Updated - Feb 28th, 2022
Yogurt is a delicious food known for supporting human gut health. We humans gobble it down to improve our immune systems – which yogurt can do thanks to its high probiotic benefits and protein and calcium levels. You may be wondering: is yogurt also good for our dogs? Can their immune system benefit from eating yogurt, with few side effects?
The short answer is: yes, dogs can eat yogurt. But it doesn’t give them as many health benefits as you might think.
Let’s find out more about yogurt and how it can help or harm your dog.
The word yogurt means to thicken, coagulate, or curdle. Made from milk, it’s been used to feed humans for centuries. It originated in the Middle East as milk-producing animals became domesticated. Since milk spoiled quickly, herdsmen would carry it in bags made of intestinal guts. Inside this bag, intestinal bacteria would sour and curdle the milk, preserving it for long periods of time.
For many centuries, yogurt was the only way to preserve milk for storage apart from drying it. As time went on, yogurt became a go-to food for relieving symptoms of diarrhea and stomach cramps. When people thought to add fruits, honey, and sugars to it, yogurt also became a popular dessert.
In the 20th century, scientists recognized that consuming yogurt can be good for your health. Today, we largely make yogurt from cow’s milk that’s been fermented and acidified with specific bacteria. This fermentation process creates a thickened product that we often flavor with sugars, fruits, and spices.
Types of yogurt
There are three types of yogurt — regular yogurt, kefir, and Greek-style yogurt. All three have the same ingredients, but their nutrient profiles differ. Here are the differences between them.
Greek yogurt is a creamier, thicker yogurt because manufacturers strain it three times to remove the whey from the end product. Whey is the watery fluid left behind when milk curdles. Greek-style yogurt also contains more proteins, more fats, and fewer sugars and carbs than regular yogurt. Its thicker consistency and higher protein content can leave you feeling full for longer and aid in weight loss.
Regular yogurt is runnier and less thick than Greek yogurt because it’s only strained twice, which leaves some whey in the end product. This type of yogurt has more calcium and fewer calories.
Kefir is yogurt’s smooth, drinkable cousin. It provides the same health benefits as the other yogurts and is fine for your dog to consume.
All three types of yogurt come packed with probiotics and calcium that boost your immune system, support heart health, and aid in digestion and weight loss. Yogurt is a healthy diet addition for humans, but for dogs, it’s not as great.
Let’s find out why.
Dogs and dairy
Most dogs are lactose intolerant. Others have dairy allergies. You may wonder how this is possible, seeing as puppies drink their mother’s milk. But most dogs are lactose intolerant, and here’s why:
Milk contains a natural sugar called lactose. Dogs lack the digestive enzyme lactase, which breaks this sugar down for easy digestion. Nursing puppies produce enough lactase to digest the lactose from their mother’s milk, but as they wean off this milk and transition to solid food, their lactase production decreases, making them lactose intolerant.
Some dogs have a true allergy to dairy products. Your vet can tell the difference between lactose intolerance and an allergic reaction. Immediately consult with your vet when you suspect your dog has allergy symptoms because of a dairy product.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance in dogs are:
- Lack of appetite
- Bloating or abdominal discomfort
The symptoms of milk allergies in dogs are:
- Nausea or lack of appetite
- Excessive itchiness around ears
- Excessive paw licking
- Skin redness
- Swelling of the face
- Breathing difficulties
Yogurt can have some wonderful benefits for your dog’s health. But if your dog is lactose intolerant, or has an allergy to dairy products, it may give them too much discomfort.
Health benefits of yogurt
70% of a dog’s immune system is in their gut. And the immune system takes serious hits from highly processed diets, human foods not meant for their consumption, and medications that reduce its ability to work. These leave your dog open to disease, environmental stress, cell oxidation, and the damaging effects of aging.
Probiotics: These are beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in the body. When consumed in supplements or foods like yogurt, they offer health benefits and strengthen a weak immune system. They are lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium.
Probiotics feed the good bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract, helping your dog with the following:
- Weight loss
- Improved digestion
- Improvements to immune system function
- Healthy skin and coat
- Reduced risk of diseases and cancers
We also know that calcium builds strong bones and teeth, and supports a strong heart and nervous system.
