Dog drinking milk off of a plate

Key takeaway

Is milk bad for dogs? It depends. Most dogs can handle small doses of milk at a time, such as a tablespoon or two. However, large quantities of milk and dairy, like ice cream and cheese, can cause dogs to get an upset stomach. Learn more about whether dogs can drink milk using our guide below.

Is Milk Bad for Dogs?

As you browse social media, you might come across videos of happy dogs eagerly licking up a cup of whipped cream from a coffee shop or licking a scoop of ice cream. But is milk good for dogs? As with any food designed for humans, dogs can experience side effects if they consume too much milk or dairy.

Milk isn't necessarily bad for dogs, but they can be allergic to dairy products or intolerant of milk and milk products. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell until your dog consumes a dairy product. And even then, it's not so simple. If you’re wondering whether dogs can have milk, keep reading below. In this article, you’ll learn how much milk dogs can have, the potential side effects of consuming milk and dairy, whether dogs can become lactose intolerant, and more

Can Dogs Drink Milk?

A dog's ability to drink milk and eat dairy products changes over its lifetime. A newborn puppy that's nursing produces a lot of lactase, which is an enzyme that allows them to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk.1 That's why puppies can drink their mother's milk easily with no side effects like an upset stomach. However, once the puppies are weaned and are no longer dependent on their mother's milk, they stop producing most of that lactase.

For some dogs, the effect is minimal, and they produce enough so that they can have dairy in moderation. Others can have some forms of dairy, like cheese, but they can't drink milk straight. Others might not be able to handle any dairy at all. Most dogs can have very tiny quantities of milk, along the lines of a tablespoon or two, but if you see signs that your dog is lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy, don't give them any milk.

Is milk safe for dogs?

Even if your dog appears to handle dairy well, it’s recommended to practice in moderation. Too much dairy, especially if it's high- or full-fat, can give even the most tolerant dog gastric upset.

How Much Milk Can Dogs Drink?

Unless your dog is allergic or lactose-intolerant, which is when they're unable to break down lactose in milk, a little milk won't hurt. As mentioned, a tablespoon or two of milk, a lick of ice cream, those tiny cups of cream from coffee shops, and a few small slices of cheese will most likely be tolerated and enjoyed by your dogs. However, large quantities of milk and dairy are a common dog food allergy, which can result in a few different side effects.

However, if your dog is having a lot of dairy, stealing chunks of cheese, and making off with scoops of ice cream daily, there could be a problem. The fats in dairy products can lead to side effects like dog constipation, stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea if eaten in large quantities, even if the dog doesn't have a problem with dairy. 

Can Dogs Become Lactose Intolerant?

Yes, like humans, dogs can become lactose intolerant, which is the body’s inability to digest lactose.2 All naturally produced milk contains a form of sugar called lactose. You need to have an enzyme called lactase in your body to digest lactose properly, and it's the same with dogs. Newborn puppies have plenty of lactase in their bodies that help them break down their mother’s milk. However, as puppies are weaned off their mother's milk, their bodies stop producing lactase in varying amounts. The less lactase they produce, the more intolerant they'll be to lactose. 

What is lactose intolerance?

Dairy is one of the top dietary problems and dog allergies. When a dog can't digest lactose, the sugar passes through its body instead of being absorbed. Sugars are hygroscopic, meaning they attract and absorb moisture. As the sugar travels through the intestine, it absorbs water, including that in the tissue of the colon.2 As you can guess, that leads to problems like diarrhea, which is just one side effect.

What Are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs?

There are several symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs. Some stem from the water absorption by lactose we previously mentioned, while others take place elsewhere in the GI tract. For example, undigested lactose can also ferment in the colon and lead to gas. Symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs include1:

Symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs

  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Indigestion
  • Lethargy
  • Cramping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bloating

What Can Happen if Your Dog Drinks Milk?

Dog near its owner with its paws on the counter near a bowl of milk and cereal

So, now that you know the potential side effects that can occur if your dog consumes any dairy products, what would happen if the dog managed to get a few drops of ice cream or drink a little out of your kid's glass of milk?

