Cheese For Dogs: When To Be Cautious

What kind of cheese can dogs eat?

Dogs really love cheese! That’s why it makes such a good training treat. And why it works so well for hiding pills. 

They can’t help themselves … they just have to have it. 

The problem is … some types of cheese can be unhealthy. And others are downright dangerous for your dog. 

Fortunately, there are some easy rules you can use to pick the right kind of cheese for your dog. 

But before I get into that … I want to talk about dogs who should not eat cheese. 

When Cheese Is Bad For Dogs

A lot of dogs are lactose intolerant. That means their digestive system can’t break down lactose, which is the natural sugar in milk. 

To break down lactose, your dog needs a digestive enzyme called lactase. It splits the lactose into simple sugars so that they’re easier for him to digest. 

But not all dogs produce enough of this enzyme. And while raw milk is full of lactase … most manufacturers pasteurize their dairy products, which destroys it. 

The good news is cheese generally contains less lactose than milk. Older cheeses usually have the lowest amount. These are cheeses like …

  • Cheddar 
  • Parmesan 
  • Swiss 

You could also give raw milk cheeses a try. 

Raw milk hasn’t gone through the pasteurization process. That means it still has all of its natural lactase. This should help your dog digest the cheese better. 

But that doesn’t mean these cheeses are okay for all dogs. It’s still possible for raw milk or aged cheese to upset dogs with a severe intolerance. 

If you’re giving your dog cheese for the first time, start with a small amount. Wait 24 hours to see if he has a bad reaction. 

Like humans, symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs include …

If your dog is lactose intolerant (especially if it’s severe), you’ll want to stay away from cheese as a treat. 

Or you may want to try cheese from A2 milk …

RELATED: Here’s Why Yogurt Is Not A Good Probiotic For Your Dog …

The Difference Between A1 And A2 Milk 

The health benefits of the dairy products you buy may depend on the type of protein in it. 

Milk contains proteins called beta-casein. While many forms of this protein exist, milk most often contains A1 and A2 beta-casein. 

Cows that originated in northern Europe usually have more A1 beta-casein. Breeds like …

  • Holstein
  • Friesian
  • Ayrshire
  • British Shorthorn 

A2 beta-casein is found in cows from the Channel Islands and southern France …

  • Guernsey 
  • Jersey 
  • Charolais 
  • Limousin

Regular milk has both beta-casein. A2 only has A2 beta-casein and is marketed as the better choice than A1 milk. 

Why?

Well … it’s supposed to offer more health benefits. And it’s supposed to be easier to digest. 

The key takeaway is that there’s a lot of debate over the two kinds of milk. Some studies suggest A1s may be harmful. And that they cause more severe digestive problems than A2. 

Studies also suggest people with intolerances may actually be sensitive to A1 proteins and not the lactose. 

So, if you think your dog (or you) is lactose intolerant, you may want to try an A2 cheese. 

If your dog isn’t lactose intolerant, then cheese is a safe treat … so long as you choose the right one. 

And that’s what I want to talk about next. 

6 Things To Consider Before You Give Your Dog Cheese

Before you share cheese with your dog, there are a few things to look at. This will help prevent digestive upset or worse …

1. Salt Content

Some cheeses aren’t only tasty, but full of salt. 

Like you, your dog needs some salt in his diet. It helps balance out fluids and maintain nerve function. 

But too much salt can lead to dehydration or worse … salt poisoning

If your dog has had more than his fair share of cheese, make sure he has lots of water. 

In most cases he’ll drink enough water to dilute the salt in his bloodstream and avoid any bad reactions. 

If he has had too many salty foods … including cheese … you’ll want to keep an eye on him. A lethal dose of salt in dogs is about 4 g/kg

Make sure he has lots of water and watch for signs of salt poisoning. 

  • Extreme thirst or urination 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Confusion 
  • Fainting 

Salt poisoning can be very dangerous and have long term consequences. 

Large amounts of salt in a short period of time cause your dog’s body to release water into the bloodstream. This helps dilute the salt levels and flush it out of his system. 

