table scraps, eating your leftover pizza crusts, or acting as a vacuum cleaner on your kitchen floor, most dogs enjoy mixing up their diet with some good old-fashioned non-dog food. However, in some cases, human food can be dangerous or toxic for canines. For example, chocolate, in high quantities, can be dangerous for a dog’s intestinal system. But the debate on dairy products and canines has not yet entirely established concrete evidence of danger or health one way or the other.

Desire vs. Health

Monitor your dog’s diet at all times. Dogs cannot distinguish between something healthy and unhealthy for their digestion and internal health. Instead, keep a close eye on what your dog is consuming, particularly when you are out of your house. Dairy products, particularly in the summer, are widely discarded and offer enticing aromas and flavors to your dog. To avoid risk, try to provide only dog-friendly treats in general to avoid any complications in their diet.

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Give your dog dairy treats only in moderation. Like humans, canines can process certain foods that may be fattier or higher in caloric content better and more efficiently when consumed infrequently. For example, if your pup really enjoys cow milk, a few tablespoons every once in a while should pose no health risks, but a full bowl of milk might be too much for your dog's system. Overconsumption could lead to intestinal distress, appetite changes, vomiting, or diarrhea. In the summer months, give your dog only a small ice cream snack, instead of a regular-sized cone to prevent similar problems.

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Milk Content

The nutritional content in cow milk is higher in fat and sugar than a normal dog's meal. If your dog is exposed to excessive amounts of fat and sugar, they run the risk of becoming obese or, worse, developing pancreatitis. If your dog has symptoms such as excessive vomiting, an unusually hunched back, loss of appetite, or lethargy, this could be a sign of pancreatitis. This is a serious condition that could result in permanent damage to the pancreas or other organs. Remember that milk is found in many common human food sources that are tempting to canines, like pizza, bread products, and sweet treats.

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Lactose Intolerance

Make sure your dog is not lactose intolerant before feeding it any dairy products. Like humans, a notable percentage of dogs are lactose intolerant and can experience distress after consuming milk. Most dogs with lactose intolerance have the most trouble digesting actual milk. Milk products are usually easier to digest and therefore present less of a problem. If your dog, after eating milk or a milk product, experiences loose stools, gas, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea, it is possible that he is lactose intolerant.

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Chemical Process

Understand that the chemical reaction required to process milk products is involved, and not necessarily a characteristic your dog possesses. Some experts conclude that most dogs, in fact, cannot process milk products well. In order to process the key component of milk products, lactose, your dog needs an enzyme called lactase. Milk contains glucose in two different forms. To readily process this sugar, these sugars need to be chemically separated by lactase. If your dog does not have this or produces this enzyme in small quantities, you may need to refrain from the milky treats.

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Canine Milk

Canines are mammals and therefore are reared with the milk produced by their mother. Some canine experts assert that puppies are born with an exceptional amount of lactase to process the inordinate amount of mother’s milk ingested during their early weeks and months of life. However, it is not clear that this canine lactase is strong enough or chemically sophisticated enough to process other forms of lactose from goats, cows, or sheep. Additionally, it is suspected that once weaned, the production of the lactase enzyme slows in a canine’s body, making the processing of lactose more difficult in a dog’s adult life.

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Provide your dog with a balanced diet to manage its vitamin richness. Reputable dog food brands will ensure a balanced variety of vitamins and other nutritional substances, and this will include calcium. If you are concerned about your dog’s bone density and health, the correct course of action is first, to visit your veterinarian to get a blood chemical screening, and second, to correct its diet in consultation with your vet’s recommendations. Simply adding milk products to your dog’s diet is not the most effective way to boost calcium.

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Other Risk Factors

Monitor all ingredients in a dairy treat for your dog. If your dog is not lactose intolerant and you, in moderation, reward him with ice cream or yogurt, pay close attention to the other substances in that product. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can be dangerous and even lethal for your dog. Other easily digestible products for humans, like raisins and macadamia nuts, can be harmful to your dog. Some artificial sweeteners often found in low-calorie treats, like frozen yogurt, can also be potentially harmful to your dog. Be aware of all substances in any human food you offer as a treat.

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Try offering cheese treats first. Cheese has a lower lactose content and is easier to digest. Additionally, some cheeses, like cottage cheese, are lower in fat and salt content. Experiment with trial and error to determine your dog’s tolerance for dairy products. Monitor closely the dog’s behavior after eating any dairy product and look for tell-tale symptoms of lactose intolerance. It may be helpful to also experiment with different varieties of lactose products, like those made from goat and sheep milk.

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When in Doubt

Visit with your local veterinarian if you are unsure of your dog’s tolerance level. Symptoms that you believe are associated with lactose intolerance could also be symptomatic of a different gastrointestinal issue unrelated to dairy products. But careful management of your dog’s diet, keeping abreast of its blood and intestinal health, and maintaining its exercise regime will likely keep your dog fit enough to enjoy the occasional ice cream treat on a sweltering, post-hike August afternoon.

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