A tall glass of milk is reminiscent of many people’s childhood and, as adults, many people still drink milk. It’s the main ingredient in lattes and milkshakes, and cereal would be so dry without it. In the United States, milk is taught to be part of a healthy diet and many Americans delight in a refreshing glass of cold milk. Dogs are a little different. Some dogs want that milk mustache, but your dog doesn’t. He takes one sniff of milk and walks away. No matter how you offer it to him, he refuses to drink it. Your dog has a good reason for not wanting to drink that milk and you should trust him when he says no.
The Root of the Behavior
Have you ever had an allergic reaction or a bad experience with food and found it impossible to eat it again? It might smell good and you liked it once before, but that one night of food poisoning it gave you has turned you off for good. You even get queasy thinking about it and you refuse to go to the restaurant where the problem started. This is your body protecting itself from danger and your dog’s body does the same. Puppies drink their mother’s milk and it’s the best way for them to get the nutrients when they’re young. When puppies are nursing, their bodies produce lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down the lactose found in milk. This enzyme breaks down the milk sugar and makes it possible for their bodies to digest it.
As puppies are weaned and grow older, their body stops producing as much of the enzyme lactase. Without this enzyme, the milk moves undigested through their intestinal tract and sits. This then causes problems from diarrhea, bloating, gas, or vomiting. Some dogs stop producing lactase entirely, making them lactose intolerant and others have a very low production of the enzyme. As a result, when a dog drinks pasteurized cow’s milk that you find in the supermarket, he can become sick. While dogs can taste sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, they use their sense of smell as the primary identifier of food. A dog’s nose contains about 300 million olfactory receptors and has separate passages in his nose; one for breathing and one for smelling. Their noses are trusted to track missing people, sniff out drugs and bombs, and find the freshest pile of poo. If your dog sniff milk and snubs it, you should trust his nose because he is telling you this isn’t good for him.
Encouraging the Behavior
Not all dogs are lactose intolerant, and some might even try to steal a sip of milk, but it’s still not something you should give dogs regularly. The milk we purchase at the store is highly pasteurized, and if it is whole milk, it is full of fat. Even if Fido can tolerate lactose, the amount of fat in milk could upset his stomach instead. If you’re concerned that your dog is missing nutrients that are found in milk, make sure you provide him with a well-balanced diet. Read the food labels on the kibble to check for the best ingredients and nutrients. Look for the phrase “Complete and Balanced.” This phrase is not just for advertising, but it comes from the Association of American Feed Control Officials, who use strict guidelines to determine the quality of the food. Also look at the name of the food. If it is called “Beef Kibble,” 70 percent of the product must contain beef. Just as one dog is lactose intolerant and another one isn’t, different dogs’ nutritional needs vary. Large and small, old and young, breeds, and ailments all factor into what a dog needs nutritionally. Take your dog to the vet to find out what food is best for your dog. The diet of your senior dog will be different than his one-year-old friend.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Don’t ever force your dog to eat something he doesn’t want to. If your dog does consume milk, perhaps in cheese, milkshake, or an ice cream cone, and you’re not sure if he is lactose intolerant or not, keep an eye on him for signs of an adverse reaction. He might start passing gas, vomiting, or experience diarrhea. If you notice he is excessively experiencing any of these, call your vet for assistance. Make sure he has plenty of water to drink and has easy outdoor access. If he has a skin reaction rather than a gastrointestinal one, consider giving him an oatmeal bath with lukewarm water.
Humans and dogs share many similarities; some humans are lactose intolerant and so are some dogs. While some people may crave the milk mustache, others despise it. If that is the case, trust your dog to tell you what is safe for him to eat and do not try to push any food on him that he does not want to eat.