Milk has been advertised to humans as an essential part of our diet for decades. “Milk does a body good!” But what about your dog? Is milk good for your dog?
The answer? Not really.
While milk can be a nice occasional treat for your dog, it’s not something you should add to his regular diet. Nutrients and vitamins that your dog gets from milk can be obtained from other sources.
In fact, drinking milk regularly may do more harm than good. So, here’s what you need to know about milk and what it can do to your dog.
What Harm Can Milk Do To Your Dog?
As a dog owner, you’ve probably given your dog a little milk from time to time. A glass at the right height for your dog to get a good slurp … or you’ve put an ice cream bowl on the floor so he can have a little treat of the leftover dessert.
You may have gotten lucky as there are many issues that can crop up when your dog drinks milk. For example, many dogs are lactose intolerant.
Many dogs lack the digestive enzyme lactase, which helps digest the milk sugar lactose. Without lactase, your dog will have a hard time digesting the milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include:
Besides lactose intolerance, the overuse of milk can cause other issues. Milk contains a fair amount of sugar, an average of 12 grams (just under a tablespoon) per cup. This, along with the fat content of milk, could lead your dog to obesity … or too much fat could trigger pancreatitis.
Most milk in the west is A1 milk (I’ll dive deeper into that a little later), which contains alpha-s1 caseins. These caseins are proteins in milk that can cause inflammation in your dog.
While I wouldn’t recommend adding milk to your dog’s diet, if you do, there are some kinds of milk that are better than others.
Why Raw Milk Is Better
While you shouldn’t give your dog a lot of milk, a little bit every now and then as a treat shouldn’t hurt him … as long as no digestive issues or allergic reactions occur. If you’re going to give your dog milk, try to buy organic, raw milk.
Most milk that you find in the store is pasteurized. Milk pasteurization uses heat to destroy pathogens and extend the shelf life of the product. But the process also destroys the lactase in the milk.
Lactase is the enzyme in milk that makes it easier for your dog to digest milk … meaning pasteurized milk is more likely to cause a problem. Raw milk will still have all its lactase, which will make it easier for your dog to digest.
Organic grass-fed dairy is also better due to:
- A healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
- Less saturated fatty acids.
- More protein.
- The cows are not fed antibiotics, foods grown with pesticides or GMO foods, etc.
As an added bonus, pastured cows have a smaller impact on the environment. One reason for this is that they release less methane into the environment than cattle in big feedlots.
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The Differences Between A1 and A2 Milk
One of the things about milk that may surprise you is that there are two different types of cows’ milk. There’s A1 and there’s A2. But what’s the difference between them?
- Comes from breeds that originate in the west like Holstein, Friesian and Jersey.
- These breeds produce more milk, which makes A1 milk more common and cheaper.
- A1 milk contains alpha-s1 caseins. This is the largest protein in A1 milk. As I mentioned before, the alpha-s1 casein can also cause inflammation in your dog.
- A2 milk comes from cows that have their origins in India, like Gir and Sahiwal.
- These breeds produce less milk than their western counterparts.
- A2 milk does not contain alpha-s1 caseins.
- The lack of alpha-s1 caseins makes A2 easier for your dog to digest. A2 milk tends to be more expensive than A1 milk.
A2 may be easier to digest than A1 milk but you should still be leery of allergic reactions and dogs with severe intolerances.
But What About Goats’ Milk?
A popular alternative to cows’ milk is goats’ milk and there are many good reasons for that. While goats’ milk does contain a similar amount of sugar as cows’ milk, there are benefits to goats’ milk.
- Goats’ milk is easier to digest as it lacks the alpha-s1 casein.
- Unpasteurized goats’ milk contains probiotics, which are good bacteria that support your dog’s gut health.
- Goats’ milk has better prebiotic properties than cows’ milk. Goats’ milk contains prebiotic oligosaccharides. These are non-digestible sugars that feed the probiotics in your dog’s gut.
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Nutrients In Cows’ Milk
A cup of milk can provide a fair amount of calcium, phosphorus, and potassium and vitamins. But does your dog need milk for any of these?
In a word, no. You can give all these nutrients to your dog through more dog-appropriate foods.
The first thing you may think of when you think of milk is that milk is a great source of calcium. But what about for dogs? Should you be giving your dog more milk to provide him with more calcium?
While milk is a decent provider of calcium, the risk isn’t worth the reward in this case. A cup of cow’s milk has around 100 to 275 mg of calcium. A cup of goat’s milk will give your dog 330 mg of calcium … and reduce the risk of inflammation or digestive issues.
An even better option is to give your dog a nice soft consumable bone to chew on. It’s the best way to give your dog the calcium that milk would have provided. Consumable bones can also provide phosphorus and potassium.
Your dog’s daily intake of phosphorus can also be achieved by feeding him a balanced raw diet. And fresh whole foods like leafy green veggies or mushrooms can contribute potassium and other nutrients to your dog’s diet.
All of these can help provide your dog with the nutrients he needs … without possible indigestion and allergic reactions that milk may cause.
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Cows’ Milk Isn’t A Good Idea
Cows’ milk isn’t something I‘d recommend for your dog. While some dogs may be able to have milk as a treat, many will have issues with it. There’s a good chance your dog is lactose intolerant and will have digestive issues drinking milk.
And there’s no real benefit to your dog drinking milk. Any nutritional benefit that milk may provide can be gained from bones and other more species appropriate foods.