Can Dogs Eat Cheese?
Like their owners, many dogs love cheese. It is a snack that is often shared with dogs, and is even often used during training. However, the question is whether dairy products such as cheese are really good for dogs.
Obviously, many dogs love cheese, but cheese can cause problems for dogs in some cases. Dogs are not good at processing lactose, so they can get stomach and intestinal complaints from eating cheese. A little cheese often doesn't cause a problem, but too much cheese can cause your dog problems.
Lactase and Digestion in Dogs
Cheese contains lactose, and lactose needs the enzyme lactase to be broken down during digestion. Most dairy products contain lactose, to a greater or lesser extent. People who do not produce the enzyme lactase are called lactose intolerant.
Without the presence of the lactase enzyme, lactose does not break down into galactose and glucose. The process of breaking down lactose into galactose and glucose molecules is critical for the body to absorb these two sugars into the bloodstream.
When lactose doesn't break down, it stays in the digestive system. When it remains in the digestive system, bacteria in your dog's gut will begin to ferment the lactose. This produces a variety of gases in your dog's digestive tract.
These fermentation gases cause the symptoms often associated with lactose intolerance: bloating, diarrhea and stomach upset.
Most dogs produce very few lactase enzymes, making it more difficult for them to break down lactose. Therefore, most dogs are considered lactose intolerant. The less lactose in their diet, the less likely they are to have an upset stomach due to lactose intolerance.
Milk often contains the most lactose of all dairy products, about 5% lactose. This makes milk very difficult to digest for anyone who is lactose intolerant, dog or human.
Processing milk into various dairy products can reduce the amount of lactose, but it is still present. The amount of lactose in cheese can also vary.
Usually there is less lactose in mature cheese or other older hard cheeses. If you want to feed your dog some cheese, it is better to go for a somewhat older cheese. Also pay attention to the salt content, because too salt is not good for your dog either.
High fat content and digestive health in dogs
Lactose isn't the only reason cheese can harm your dog. Many cheeses also contain a lot of fat, which can cause pancreatitis in your dog.
The pancreas is an organ that aids in digestion. It is responsible for secreting digestive enzymes to break down food components and also produces insulin.
These digestive enzymes are normally inactive — unable to break things down — until they're in the small intestine.
However, when your dog suffers from pancreatitis, the enzymes in the pancreas become active. This results in your dog's pancreas starting to digest itself, causing extreme pain and swelling.
If this inflammation of the pancreas or pancreatitis occurs suddenly, it is called acute pancreatitis. With acute pancreatitis, dogs can become seriously ill and even die if not treated quickly.
Long-term, permanent changes in the tissue of your pancreas result in chronic pancreatitis. This can lead to conditions such as diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Feeding a large amount of fatty foods can cause acute pancreatitis in your dog as the pancreas tries to produce and release the enzymes needed to break down the large amount of fat.
Since cheese can be high in fat, it is one of many foods that can cause pancreatitis in dogs. Certain cheeses are lower in fat than others, including mozzarella. However, there are many other cheeses in the Netherlands that contain little fat.
How to feed cheese to dogs without any problems
While there are risks associated with feeding cheese, such as problems due to lactose intolerance or pancreatitis, cheese can also be a convenient, tasty treat.
TIP: This Yak cheese bone is ideal for dogs that like to chew. Originally from Himalayas, it offers hours of chewing pleasure for your dog. Yak cheese is a traditionally made dog snack from Himalayan yak milk. The yak is a bovine species that lives high in the mountains. Yak cheese is very nutritious and very healthy for dogs.
Dogs do not need dairy products in their diet, but cheese also contains a variety of vitamins, proteins, calcium and essential fatty acids.
Cheese is also very useful as a treat for dogs that are not motivated by other types of treats. Cheese is also helpful during training if you use spray cheese or a chunk of cheese to treat your dog without any crumbs or mess.
Finally, cheese can also be helpful when giving your dog medicine. Types of cheese that can be molded around pills can make the drug easier to feed for dogs who would otherwise not take their pill.
It's best to offer your dog a very small amount of cheese first if he's never had cheese before. Avoid cheese with a lot of lactose, fat and salt. Even if your dog has eaten cheese in the past, cheese should be made a minimal part of the diet.
Author: Tom Marr
Illustration: Antonia Oana
This BLOG has been posted on our website as a guest blog with the author's approval.