But if too much water gets redirected to his bloodstream, his brain cells won’t get the water they need. This can cause brain cell damage and lead to dizziness, headaches, seizures, coma or death. 

Hypernatremia is another major risk. This is when high levels of salt cause your dog’s muscles to lose moisture. This makes them stiff, which can lead to shaking or jerking. 

Hard aged cheeses are especially salty. This is because salt helps draw out the moisture and age the cheese. Other cheeses with lots of salt include …

  • Processed cheese slices 
  • String cheese 
  • American 
  • Parmesan 
  • Romano 
  • Blue 
  • Roquefort
  • Feta 

Low sodium options include …

  • Cottage cheese
  • Ricotta 
  • Cream cheese
  • Fresh mozzarella 
  • Swiss 
  • Goat cheese 

2. Fat Content 

Cheese can also be high in fat. 

And too much fat can lead to weight gain, obesity and even pancreatitis. (Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas). This is especially true for breeds prone to the disease …

Acute Pancreatitis

  • Miniature Schnauzers 
  • Yorkshire Terriers

Chronic Pancreatitis

  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Collies
  • Boxers

The pancreas has two main jobs. 

  1. Produce and store hormones for proper blood sugar levels.
  2. Produce and store enzymes to help the body digest fats and proteins.

The more fat your dog eats, the harder his pancreas has to work. 

If it works too hard, it’ll become inflamed. Once inflamed, the enzymes it produces will activate while they’re still in the pancreas. And that can cause the pancreas to digest itself.  

RELATED: Pancreatitis In Dogs: The Scary Truth & How To Manage It …

After reading that, it may seem like a good idea to go with low-fat or fat-free versions. But wait …

Studies show that low fat options (where the fat is removed) can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity

Your dog needs a healthy dose of good fats. So instead of looking for products that have had the fat removed … look for cheeses that naturally have less fat

Low fat options include …

  • Fresh mozzarella 
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soft goat cheese

High fat cheeses include …

  • Cream cheese
  • American
  • Cheddar 
  • Swiss 
  • Muenster 
  • Blue 
  • Parmesan 
  • Brie 
  • Provolone

3. Added Ingredients 

Many cheeses have ingredients in them to add to their flavor. Some ingredients like cranberries, rosemary or mango are safe for dogs. But others are not. 

Onions are especially dangerous. They’re toxic to dogs and can cause anemia which is when your dog doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout his body. And while there probably isn’t enough onion in a block of cheese to cause problems, it’s better to avoid this ingredient. 

You also want to avoid glutamic acid. This is a flavoring that’s sometimes added to dairy products. And it can be dangerous for your dog. Glutamic acid is another name for monosodium glutamate or MSG. And MSG can alter your dog’s brain response … among other risks. 

Another type of flavored cheese you want to watch for is smoked cheeses. 

Smoking with heat can cause substances called PAHs – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. 

They can be carcinogenic. As well as cancer, they can cause …

  • Reproductive problems 
  • Birth defects 

Most cheeses are cold smoked. But if you’re not sure, it’s better to find a different treat. 

Lastly, you want to watch products like …

  • Cheese slices 
  • Spray cheese
  • Cheese spread 

These products are highly processed. Some of them can’t even qualify as cheese because they’re less than 51% real cheese

They can also have added ingredients that aren’t healthy for your dog. Ingredients like sodium phosphate in spray cheese. (It’s also in the flavored treat sprays you can buy for dogs). 

Sodium phosphate stops the ingredients in spray cheese from separating. It’s deemed safe by the FDA but studies have shown it absorbs differently than natural phosphate. This can elevate phosphate levels in your dog and lead to health problems or even death. 

That doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Some cheese slices and spreads are made of wholesome ingredients. You just want to be sure to check the label. 

4. Added Colors

When manufacturers want to change the look of their cheese, they’ll add coloring. This includes artificial colors. 

Artificial colors can cause hypersensitivity and behavior issues in children. They’re also linked to allergies and cancer. It’s best to avoid artificial colorings in any food you give your dog. 

