Can dogs have milk?

April 13, 2012

If only dogs can talk they would tell their owners that their dry kibble is so booooring! Is this perhaps the reason why dog owners have taken to supplementing the dog’s commercially formulated diet with human foods? Whatever the family eats will be tasted by the dog as well. The pet will have a small piece of the roast or the steak the family had for dinner. Dogs are kids’ best friends. Thus, the Oreo and the milk shake will be shared with the pet. However, some human foods have dangerous effects to dogs. Is milk one of these foods? Some dog owners have heard about lactose intolerance, others have not. This is why milk and other dairy products are continuously given to the pet. Just as dogs have different personalities; our four legged friends would manifest different reactions to the ingestion of milk. While some dogs would show high intolerance to milk, others would not be affected at all.

Generally, milk and milk products must not be given to dogs because most dogs are lactose intolerant. This means that dogs do not have the right amount of lactase enzyme necessary to digest milk. Non-believers would scoff at this idea. Puppies after all have subsisted by nursing from the mother dog. However, puppies and other mammals for that matter have high levels of lactase when they are born thus they have the ability to digest milk. The level of lactase will continuously decrease as the puppy gets older until only about 10% of the enzyme remains when the puppy is weaned. Gastrointestinal upset will occur if the dog is allowed to have milk. This kind of situation will not affect dogs in the wild. After being weaned, it is highly unlikely that the dog would have another taste of milk. Modern day dogs though will be given left over milk, will have a taste of the ice cream or the yoghurt the human friend is eating.

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder common to dogs. Lactose, the sugar found in milk is composed of glucose and galactose. So that the body would benefit from lactose it has to be absorbed by the body from the intestines. This process will only be possible if lactose was split into glucose and galactose. Lactase is the enzyme necessary to split lactose into these two smaller sugars. As dogs do not have the right level of this enzyme, the lactose will not be cleaved into glucose and galactose and will remain in the digestive tract. This sugar will ferment, produce gas and cause gastrointestinal upsets.

Not all dogs are lactose intolerant. Some would not show ill effects from consuming milk and other dairy products. Generally though, dogs would show an adverse reaction if allowed to have milk. Apart from the low level or non existence of the lactase enzyme, dogs would actually have a hard time digesting cow’s or goat’s milk. Compared to the 3.1% lactose in dog milk, cow and goat milk contain approximately 4 to 5% lactose. Digesting the milk would be even harder even for a puppy. Dogs would manifest different symptoms of lactose intolerance. These symptoms would also depend on the type of dairy product consumed. Cheese consumption results to gas and constipation. Milk consumption though would trigger gastrointestinal distress in dogs with lactose intolerance. Bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can result to dehydration. Dog owners must not include milk and other dairy products to the pet’s diet if these symptoms are noticed. Milk is a good source of protein. Lactose tolerant pets can consume milk but feeding must be done sparingly. Even if the dog does not show ill effects, it may have a hard time digesting large amounts of milk.

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