Dogs 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 first let’s talk about dogs who shouldn’t eat cheese.
When Cheese Is Never A Good Idea
A lot of dogs are lactose intolerant. That means their digestive system can’t break down the natural sugar in milk. To break down lactose, your dog needs a digestive enzyme called lactase. 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 like cheddar, parmesan and swiss usually have the lowest amount. But that doesn’t mean these cheeses are okay for all dogs. It’s still possible for 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 try cheese made from raw milk or A2 milk …
Raw milk doesn’t go through the pasteurization process. That means it still has all its natural lactase, which should help your dog digest the cheese better.
Milk contains proteins called casein. The health benefits of the dairy products you buy may depend on the type of protein in it. While there are many different types of casein, milk most often contains A1 and A2. Whether the milk has A1 or A2 proteins depends on the breed of cow. Cows that originated in northern Europe usually have more A1 casein. Cows from the Channel Islands and southern France are A2.
Regular milk has both caseins, but A2 milk only has A2 casein. Companies market it as a better choice than A1 milk as it’s said to offer more health benefits. It may also be easier to digest. Studies also suggest people with intolerances may actually be sensitive to A1 proteins and not lactose. So, if you think your dog (or you) is lactose intolerant, you may want to try an A2 cheese.
But what if your dog isn’t lactose intolerant? Then cheese is a safe treat … so long as you choose the right one.
7 Tips To Help You Choose The Best Cheese For Your Dog
Before you share cheese with your dog, there are a few things to look at. This will help prevent digestive upset or worse …
1. Watch The Salt Content
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
Your dog needs some salt in his diet to help balance out fluids and maintain nerve function. But too much salt can lead to dehydration or worse … salt poisoning.
That’s because large amounts of salt 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.
While a small piece of salty cheese as a treat won’t do much harm, it’s best to stick with low sodium options. This includes cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, cream cheese, swiss and goat.
And if your dog does accidentally eat a large amount of cheese … give him lots of water and watch for signs of salt poisoning. These include extreme thirst, frequent urination, diarrhea or vomiting and decreased appetite. Your dog may also seem confused or faint.
2. Choose Lower Fat Cheeses
Cheese can also be high in fat and too much fat can lead to:
- Weight gain
And while it may seem like a good idea to go with low-fat or fat-free versions … you may want to reconsider. 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. This includes fresh mozzarella, cottage cheese and soft goat cheese.
3. Be Careful Of Added Ingredients
One common additive is glutamic acid, which 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.
You also want to watch for is cheese that’s smoked. Smoking with heat can cause substances called PAHs – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. And PAHs can be carcinogenic. Most cheeses are cold smoked. But if you’re not sure, it’s better to find a different treat.
4. Steer Clear Of Processed Cheeses
You also want to watch out for processed products like cheese slices, spray cheese and cheese spreads. 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 like sodium phosphate. Sodium phosphate is in spray cheese (and flavored treat sprays you can buy for dogs). It stops the ingredients in spray cheese from separating. But studies have also shown it absorbs differently than natural phosphate. This can elevate your dog’s phosphate levels and lead to health problems or even death.
NOTE: Some cheese slices and spreads have wholesome ingredients. You just want to be sure to check the label.
5. Check The Label For Added Colors
When manufacturers want to change the look of their cheese, they’ll add coloring. This includes artificial colors.
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 annatto 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.
6. Beware Of Mycotoxins
Ripe moldy cheeses like roquefort, stilton and blue cheese are a definite no for your dog. Not only do these cheeses have high fat and salt contents, but they can also 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 …
7. Choose 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 …
- A healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
- Less saturated fatty acids.
- More protein.
- A smaller impact on the environment (Pasteurized cows release less methane into the environment).
- They’re not fed antibiotics, foods grown with pesticides or GMO foods etc.
- The animals are happier and less stressed! Stressed animals may release the hormone cortisol into their milk.
[HINT: Choosing bones from grass-fed cows is important too. You can also get a good source of calcium from air-dried bones in a powder.]
You also want to go organic when you can. Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. They’re also grown without the use of drugs and antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary. Organic milk also has more omega-3 fats. This is good for your dog’s heart and can reduce inflammation throughout his body.
When To Give Your Dog Cheese
Cheese is full of healthy nutrients for your dog like protein, calcium, fatty acids and vitamins. But as you now know … it can have lots of additives that are bad for your dog as well.
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: A Good Choice For Dogs
Lots of pet owners choose cottage cheese for their dogs. And it’s a good choice. Cottage cheese is a source of calcium and it’s lower in fat and sodium than other cheeses. It’s also lower in lactose.
But you still want to be careful with dogs who have severe intolerances. And you should still check the label. Cottage cheese can have added milk products and ingredients that aren’t good for dogs.
So Can Dogs Eat Cheese?
Yes, dogs can eat cheese. But before you share some with your dog … here are some important reminders.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure any added ingredients are safe for your dog.
- Don’t give your dog processed cheese products … they don’t offer any nutritional value.
- Avoid cheeses with color-changing agents, especially artificial ones.
- Don’t feed ripe moldy cheeses to your dog.
- 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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