Can I Give My Dog Yogurt?
Most of our favorite health foods fall off plants ready to eat—whether we pull them from trees and vines, pluck them from bushes, or yank them straight out of the ground, they are delivered to us in a state of near perfection. But not every stereotypical health food comes off a tree. One of the man-made products often touted as a health food is yogurt, the favorite of soccer moms and yo-yo dieters the world over. With its calcium, protein, and probiotic content, some view it as a miracle food. Many people eat yogurt to fuel their busy schedules, their workouts, and their kids’ soccer games, but can we use it to fuel our dogs, too?
Can dogs have yogurt? Is it in any way toxic to our canine companions, or is it a health food?
The short answer is this: yogurt itself is not necessarily poisonous to canines, but feeding your dog yogurt is generally not recommended. Despite its marketing as a healthy food, yogurt is still a highly processed food—and most processed people foods do not belong in your dog’s diet. Most yogurt also contains dairy milk, which is not recommended for dogs. While letting your dog lick the inside of your empty yogurt container probably will not necessitate a visit to the vet’s office, you should avoid feeding your dog this food on a regular basis.
Potential Health Benefits?
But, while yogurt should not be a staple in your dog’s diet, some argue that there are potential health benefits to using it as a supplement. From a nutritional perspective, yogurt is often marketed for its calcium and protein content. This isn’t untrue: most yogurt does contain calcium, protein, and potassium. Calcium and protein aid in building and maintaining strong bones and muscles, which is particularly important for puppies, active dogs, and senior dogs.
While the calcium content may be somewhat helpful, most experts don’t recommend feeding dogs dairy protein—the amino acid makeup of these proteins is all wrong, so your dog will have a hard time extracting the building blocks that they need. There are other forms of protein which are far more suited to your dog’s amino acid needs.
Potassium and magnesium are two other minerals often found in yogurt, which maintain healthy muscles, bones, and a strong cardiovascular system. Magnesium also boosts your dog’s ability to absorb other important vitamins and minerals. Potassium, on the other hand, is particularly important in its relation to sodium: it can help ‘counteract’ the negative effects of a high salt diet. That does not mean, however, that giving your dog a spoonful of yogurt means it is okay to feed them salty snacks!
Yogurt’s other most famous asset is its probiotic content, which is said to boost the healthy bacteria growing in the gut. A healthy colony of internal bacteria leads to improved digestive health, which leads to improved overall health. This is a potential benefit of yogurt, but your dog may be better served eating probiotic dog treats.
While the vitamins, minerals, and probiotics in yogurt may benefit your dog’s health, yogurt may not be the best vehicle for these health-boosting compounds.
Why not? First off, the yogurt you buy in the supermarket is often a highly processed food with a variety of additives, sugars, and artificial sweeteners. All of these additives have been cleared for human consumption, but dogs often don’t react to artificial sweeteners the same way that we do. Yogurts that are marketed as low-calorie, diet-friendly options may be the most dangerous. These brands often have less added sugar, but to make up for the sweetness, they add zero-calorie sweeteners such as xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol can cause an extreme drop in your dog’s blood pressure, seizures, and death; so, if your yogurt contains any xylitol, your dog shouldn’t even be allowed to lick the lid. Better safe than sorry!
Things to Keep in Mind
Additives aside, yogurt is not generally recommended for most dogs because it is a dairy product. Grown-up dogs, like the vast majority of adult mammals, are often lactose intolerant. This is because their ancestors never consumed dairy “in the wild”—wolf pups drank their mother’s milk for the first several weeks of life, but once they were weaned, they never ingested milk again! Once they stop drinking mother’s milk, dogs’ bodies produce significantly less lactase (the enzyme required to digest lactose, or milk sugar). Since they don’t produce much lactase, many dogs suffer from upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea when they eat significant amounts of dairy.
Overall, yogurt does have some potential health benefits, but there are other, more dog-friendly foods that can provide all of the same nutrients without any of the downsides of dairy. That being said, most yogurt brands are not toxic to dogs—so, if you want to give them a small amount as a treat, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Just read the label to make sure it does not contain anything that may be toxic to your dog, like xylitol or raisins.