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What is Lactose Intolerance?

The primary sugar in mammalian milk is called lactose. Infant mammals produce an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme is created with the sole purpose of breaking apart the lactose molecule so that the body can use the nutrients. As we pass infancy, in the vast majority of mammals, including many humans, the body cuts production of this enzyme to minimal levels. When this shift occurs, lactose stops being effectively broken down by the mammalian digestive system and causes the gastrointestinal symptoms of lactose intolerance. Some pockets of humanity developed lactase persistence several thousand years ago, and now a little over a quarter of the adult human population is able to process lactose. Although it has not been well studied, it is surmised that some dogs may have a similar persistence.

Lactase is an enzyme that is required for the digestion of the naturally occurring milk sugar lactose. Most dogs lose the ability to break down the lactose in milk shortly after puppyhood.

Lactose Intolerance Average Cost

From 600 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

The symptoms of lactose intolerance are uncomfortable, but not generally life-threatening unless they continue for extended periods of time. Symptoms will start within just thirty minutes to two hours from the ingestion of the dairy product. The lactose concentrations in a female dog’s milk run about 3%, where cow’s milk contains 5%, so even unweaned puppies may not produce enough lactase to digest cow's milk properly, and may show signs of lactose intolerance, though they would be reduced in intensity.

  • Toileting accidents in the house
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Types

  • Butter - The lactose content of butter is extremely low, around .8% to 1%. However the fat and salt content in most butter is too high for frequent feedings
  • Cheese - Processing milk into cheese also reduces the amount of lactose in the product, but with widely diverse results. Cheeses like Muenster and Limberger have minimal concentrations of lactose, around 1% or less, where other cheeses, like American and Colby, have almost no reduction in the amount of lactose in the final product. 
  • Cow’s Milk - Cows milk has about 5% lactose in it and can be very difficult to digest even for puppies. Lactose is not damaged by heat, and it can be found in the same concentrations in both full fat and fat free options.
  • Ice Cream - Changing milk into ice cream does sometimes alter the concentration of lactose, but it’s just as likely to go slightly up as it is to go down. Couple that with the high amount of sugar and fat, and you can see why this particular treat should remain on the rare side. Either remove ice cream from your pet’s diet completely or save it for special occasions, like a birthday treat. 
  • Yogurt - Transforming milk into yogurt does not destroy the lactose, but it does come with its own enzymes to help your system break down the lactose that is present. For this reason, yogurt is sometimes better tolerated than other dairy products.

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Causes of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

Food intolerance - An intolerance to a food type, like milk, has no immune system involvement and is more likely to cause a gastrointestinal response than allergies do. Changes in the color or consistency of the stools, gas and gurgling sounds from the digestive system are common with a food intolerance. These symptoms can be exaggerated in cases of lactose intolerance, progressing to vomiting and diarrhea

Food allergy - An allergy to food is a response by the body’s immune system to defend itself against a threat. An allergic reaction doesn’t happen the first time an individual is exposed to the allergen but rather after repeated exposures. Dogs who continue to be exposed to milk proteins after showing evidence of intolerance may be more likely to develop an allergy later.

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Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

The primary diagnosis of lactose intolerance is often made due based on timing and symptomatology. Your veterinarian will probably want to do a physical examination, and will most likely listen to and palpate the abdomen. Most doctors will recommend that you eliminate all dairy from your dog’s diet for several weeks to see if the symptoms disappear. 

Other tests that may assist in a diagnosis are available, but rarely used, in veterinary medicine. A hydrogen breath test will check the amount of hydrogen in the digestive system, and will often remain high for longer after consuming dairy products for intolerant individuals. Lactose tolerance tests verify the amount of sugar in the patient’s blood after consuming lactose. The rise in blood sugar will not be as significant in intolerant canines.

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Treatment of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

Dairy itself is not required in a dog’s diet, so treatment is generally the removal of dairy from the diet. There are options for the pet parent that wants to find dairy or dairy-similar products:

Lactose-free milk and dairy - There are several varieties of milk and dairy product that are formulated for the lactose intolerant, that may be suitable for your pet.

Soy milk products - Soy is generally a safe food for most canines, but excessive amounts have been shown to increase estrogen-like activity and can lower thyroid levels. 

Almond milk products - This is another alternative that can be stomached by lactase-deficient canines, at least in small amounts. Larger amounts may cause gastrointestinal distress due to the fat content in the milk. 

It is important to ensure that there are no added sweeteners or flavorings that can negatively impact your animal. Read the ingredient label to check for artificial sweeteners and other dangerous additives that may be blended in for sweetness such as raisins, cocoa, or even xylitol. These additives may be deadly to your pet, and should be avoided at all times. 

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Recovery of Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

Human food is not the only source for dairy, and many dog foods also include dairy. Unless your pet is severely intolerant of lactose, a small cheddar dog treat or doggy soft serve cone here and there are unlikely to do any damage, but chronic malabsorption issues like untreated lactose intolerance may lead to weight loss and severe dehydration, particularly if vomiting and diarrhea are occurring on a regular basis. If your dog is showing signs of lactose intolerance without any dairy that you know of, check the ingredient list on your dog food. Cheese flavors or milk fats in their diet may be the culprit.

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Lactose Intolerance Average Cost

From 600 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

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Lactose Intolerance Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Cairn Terrier

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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3 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

She Just Seems Sad, Not Moving Around Too Much

She had quite a bit of cheese yesterday that I didn’t realize until friends laughed. Now I’m wondering if this is going to affect her G.I. system. She probably ate that she is around 5 PM and it’s about 130 now. She did have a bowel movement which look normal at about 830 this a.m. and has been urinating without difficulty.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that she is okay. If she is having any signs of vomiting or diarrhea, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 16, 2020

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Pug

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking Not Eating And Walks Funny

He isn’t really moving. Sleeping and snoring. He got up from the bed this morning and landed on his side like his legs didn’t want to work. He shakes every once and while. Isn’t eating today. His penis was out earlier and he was like laying in his side humping like it wouldn’t stop. But it’s since went in. Not sure what’s going on.

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry he isn't feeling well, he sounds like he may be quite ill. It would probably be best to have him seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as it sounds like he needs to be examined to find out what is going on. They will be able to look at him, see what is happening, and get treatment for him so that he feels better and is back to his normal self soon. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 20, 2020

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Lactose Intolerance Average Cost

From 600 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

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