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Can Dogs Drink Milk? Times It’s Safe & When To Avoid

Even if your canine companion doesn’t have a medical condition, milk still may not always be safe for them. Milk is one of those things that a dog should not overindulge in. Veterinarian Emma Rogers-Smith provides details about possible issues and alternatives.

Dr. Emma Rogers-Smith MRCVS

Last Updated: September 30, 2022 | 6 min read

Dog drinking milk from a glass

As a pet parent, you want to do what’s best for your pup, especially when it comes to what you feed them. It can be tough to know what you can and can’t safely feed your dog.

Knowing whether it’s safe to give them a drink of milk, be that cow or plant milk, is no exception.

Let’s consider whether it’s safe for your dog to have milk in their diet with a highlight on the times it should be avoided.

Is Animal Milk Safe For Dogs?

The simple answer is that a small amount of plain animal milk is probably okay as an occasional treat for most dogs. However, there are times that your pup should avoid milk, and these are discussed below. Animal milk with additional colorings, sweeteners, or flavorings should not be given to dogs. 

What About Plant-Based Milk?

A glass with almond milk and the bowl with almonds
In general, the advice for plant-based milk (soy, almond, oat, etc.) is the same as cow’s milk.

Many people are moving to plant-based products, and the question often comes up, “is it safe for my dog, too?”.  Plant-based milk must be naturally produced without added sugars or flavorings if given to your dog. If you are uncertain how your plant-based milk is made or what additives it contains, it is best not to give it to your pup. Again, it should only be given in small amounts as an occasional treat and not made into a regular feature in your dog’s daily diet. 

When Is Milk Not Safe For Dogs?

There are certain medical conditions when giving milk, either plant-based or cow’s milk may be harmful to your pup. 

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance is when the body cannot digest the sugar lactose, leading to signs of digestive upset. Puppies and kittens can digest milk as they have an enzyme called “lactase,” which does this job. After weaning, the activity of this digestive enzyme reduces. As a result, many dogs, unfortunately, suffer from lactose intolerance.

Signs of lactose intolerance include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal discomfort

If you are uncertain if your dog has lactose intolerance, it is best not to feed her any dairy products and speak to your veterinarian for further advice. The majority of plant-based kinds of milk are lactose-free or contain a low lactose content. However, they can still cause tummy upsets, especially if given in larger volumes. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is an umbrella term that covers several different disorders. One disorder is termed “food responsive enteropathy” (F.R.E.). The exact mechanism of disease development is incompletely understood. Even the specialists in the human field have yet to reach a consensus! As a simple overview, it is thought that complex negative interactions between your pup’s immune system, the bacteria in the gut, and specific molecules in food are to blame.

Typically, F.R.E. is associated with sensitivities to certain dietary proteins. Signs of the condition include vomiting, diarrhea, changes in appetite, weight loss, bloating, or flatulence. If your dog has long-standing or recurrent gastrointestinal problems, you should discuss these with your veterinarian. It is likely some diagnostic investigations, such as blood testing, an ultrasound scan of your dog’s tummy, and even sometimes a camera study of the intestines for biopsies may be advised. Your veterinarian will then recommend treatment based on your pup’s case assessment and test results.

For F.R.E., this often starts as a strict exclusion dietary trial for many weeks. You must stick to this without feeding treats or foods that may derail the investigation. Depending on your pup’s age and the severity of their signs, the dietary trial may be advised before invasive investigations. If your dog is suspected of having or has been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, you should not feed them milk. 

Pancreatitis

The pancreas is an organ that has essential roles in digestion and sugar utilization in dogs. Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. How this comes about in dogs is complex, likely multifactorial and incompletely understood. However, high levels of dietary fat are considered a potential risk factor for the disease, and this is even more so if your dog has had pancreatitis in the past.

