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Speaking of Pets: Dairy and your dogs

Joan Merriam
Speaking of Pets
The only way a dog — or a human — can digest lactose is if it can create the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose.
Unsplash/Courtesy photo

As humans, we may all scream for ice cream, but do your dogs? More importantly, should they?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeding your dog dairy products such as ice cream and cheese, but just like many humans, some dogs have trouble digesting these foods and end up with digestive upsets like gas, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting.

The culprit is lactose.



Lactose Intolerance

Not to get too technical, but lactose is basically a type of sugar in milk and dairy that contains two tightly liked molecules. Those molecules need to be split in order for the lactose to be digestible.



The only way a dog — or a human — can digest lactose is if it can create the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose. Without it, they end up with the well-known problem of lactose intolerance, featuring gas, abdominal tenderness or bloating and loose stools. The condition isn’t dangerous, but it’s sure not fun.

Milk allergy

Some dogs have an allergy to milk, which usually reveals itself in an immune reaction such as itching, hot spots, rash, hair loss and chronic skin or ear infections. This is very different than lactose intolerance.

What about other dairy?

Again, just like humans, some dogs can digest certain dairy products more easily than others. The reason is that different dairy foods contain different amounts of lactose: so, for instance, your dog may be just fine eating cheddar cheese because an ounce of it contains less than a gram of lactose. Give that same dog a half-cup of ice cream, which contains 11 grams of lactose, and you may end up with a pretty miserable pup.

Cottage cheese is also low in lactose (only 3 grams) and can be a nice treat or addition to your dog’s meal from time to time.

Yogurt is an excellent substitute for high-fat and high-lactose foods: although it can contain as much as 8 grams of lactose, most yogurts include live bacteria that can help break down that troublesome lactose. Greek yogurt, because of the straining and fermentation process, contains even less lactose, and some brands contain none at all.

Joan Merriam lives in Northern California with her golden retriever Joey and Maine coon cat Indy. She emphasizes that she’s not a veterinarian or animal behaviorist — just an animal lover who’s been writing about pets since 2012. You can reach her at joan@joanmerriam.com.

 


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