Can Dogs Drink Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives?

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If you’re a pet owner, you probably already know that dogs and cats lack the enzyme needed to break down the sugars found in cow’s milk. Its true, and yet we still seem to indulge them with the odd snack of cheese, or lick from an ice cream cone, don’t we? And if they seem to tolerate that well, then we assume they must be cool with dairy, right? Wrong. According to the American Kennel Club, some dogs that are known to be lactose intolerant can still handle certain dairy items like plain yogurt or cheese because these foods have much less lactose and are easier to digest than straight milk.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Cheese?

But, while experts confirm that a small amount from time to time won’t hurt the average pet, for those with gastrointestinal sensitivities, it can result in diarrhea, bloating, and gas. And the side-effects can be even worse for dog breeds that are prone to pancreatitis, as even a minimal amount of dairy fat can cause a flare up that’s both expensive to treat, and potentially life-threatening.

So, with all those dairy alternatives available in our grocer’s fridges for human consumption, are they also safe for our pets to drink? Let’s take a look.

Soy Milk

While soy is one of the most common ingredients found in dry dog food, it also ranks among the top food allergens for dogs. Now, if it isn’t something that your pet has already shown a sensitivity to, you may want to try offering him soy milk over cow’s milk, from time to time. It’s a great source of protein, it’s cholesterol free, and it helps lower the body’s LDLs.

Almond Milk

Made using raw almonds and fresh water, this dairy alternative contains fewer calories than regular milk and zero animal fat, which makes it a healthy treat for your pet. The big however is that it does contain extra calories and for an older animal or one prone to obesity, it may not be worth it. Plain, cold water is always ideal for animals as it keeps them both hydrated and cool, without the added calories. If you do opt for almond milk, ensure it isn’t sweetened or flavored.

Rice Milk

Many of us know from experience that the water from drained rice is a tried-and-true elixir for dogs suffering from diarrhea. So, does that mean they can drink rice milk? Well, its more digestible than soy milk, and much lighter in flavor than cashew or almond milk. But like any alternative to just plain water, it brings calories. And white rice is also known to have a higher glycemic index than brown, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. So, the answer is yes, they can drink it. But its not a big treat for them, so maybe just the remnants from your bowl of (non-sweetened) cereal versus a larger portion.

Cashew Milk

Similar to almond milk, cashew milk is made using raw, unsalted nuts and water. Because dogs can safely consume cashew nuts (in moderation), the “milk” derived from this nut is also safe for him to drink. As with all dairy alternatives, be sure it is an unsweetened version before sharing it with your pet. And remember that your dog is less likely to get excited about a small portion of cashew milk in the same way he would a chew toy or doggie treat. So choose his treats wisely.

While we’re primarily looking at cow’s milk alternatives, it makes sense to consider this next alternative because it delivers the same benefits as nut-milk – its lactose free.

Lactose-Free Milk

The lower the lactose, the easier it is for your pet to digest. So, if you’re looking for a cheese, ice cream or other dairy product you can share with your dog, lactose-free is the way to go. But just like the nut and soy milks, moderation is key (which means not daily) and portion control is important (as in less than a quarter cup).

The bottom line is that you can feed your pet dairy-free alternatives with a couple of caveats. First off; always offer it in moderation – it’s okay if he licks your cereal or ice cream bowl clean when you ‘ve finished eating but don’t pour him a bowlful. Secondly, that you carefully read all ingredients to ensure that your non-dairy milk (or product) doesn’t contain a few extras including chocolate, xylitol, macadamia nuts or avocado. These ingredients are not uncommon in many of the cow’s milk alternatives available on the market, so time to become well-read when it relates to your pet.