All dog owners know that if you’re in the kitchen, you’re likely to have your fur baby right by your side hoping to snag a treat. So, as you’re cutting off a chunk of Monterrey Jack or cubing up some Colby, your pup is likely eager to be given a bite of that tasty cheese.
While certain ‘human’ foods like veggies or sardines may be healthy options to give your dog, other foods can be toxic. So, is cheese a safe (and healthy) snack? Or can it cause some serious digestive issues? We asked veterinary experts for their thoughts.
Can Dogs Eat Cheese?
The short answer is yes—dogs can eat cheese as long as it’s given in moderation. “Cheese can be a delicious treat, and an easy way to hide medications for dogs,” says Dr. Tori Countner, veterinarian and founder of The Balanced Pet Vet.
And it may also benefit your pup’s digestive health. A recent study showed that certain types of cheese can add beneficial bacteria to your dog’s gut.
“The study showed that Queso Blanco (white cheese) that contains Bifidobacterium longum given to dogs for 8 weeks improved fecal microbiota and immune response,” says Dr. Countner.
Another article in the Journal Of Dairy Science showed that after a 2-week administration of kefir, the dogs’ intestinal microbiota changed in a positive way.
However, as your pup ages, her ability to properly digest cheese may decrease.
“Dairy contains lactose, which is a simple sugar broken down by the enzyme lactase in the intestinal tract,” says Dr. Stacie Summers, veterinarian and assistant professor at the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. “The activity of this enzyme in the intestine declines as puppies reach adulthood. Adult dogs do not have enough lactase in their intestine and are unable to digest large quantities of dairy.”
And some dogs can even be lactose intolerant.
“There are some dogs that are lactose intolerant and may not be able to digest dairy,” says Countner. “Signs of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, gas, bloating, and nausea. I advise my clients to start with a small amount of cheese or dairy to see how they tolerate it.”
Is Cheese Bad for Dogs?
Most dogs can handle cheese in small amounts and it really depends on the type of cheese being given.
“Like all supplementation, feeding dairy should be limited,” says Summers, who recommends that cheese and dairy snacks should make up less than 10 percent of a dog’s total caloric needs to avoid dietary imbalances. “Low-fat cheese options include cottage cheese, mozzarella, and soft goat cheese,” she adds.
Cheeses that are higher in fat can cause health issues in dogs.
“Some dairy products that are high in fat may cause pancreatitis and contribute to weight gain,” says Summers. “For example, cheddar, Swiss, and Colby cheese are high-fat cheeses.”
Salt content is also another ingredient dog owners should pay attention to when feeding cheese to their pups.
“Cheeses that are high in salt (processed cheese, string cheese, hard-aged cheese) should be avoided in dogs with heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease and dehydration,” says Summers. “Dietary imbalances can occur if fed in large quantities.”
Is Cottage Cheese Bad for Dogs?
“Low-fat cottage cheese is an option to give to dogs in moderation,” says Summers. “Cottage cheese is also low in lactose, so the risk of adverse effects may be lower compared to other types of cheese.”
Counter agrees that cottage cheese is a good option for dogs who may have a problem digesting lactose. “Cottage cheese traditionally has less lactose than milk, so is better tolerated in animals that are lactose intolerant,” she says.
Is Blue Cheese Bad for Dogs?
“Blue cheese is made from Penicillium molds and under the right conditions can produce toxins (i.e. mycotoxins) that cause tremors in dogs,” says Summers. “However, if stored appropriately, commercial blue cheese should not have enough mycotoxins to be of any significance.”
With that said, Summers says that feeding dogs blue cheese should be avoided to eliminate this risk—no matter how small.
Is Cream Cheese Bad for Dogs?
Low-fat cream cheese is your best bet when it comes to feeding your dog cream cheese, since regular cream cheese can be extremely high in fat.
And you should also be wary of any additions to cream cheese that could also be harmful to dogs.
“Cheese with garlic, onion, and chives can be toxic at high doses and should not be given to dogs,” says Summers.
Feeding Dogs Cheese: Some Guidelines to Follow
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when feeding your dog cheese.
Focus on Portion Size
“When introducing your dog to cheese, be sure to give a small amount at a time if they are not used to consuming it,” says Countner. “By introducing cheese, and other new foods, slowly, you minimize the risk of stomach upset.”
Dr. Summers agrees that pet parents need to pay attention to portion size and only feed cheese in moderation to avoid gastrointestinal upset or weight gain. “Small bits of cheese (about the size of a fingernail) are okay to give to dogs as an occasional treat or used to get dogs to take pills,” she says.
Stick to Low-Fat Varieties
High-fat cheese can lead to dogs consuming more calories or can put them at risk of developing pancreatitis. So if you do give your dog cheese, try to opt for low-fat choices.
“The amount of cheese a dog can tolerate depends on the individual dog and the amount of fat, salt, and lactose in the cheese,” says Summers. “Ideally, the low-fat version of the cheese should be given (i.e. low-fat mozzarella).”
Don’t Feed Dogs Cheese While on Antibiotics
If your dog is taking antibiotics, you should ask your veterinarian before you add cheese to your dog’s diet.
“It is important that antibiotics not be given with dairy products,” says Summers. “The calcium in the dairy can interfere with the absorption of some antibiotics.
If you want to use cheese as a way to get your dog to take an antibiotic, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation for another option that won’t interfere with antibiotic absorption.
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Too Much Dairy
“The amount of cheese a dog can tolerate depends on the individual dog and the amount of fat, salt, and lactose in the cheese,” says Summers.
And there are some clear signs that your dog has had too much cheese.
“Too much dairy could result in soft stool or diarrhea, gas, burping, excess drooling from stomach upset, or even vomiting,” says Countner.
These symptoms may not warrant a call to your vet right away but should be monitored.
“If you think you gave your dog too much dairy, I would advise monitoring your dog for diarrhea, reduced or absent appetite, and vomiting for 24 hours,” says Summers. “This is also advisable to do after giving your dog dairy for the first time.”
If any of these symptoms become severe, call your vet.
The Bottom Line of Cheese for Dogs
Dogs don’t need cheese in their diets if you’re feeding them a complete and balanced commercial dog food. But if you want to use cheese as a special treat or a high-value reward once in a while, go for it. Just make sure to keep portion sizes small and monitor your dog for any signs of intolerance.
“The amount of lactose varies in dairy products, with milk having the highest amounts of lactose. Cheese, buttermilk, and yogurt contain slightly lower levels of lactose,” says Summers. “Although these products may be better tolerated by some dogs, they still have the potential to cause problems, especially if consumed in large quantities. It is best to avoid milk in adult dogs and give cheese—ideally low-fat cheese—only in small quantities.”