Dietary protein: This is an essential nutrient for the growth and maintenance of almost all your dog’s bodily tissues. It supplies amino acids necessary to build hair, skin, tendons, cartilage, and muscles. Protein also supports your dog’s metabolism, aiding in weight loss.
Yeast: If your dog suffers from ear infections, hot spots, or constant itchiness, yogurt may help relieve their symptoms. Probiotics fight the yeast – or candida – that causes these conditions, reducing the symptoms and frequency of infection.
Protection against tooth decay: The whey in yogurt contains casein peptides, which demineralize the plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. These peptides also neutralize the bacteria that causes decay.
These are all good for your dog’s health, right? But a dog’s digestive system is not the same as ours, which means you need to take precautions when feeding your dog a food meant for humans. Here’s what you need to know about offering your dog yogurt.
Can your dog eat yogurt?
Gut health: If your dog is suffering from loose stools, itchiness, or a lackluster coat, feeding your dog yogurt won’t solve the problem. You’re better off offering your canine some probiotic supplements made for dogs (not human probiotic supplements).
Live cultures: The live cultures found in some yogurts – but not all – provide the health benefits of eating yogurt. Pasteurizing yogurt destroys the enzymes and bacteria that give yogurt its probiotic properties. Look for yogurt that lists live cultures on its ingredient list. Yogurts with live, active cultures will have less lactose than regular pasteurized yogurts, making them easier for your dog to digest.
Sugar: Many yogurts have added sugars for palatability. A dog’s digestive system can’t process these sugars, so feeding them to your dog risks obesity, diabetes, and dental disease.
Artificial sweeteners: Any sugar-free yogurt is a HUGE NO for dogs. These yogurts often contain xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol is known for causing dangerously low blood sugar and can lead to liver failure and death. We find xylitol in diet-friendly foods in high concentrations because they sweeten up a food product. ALWAYS read the ingredient label when purchasing yogurt for your pooch.
Added fruits: Most fruits added to yogurt contain loads of sugar or syrup. Buying plain yogurt and adding your own fresh fruits is the healthiest way to offer yogurt and fruit to your dog.
High fats: Low-fat and fat-free yogurts are fine for your dog. Yogurts with high fat content will inflame the pancreas and possibly cause pancreatitis, which can be fatal. Low-sugar yogurts are off limits for dogs.
How much yogurt can your dog eat?
If your dog is not lactose intolerant, yogurt can be a daily moderate addition to their diet. Here’s how much you can give your dog, depending on their size:
Small dogs: 1 teaspoon daily
Medium dogs: 2 teaspoons daily
Large dogs: 3 teaspoons daily
Keep in mind that this amount of yogurt is a snack your dog will enjoy, but it won’t give them the health benefits of probiotics. Vets recommend an appropriate probiotic supplement formulated especially for dogs if your four-legger needs a nutritional boost to their immune or digestive system.
Let’s look at some tasty ways to serve this slurpy treat to your dog.
Always check with your veterinarian whenever you consider offering your dog a new food. Make sure to follow the 90/10 rule of thumb for treats: 90% of your dog’s daily calories should come from a complete dog food, while the remaining 10% of calories can come from treats. Give your dog a higher proportion of treats and you risk obesity or diabetes.
Plain Greek yogurt is the healthiest yogurt for your dog. Always read the ingredient label – look for live, active cultures with no artificial ingredients, sweeteners, or preservatives.
Add some fresh berries or fruit to the yogurt and give your tail-wagger a doggy sundae.
Plop an appropriate amount of yogurt in your dog’s dinner bowl along with their regular dog kibble.
Freeze a mixture of fresh fruits and plain yogurt in ice cube trays or a treat toy. This cools your dog down and keeps them busy for a while.
Smoothies are tasty treats that dogs love. Blend yogurt and your dog’s favorite fresh fruits and vegetables for a delightful mid-day nutritional boost.
Here are some DIY dog treats made with yogurt I found online:
The bottom line on dogs and yogurt
Ever wondered if you can share your yogurt with your dog? The answer is yes, depending on its ingredients. Yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, and probiotics, all of which boost your dog’s immune system and help them get over an upset stomach.
Plain Greek-style yogurt is the healthiest yogurt for your dog, and there are a ton of tasty additions you can throw in that your dog will enjoy. Added fresh fruits, veggies, or even peanut butter will give yogurt an extra health boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help keep your dog in good shape.