Any dog that’s had a bout of pancreatitis will be advised to maintain a low-fat diet, sometimes for life. Animal milk has a high-fat content and should not be fed to a dog with a history of pancreatitis. While plant milk, in general, has a lower fat profile, it still would not be recommended for dogs with pancreatitis. 

Obesity

Canine obesity is a growing epidemic that is leading to a rise in associated diseases in our furry companions. A chubby pup may be perceived as looking cute but being overweight is associated with many health disorders. This is because fat is not only physically heavy on your pet’s bones and joints, increasing the risk of joint disorders, but it is also ‘metabolically active.’ This means fat releases hormones and molecules that can negatively affect your pet’s overall health.

If you think your pup is overweight, you should speak to your local veterinary clinic. They will be able to advise you on a healthy diet and exercise regime to help your pup drop pounds. It is not advisable to supplement your dog’s diet with treats and titbits. This will just add calories, making their weight loss journey harder. Therefore it is not recommended to give your furry friend cow or plant milk if they are overweight. 

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is a disease where the body cannot correctly regulate its blood sugar levels. The disease results from problems with the production or response to a hormone called “insulin.” Most commonly in dogs, it results from a failure to produce insulin, but other mechanisms are also possible. Signs of diabetes mellitus include excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, and increased appetite.

Treatment is usually via regular insulin injections and very careful dietary management. Both plant and animal milk do contain naturally-occurring sugars. Therefore, if your dog has diabetes mellitus, feeding milk can harm their diabetes control. It is advisable never to feed your pup anything new when they have diabetes without double-checking it with the veterinarian that manages their condition first. 

Milk During Pregnancy 

Thirsty 7 weeks old Bernese Mountain dog puppy drinking milk
Feeding non-canine milk to a puppy may give them an upset tummy.

It is a common myth that your dog must be given milk during her pregnancy. Nutritional requirements during pregnancy are very complex, and even though she needs plenty of calcium, too much can also be detrimental. It is advisable to provide your pregnant dog with a complete and balanced growth or lactation diet, avoiding any attempts for at-home supplementation. If you have concerns about your bitch’s nutrition during her pregnancy, discuss these with your veterinarian, who will be able to guide you on any changes or supplementation that should be undertaken. 

My Breeder Says I Need to Give My New Puppy Milk

If you’ve just brought home a new puppy, you will likely have been given a puppy pack from your breeder with lots of advice and care information. Some breeders will include the advice that your puppy should be given milk (be it cow’s or goat’s milk) regularly whilst they are growing.  Providing you are feeding your puppy a complete and balanced puppy food, and most good quality store-bought diets meet this standard, your puppy does not need milk added to their diet.

Instead, provide plenty of fresh water at all times. When they are young, puppies are very vulnerable to dehydration with stomach upsets, so it is best to avoid putting them at risk. If you wish to feed your new puppy a home-prepared diet, we strongly urge you to consult with your local veterinarian. It is extremely challenging to meet your growing puppy’s complex nutritional needs with a home-prepared diet. As such, this should always be carried out under the guidance of a licensed veterinary nutritionist. 

How Do I Tell If I Am Giving My Dog Too Much Milk?

A small tablespoon every so often as a treat is unlikely to be harmful, but you should not give your dog a whole bowl of milk. Too much milk in your pup’s diet is likely to cause signs of gastrointestinal upset, including tummy pain, flatulence, and diarrhea. Therefore, if you choose to give your pup milk, it is best to be limited to special occasions and only give a small amount. If your dog becomes unwell after a small amount of milk, it is best to avoid feeding your pup dairy products in the future. 

Final Thoughts

A small amount of milk is unlikely to harm your pup unless they suffer from a medical condition that means they shouldn’t have milk. Too much milk, for any dog, is likely to lead to tummy upsets. If you are unsure if milk is safe for your four-legged companion, then chat with your local veterinarian, who will be able to give you advice tailored to your pup’s needs. 

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety or care advice. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, insurance expert, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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