Another common food coloring in cheese is annatto. It’s a yellow-orange pigment extracted from the seeds of the achiote tree found in the tropics. 

The pigment is also used in butter and margarine to give them their golden tone. 

The good news is this is a natural dye and is generally safe

The bad news is …

It can cause food intolerances. One study showed it can also cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in dogs. Hypoglycemia can be life-threatening in dogs. However, the study summary doesn’t mention how much annatto caused this reaction. And there probably isn’t enough in a bit of cheese to be a problem. 

And while white cheeses may seem like the safe route … some of these have their color altered as well. 

Mozzarella cheese is a perfect example. It sometimes has titanium dioxide added to make it whiter. 

So, always be sure to read the label and check for color additives in your cheese. 

5. Mycotoxins 

Ripe moldy cheeses like roquefort, stilton and blue aren’t for everyone … and they’re a definite no for your dog. 

Not only do these cheeses have high fat and salt contents, they can contain mycotoxins. Specifically, roquefortine, which can cause poisoning in dogs

If your dog does eat ripe moldy cheese, there’s no need to panic. Chances are he’ll be okay. Just keep an eye out for an adverse reaction. 

Signs to look out for include …

  • Vomiting 
  • Seizures 
  • Diarrhea 

6. Organic Grass Fed Dairy

When you choose dairy products for your dog it’s best to pick ones that come from grass-fed animals. 

That’s because the food they eat affects the nutritional value of the dairy they produce. 

Products from grass fed cows, sheep and goats have …

You also want to go organic when you can.

Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. 

These are chemicals that can leave residues on the produce your dog eats. It can even be absorbed into the food itself, especially when it’s sprayed pre-harvest

Organic farmers also don’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or antibiotics

Genetically modified foods are plants and animals whose DNA has been changed. This is usually done to create resistance to pesticides and antibiotics. In animals, like salmon, it is done to increase growth speed. 

Organic foods are often fresher as well. That’s because they don’t contain chemical preservatives to make them last longer. 

And most importantly … organic has more nutrients

Organic milk has more omega-3s and less omega-6s. This is good for your dog’s heart and can reduce inflammation throughout his body. 

RELATED: Organic Dog Food: How Big A Deal Is It, Really? …

How To Share Cheese With Your Dog 

Cheese is full of … 

  • Protein
  • Calcium 
  • Vitamin A
  • Essential fatty acids 
  • B complex 

But as you now know … it can have lots of additives that are bad for your dog in large amounts. 

So when you share cheese with your dog, don’t give him too much. 

Cheese is best left as a high value reward. If you overshare it, your dog won’t be as responsive to it. 

Cheese can also be a good way to give your dog pills and supplements. 

Cottage Cheese Is A Good Choice For Dogs

Cottage cheese is a popular choice for dogs. It’s a good source of calcium and it’s lower in salt and fat. 

It’s even better if you look for a low salt brand. 

Cottage cheese is also lower in lactose than other cheese. 

That being said … you still want to be careful with dogs who have severe intolerances. 

You also want to be sure to check the label. Cottage cheese can have added milk products and ingredients that aren’t good for dogs. 

Can Dogs Eat Cheese? 

Dogs can eat cheese. But before you share some with your dog … here’s a reminder of some important considerations. 

  1. Dogs can be lactose intolerant. If it’s the first time your dog has had cheese, start small and see how he reacts. If you know he’s sensitive to dairy, choose a different treat. 
  2. When possible always choose cheese with low fat and salt contents. If the cheese has a lot of salt or fat, only share a little bit (or none at all). Don’t buy cheese with the fat removed.
  3. Make sure any added ingredients are safe for your dog.
  4. Avoid cheeses with color-changing agents, especially artificial ones. 
  5. Don’t feed ripe moldy cheeses to your dog. 
  6. Use cheeses made from organic grass-fed dairy.

When in doubt about which cheese is safe for your dog, cottage cheese is usually a good option

And remember … the less often he gets it, the more he’ll appreciate it. 

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