Can I Give My Dog Cheese?
Though we hate to admit it, many of us are guilty of it: We throw our dogs scraps of random foods from the table at family gatherings, shrugging as we mutter, “Dogs will eat anything!” to justify the carelessness. Unfortunately, that assessment is pretty true—our canine companions are loyal, gentle, noble, and hysterically funny, but they are not exactly discerning when it comes to food. Anyone who has lived with a dog has witnessed the horrors that these loveable, four-legged creatures turn into dinner.
But the fact that your dog WILL eat anything does not necessarily mean that they SHOULD eat anything, and in recent years, more pet owners have begun to familiarize themselves with the list of people foods that are unsafe for dogs. Many of these poisonous people foods are seemingly harmless—or even healthy, if you’re human—so we have learned to research our favorite foods before we share them with our dogs.
The favorite food we are going to examine here is that classic American staple: Cheese. Can dogs have cheese? Is there any nutritional benefit to feeding our dogs cheese?
The answer: In general, dogs can safely eat small amounts of cheese, but there are no real health benefits. Cheese is far from an ideal pet food, but as a rare treat, it is usually safe. That being said, the tolerance for dairy varies widely in dogs; some dogs can’t eat any amount without suffering from symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Cheese does not have the nutritional power that fruits and vegetables boast, but it is not completely without nutrients: most cheese has a moderate amount of protein, calcium, and several B vitamins. Protein and calcium are important for maintaining healthy muscles and a strong skeleton. Dogs, though omnivorous, have evolved to eat a diet that is a bit higher in protein than ours. Most dogs are not lacking in protein, though, so your canine companion probably does not need a block of cheddar to keep his muscles in good repair.
While most dogs can handle eating the occasional piece of cheese, many dogs react poorly to eating any dairy products. This is because most mammals become lactose intolerant once they reach adulthood. Sound weird? It really isn’t. Though mammals have been drinking their mother’s milk for millions of years, they stop drinking milk altogether once they have been weaned. Since milk is not part of the adult mammal’s diet, most of their bodies stop producing lactase, the enzyme required for digesting milk proteins. This is why many of our pets—and many adult humans!— may end up with vomiting, bloat, indigestion, or diarrhea if they consume cow’s milk.
Cheese is usually lower in lactose than other dairy products, though, so it tends to be a safer option. If you are not sure whether or not your dog is lactose intolerant, give them a small piece of cheese and monitor them for 24 hours. If they don’t show any symptoms of upset stomach or digestive problems, they can probably eat cheese as a rare treat.
Things to Keep in Mind
The key word in that sentence is ‘rare.’ Though cheese is not toxic to dogs, it is often very high in fat, calories, and salt, all of which can harm your pet’s health. Eating too much cheese can lead to a painful condition called pancreatitis, which can be acute or chronic. Cheese’s high fat and calorie content also makes it a poor food for dogs who need to lose or maintain their current weight—since most cheese is so calorie dense, it is very easy for your dog to eat too much of it. Overeating cheese can result in conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Obesity is becoming a much more widespread problem for dogs these days, so if your pet is looking to lose weight, you may want to opt for a high-fiber, low calorie treat like apples or carrots.
Cheese may have one great health benefit: it makes an excellent vehicle for concealed pills. If your dog is reluctant to take their medication, tucking the pill inside a small amount of cheese may be an easy way to get them to cooperate. If you plan on doing this, however, talk to your veterinarian first: some medications may not be absorbed as well when taken with dairy products.
If you wanted to supplement your dog’s diet with cheese under the impression that it will benefit their health, you may want to focus on healthier, more nutrient-dense foods. While cheese does contain some protein and calcium, it is far from the athlete-friendly health food that old 1990s dairy ads would have you believe. The calcium, protein, B vitamins, and Vitamin A found in cheese are fairly minimal when viewed in context: along with those scant few vitamins comes a whole lot of fat, calories, and salt.