January 20th is National Cheese Lover’s Day, but in my household, every day is a celebration of our love of cheese. I mean, what’s not to love? With seemingly endless varieties, flavors, and smells, humans are not the only ones who may be intrigued. I know of many owners who happily slip a small bite of cheddar to their dog, but just because it is common does not always mean that it’s safe. I’m here to answer the question, “Can dogs eat cheese?”
There are a few benefits to feeding cheese to your dog, but maybe not the benefits that you are thinking of when you consider cheese for yourself. Cheese contains calcium, protein, vitamin A, essential fatty acids, and B-complex vitamins – all of which are healthy and wholesome for humans, but the nutritional benefits are negligible when you are feeding your dog an “appropriate” amount of cheese. At the point in which your dog can benefit from the vitamins and nutrients of cheese, your dog will have well exceeded their recommended caloric intake.
Cheese is a great high-reward training tool for dogs. It’s recommended though that if you are using cheese as a reward instead of an occasional treat, you will want to ensure that cheese is kept to a minimum to help ensure obedience. If cheese is fed too often, it will lose its inherent value to your dog and they will not work as hard to earn their reward. Outside of training, cheese is often used to sneakily conceal medications for stubborn dogs. It’s important to note though that if you are giving your dog antibiotics, do not use cheese as a Trojan horse for certain medications, like doxycycline, because the absorption is reduced when given alongside dairy products.
Before offering cheese to your dog, please understand: Not every cheese and not every dog. While some cheeses are safer than others, even the safest of cheeses can still pose risks to some dogs. It’s always best practice to consult your veterinarian before making any dietary changes. There are several things to consider before adding cheese to your dog’s diet:
Cheese is high in fat content.
Feeding your dog cheese or dairy products too frequently may result in weight gain and eventual obesity. For this reason, dogs that are overweight or attempting to lose weight should avoid cheese, even as a treat. A diet regularly consisting of cheese may also lead to pancreatitis, a very serious medical condition that can result in death. For more information, please read What is Canine Pancreatitis?
Cheese is high in salt content.
Dogs with heart disease, kidney problems, or high blood pressure should avoid high salt foods, including cheese. Just as with humans, too much sodium can result in high blood pressure, or hypertension, in dogs. Frequently fed salty foods can cause the body to retain more fluid, making it more difficult for the heart to function properly. Complications of hypertension may include congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and stroke.
Your dog may be lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.
Like humans, some dogs are lactose intolerant. Dogs may experience gastrointestinal upset after consuming dairy products if they are lactose intolerant. Cheese has significantly less lactose, the primary sugar of milk, than whole milk, but even small quantities of cheese could cause digestive health concerns. Closely monitor your dog following the introduction of cheese for potential symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you would like to learn more, please read Lactose Intolerance in Dogs.
Some cheeses are more suitable for dogs than others.
If you are going to feed your dog cheese, opt for low- or reduced-fat varieties of cheese, like mozzarella, cottage cheese, or a soft goat cheese. Across the board, the consensus is that cottage cheese is the best option for adding to your dog’s diet because it’s lower in fat and sodium comparatively to other types of cheese. This can give you peace of mind if you are concerned about the risk of obesity or pancreatitis, so long as it is still fed on occasion and not as an everyday staple. Furthermore, cottage cheese is lower in lactose, making it less likely that your dog will experience gastrointestinal upset after consuming cheese. Goat cheese contains less lactose than cheese made with cow’s milk, making it a more favorable option for dogs with lactose sensitivity, but it is considered to be high in fat with 26 grams of fat per 100g.
Cream cheese generally is considered safe, but all too often, cream cheeses are flavored with added ingredients that pose a serious risk to dogs. Garlic, onion, and chives are frequent added ingredients to several types of cheeses and are toxic to dogs, even in small quantities. Havarti cheese is commonly flavored with garlic and other herbs, so be sure to check the individual ingredients before offering a piece to your dog. If you’re curious as to any other common food additives that may be toxic or harmful to dogs, please read Festive Foods Your Dog Should Not Eat.
Much like soft goat cheese, aged cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan) contain low levels of lactose. Cheddar cheese is very high in fat content though, with roughly 35g per 100g, but thankfully, reduced fat options should be readily available at your grocery store. Please note though that some processed cheeses, like prepackaged slices or string cheese, can have a high salt content. Again, make sure that you are reading your labels and nutritional facts to avoid harmful ingredients or high sodium content.
You should always avoid blue cheeses (cheeses that use fungi for ripening), such as Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort because these cheeses can produce roquefortine C, a potentially fatal toxin for dogs, as cited in a 2002 case study: Acute penitrem A and roquefortine poisoning in a dog. This substance is believed to be responsible for causing lethargy, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures when consumed by dogs. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms following the consumption of blue or “moldy” cheeses.
Practicing moderation is key for maintaining optimum health. Cheese should never be a regular component of your dog’s diet, but an occasional indulgence of a safe type of cheese is perfectly okay. While it isn’t necessarily harmful or toxic to feed dogs some cheese, (unless your dog is lactose intolerant or developed an allergy to dairy products) it’s important to remember that cheese is by no means a “health food” for your canine friend. For healthy treat ideas for your dog, check out 10 Vegetables for Your Dog.
Does your dog have a preference for a certain kind of cheese? Tell us in the comments below!
Thank you for reading!
- Michael Cassatt, Director of Marketing
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