If your dog is lactose intolerant, monitor the dog for the next 12 hours or so, and maybe a little longer. Most symptoms should show up in that timeframe. It could be that your dog had so little dairy that nothing will happen, or it will have a slightly upset stomach. But if your dog has a larger reaction, you want to be sure you can care for the dog at that time instead of leaving it alone when it might need help.

If your dog isn't lactose intolerant but eats a relatively large amount of dairy, you'll need to monitor the dog then as well. "Large" is a vague term, but if it eats more than a couple of tablespoons, keep an eye out. Your dog could end up vomiting, or maybe your dog has diarrhea from the fats in the dairy. If this keeps happening and the dog is continually eating a lot of high- or full-fat dairy products, the dog could develop pancreatitis. For more serious symptoms, always contact your veterinarian, who can provide more information on the steps to take if your dog consumes too much dairy.

FAQs

The dairy products mentioned are assumed to be from cow's milk. However, cow's milk is only one kind of animal-produced milk, and now there are a lot of alternative "milks" and products that people like to have around to eat and drink. If your dog gets into those, is there anything to worry about? Explore these frequently asked questions about different types of milk that dogs might get into.

Is Almond Milk Bad for Dogs?

Almond milk is not the best drink for dogs, and that warning extends to products made with almond milk, like almond milk ice cream. This nut milk is safe only in small quantities. Almonds contain enough fat that they can be difficult for dogs to digest, and too much almond fat can also lead to pancreatitis in dogs. Also, dogs can't eat chocolate, and many almond-milk products are flavored with chocolate, so avoid giving your dog those products. If you really want to give your dog some almond milk, keep the amounts very small and infrequent. One big warning is to look for xylitol in the ingredients. Xylitol is toxic to dogs, and any almond milk product that contains xylitol is a complete no – your dog shouldn't have any of it. This goes for products beyond almond milk, such as peanut butter and other products that might contain this toxic sugar.

Can Dogs Drink Goat Milk?

Goat milk is milk produced by goats, but it actually has less lactose than cow's milk. That can make goat's milk a little easier for dogs to digest, but that doesn't mean they can have it in abundance. Treat it like cow's milk; let your dog have just a little at a time. Be aware that goat's milk is generally higher in calcium and potassium than cow's milk, which is important to note if your dog has any dietary restrictions related to those nutrients.

Can Dogs Drink Oat Milk?

Oat milk is generally safe in small quantities. Large quantities can cause stomach upset, so you want to give this to your dog in moderation, too. Dogs have been known to like the taste of oat milk, so watch out and make sure you're not letting the dog have too much.

Can Dogs Drink Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk is fatty – from the coconut oil in the liquid – so while it's safe in small quantities, you need to be careful about how much the dog drinks. Otherwise, the dog can face the same abdominal and intestinal problems that fatty cow's milk products can create. Coconut milk in very small quantities can help improve the dog's coat, making it shinier. Make sure you give the dog coconut milk products that contain as few additives as possible.

Can Dogs Eat Cheese or Yogurt?

Cheese and yogurt, even if they're made with cow's milk, aren't as problematic for some dogs because they contain less lactose than the milk itself. As with other milk products, you have to be careful; if your dog handles them well, that's good, but they can be fatty and thus need to be handed out sparingly. Too much, and the dog can face an upset stomach again. You must check labels for common dog poisons like xylitol, especially with yogurt that is sweetened. It's rather common for a dog that can't handle liquid milk to be able to eat cheese and yogurt.

Final Notes

Is milk good for dogs? While it contains some nutrients, in general, you have to be careful. Many dogs are lactose intolerant to the point where they can't have any milk, or maybe they can have a little yogurt or cheese. Even those dogs that aren't lactose intolerant can't have dairy all the time, as it can lead to stomach problems and pancreatitis if the dog eats too much fat. Alternative milks, both plant and animal, can come with the same issues.

If your dog shows signs of being lactose intolerant, or you're not sure if you should try feeding your dog some dairy, contact your veterinarian or look into a veterinary telehealth appointment through Dutch.com. These services are convenient and easy to sign up for, giving you quick access to telemedicine for pets. If you want to introduce your dog to dairy products, a check-in with a vet through Dutch is a good idea.

References

  1. Burke, Anna. Can Dogs Drink Milk? American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/can-dogs-drink-milk/

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Lactose intolerance. Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance