Dogs love cheese – that’s a given. I can’t even think of a dog I know that doesn’t. We bury pills in bits of cheese so our dogs gulp them down. We use cheese as a food topper for picky eaters. Commercial dog foods and treats use cheese to increase palatability, and we stuff it into dog toys to keep our pups busy. But is there information about this tasty treat affecting our dog’s health we dog parents should know?
The answer is a definite yes. Even though dogs love cheese as much as we do, there are considerations we need to make.
How much is safe? What cheeses are best for my dog? And what are the risks, if any, that need to be weighed alongside the benefits?
Since it’s a known doggy favorite, let’s take a deeper dive into the glories of cheese and its benefits to our dog’s health.
Cheese contains high levels of calcium, protein, Vitamins A, B12, zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin, and the powerful antioxidant, glutathione.
It also contains a load of cholesterol, fats, and sodium.
There are over a thousand different cheeses in the world, with some being more nutritious for your pup than others. Let’s take a closer look.
Health benefits of cheese for your dog
- Calcium: This essential mineral builds strong bones and teeth, provides support for blood clotting, wound healing, and maintains normal blood pressure in your dog’s body.
- Vitamin A: This is an essential vitamin your dog needs to maintain healthy skin and coat, a stable nervous system, and properly functioning muscles.
- Vitamin B12: Also called cobalamin, your dog needs B complex vitamins to support brain and nervous system health, the formation, and maintenance of blood cells, and a healthy digestive system.
- Zinc: This mineral supports healthy skin and coat, thyroid function, and your dog’s immune system.
- Phosphorus: This mineral works with calcium to shape and strengthen (the rigidity) of bones and teeth. It also works with calcium to support the growth of ligaments and tendons.
- Riboflavin: This coenzyme breaks down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to produce energy.
- Glutathione: This is the “King” of antioxidants. Glutathione supports other antioxidants like Vitamin C and beta-carotene. It’s essential for efficient liver function, to support your dog’s immune system, and to optimize cell health.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are important for your dog’s brain and heart health. They are found in cheeses made from 100% grass-fed cows. So not all cheeses have them.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is also only found in 100% grass-fed cow’s milk and provides blood clotting ability.
Nutritional profile of 1 ounce of cheddar cheese – the most common of dog favorites.
Calcium: 200 mg
Vitamin A: 400 mg
Cholesterol: 30 mg
Fat: 10g (6g is saturated fat)
Sodium: 190 mg
You can see from the nutritional profile of cheddar cheese, we should only offer it to our dogs in moderation.
Cheese may contribute to your dog’s dental health
Studies on the effects of the casein peptides (whey) in cheese found they may de-mineralize dental plaque and tartar in a dog’s mouth. The peptides increase salivation while raising the PH or acidity, which neutralizes the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
The study isn’t clear on how much cheese is effective, but a few dental supplements for dogs contain cheese. The study states the cheese was given at the end of the meal, or separately. So just putting cheese on your dog’s food may not activate the peptides in the same way. They also found this doesn’t happen with milk or yogurt.
Can all dogs eat cheese?
Cheese has a lot of fat, calories, cholesterol, and sodium. So it’s not a good snack choice for all dogs.
Whenever you’re adding new food to your dog’s diet for the first time, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your dog’s veterinarian before the first offering. They will advise you on the appropriate amount for your dog’s specific health needs.
Puppies’ immune systems are still developing, so tiny amounts are better for them to avoid any stomach upset. They should be fully weaned and safely eating solid food before you offer them this tasty treat.
Your dog’s size matters as well. Smaller dogs will need smaller portions than larger dogs.
Essential fatty acids are needed in a dog’s diet, but the high-fat content in cheese can lead to weight gain or obesity. This demands moderation in how much cheese you offer to your dog; the best way is to offer it occasionally.
Because dogs love cheese so much, keeping it up away from eager noses is important. If your sneaky tail-wagger gets into the cheese block and eats too much, or hasn’t ever had cheese before, too much fat ingestion can inflame their pancreas and lead to pancreatitis, which can be a very serious condition needing immediate veterinary care.
Dogs and dairy
Some dogs are lactose intolerant or can have a dairy allergy. This seems strange since puppies drink their mother’s milk. But dogs are usually lactose intolerant and here’s why:
Milk contains a natural sugar called lactose. For a dog to digest it, they require the digestive enzyme lactase. Puppies, while they are nursing off their mom, produce lactase in sufficient amounts to digest the lactose. As they wean and transition onto solid food, the lactose production decreases until it’s so low they can no longer digest it sufficiently, making them lactose intolerant.
Some dogs will also be allergic to dairy products. Your vet can tell the difference between an intolerance and an allergic reaction. If you suspect your dog has symptoms from a dairy product, we advise immediate consultation with your vet.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
- Lack of appetite
- Bloating or abdominal discomfort
Milk Allergy symptoms are:
- Nausea or lack of appetite
- Excessive itchiness around ears and licking of the paws
- Skin redness
- Swelling of face
- Breathing difficulties
Cheese and medicines
Many of us will put our dog’s medicine into a small piece of cheese. It’s so much easier than struggling to get them to swallow it. This is fine for a lot of medicines, but some, like antibiotics, can become ineffective if given with dairy products.
The antibiotic binds to the calcium in the cheese. Once that happens, the small intestines can’t absorb the antibiotic anymore, making it useless. So be sure and check with your veterinarian if you plan on putting your dog’s pills into cheese.
What cheeses are good for your dog?
Salt or sodium content is a consideration when choosing cheese for your dog. The cheeses with high salt content are:
- Aged cheeses like Cheddars
- String Cheese
Cheeses with lower salt are:
- Cream Cheese
- Goat Cheese
- Fresh Mozzarella
- Cottage Cheese
These are also lower-fat cheeses, making them an excellent choice for overweight dogs.
Cheeses that are bad for dogs
Processed cheese food: Any processed cheese food, like American Cheese, has too many additives, coloring, and sodium to be safe for your dog to eat. They can lead to sodium poisoning, as well as reactions to artificial ingredients. If it’s not a natural cheese, it’s not good for your pooch.
Blue Cheeses have mold cultures in them. They can contain penicillium, similar to roquefortine, a mold culture that would make your dog sick.
Roquefort: When this cheese is ripe, it can contain roquefortine, a toxic component that can make your dog very ill.
Herbs, garlic, flavoring additions: Any additions to natural cheese are not recommended for your dog. Flavorings or added sweeteners can be toxic, as well as garlic, onion, chives, and some herbs. Only offer your pup natural cheeses.
Snack time! Best ways to serve cheese to your dog
Whenever you serve a snack to your pooch, remember that treats should only comprise 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. So snacks and the regular dog food you serve at meals should all equal the total calorie intake your dog needs in a day. Your vet will advise you about this if you’re not sure.
The best way to serve cheese to your dog is to offer very small pieces. This is good for brief training sessions, or as a quick reward. Remember to pay attention to how much cheese your dog gets to avoid an upset stomach, weight gain, or pancreatitis from too much fat, or salt toxicity.
Add a bit of cheese to fresh fruit like a pineapple or apple slice.
Broccoli and cheese is a favorite combo for humans. Your dog will like it too if it’s not a large amount.
Sprinkle some grated cheese on fresh fruit, or your dog’s food as an appetizing topper. This works especially well if your dog is a picky eater.
If you’re a DIYer, there are plenty of recipes for homemade dog treats available on the internet. I found some that looked appetizing for my dogs:
At the end of the day, cheese is a snack best served in small quantities but can have definite benefits to your dog’s health. Just watch out for the sodium and fat content, avoid any additives, and artificial flavorings or sweeteners.
Natural cheeses are best, and your dog will come running when you pull them out of the fridge. This snack is not only a dog parent’s favorite treat, but also a tasty choice for a dog, too!