Are German Shepherds Lactose Intolerant? What You Need To Know


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My German Shepherd loves an occasional piece of cheese; however, when I recently let her lick some heavy whipping cream straight from the whisk, she suffered from an upset stomach and diarrhea within a few hours. So that got me wondering whether German Shepherds are lactose intolerant?

Many German Shepherds are lactose intolerant and won’t be able to digest dairy foods. However, dogs have varying degrees of lactose intolerance, and some may eat only certain types of dairy. In contrast, others will experience adverse reactions to all dairy in general.

So, what exactly is lactose, and why can my German Shepherd digest some dairy foods and not others? This article will cover the above questions and loads more!

Are German Shepherds Lactose Intolerant? German Shepherd licking whipped cream from a whisk
My German Shepherd Willow licking some cream

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For an in-depth look at lactose intolerance in German Shepherds, read on!

Why is Lactose Bad For German Shepherds?

Before we can answer this question, let’s firstly take a look at what exactly lactose is. Lactose is a type of sugar that’s found in milk and other milk-based (dairy) products. If your German Shepherd cannot digest lactose, he will be what’s known as lactose intolerant. This condition is not harmful to your dog, but he may suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, and excess gas!

Are German Shepherds Lactose Intolerant? Assorted dairy products (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream)
Assorted Dairy Products (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream)

When your German Shepherd drinks milk or a similar dairy product (for example, cream, ice cream, cheese, or yogurt), the lactose requires an enzyme called lactase to digest the food or drink.

German Shepherd puppies have plenty of lactase needed to break down their mother’s milk enabling them to get all the nutrients required. However, once they have been weaned from their mother, they produce less and less lactase, and this is the stage where some dogs may develop an intolerance to lactose.

Dairy foods contain varying amounts of lactose (see table below) depending on how the food is processed. For example, most types of cheese are quite low as when processing the milk into cheese, the amount of lactose is reduced.

German Shepherds also have varying degrees of lactose intolerance. All dogs are different. For example, my German Shepherd enjoys the occasional very small bowl of milk, equivalent to a few tablespoons. However, a few licks of heavy whipping cream cause her to suffer from tummy troubles within a few hours!

Your dog may also display a varying degree of tolerability if the milk product is consumed with other foods. For example, a spoonful or two of yogurt on top of your dog’s food may not cause any GI upset, whereas the same quantity of yogurt eaten alone might be enough to cause excessive gas or diarrhea. Also, it’s worth noting that different brands of dairy foods may have different effects on your dog.

My German Shepherd loves a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt on top of her food. Yogurt may not cause your dog any problems at all because many of the bacterial strains in yogurt produce lactase, helping in the breakdown of lactose.

The below table shows the lactose content of some dairy foods in grams per 100 grams/ml of the product. This data was compiled courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture:

MILK PRODUCT LACTOSE CONTENT
Milk, condensed10-16
Milk, low fat4-5
Milk, whole fat (cow, goat, or sheep)4-5
Cream, half and half4
Cream, light4
Cream, sour4
Yogurt, whole milk4
Ice-cream3-8
Buttermilk3-5
Cream, whipping3
Yogurt, low fat2-7
Cheese, ricotta1-5
Cheese, cottage, or cream 1-3
Cheese, mozzarella 1-3
Butter0.5-1
Cheese, feta0.5
Cheese, cheddar0.1

As you can see from the above table, cheese and some yogurts contain the least amount of lactose. The lower the amount of lactose, the better chance your dog has of tolerating the food without any distress.

Can German Shepherds Drink Milk?

This appears to be quite a common question for dog owners. So, can German Shepherds drink milk? Well, take a look at my German Shepherd in the below photo lapping up some milk!

German Shepherds can drink milk as long as they are not lactose intolerant. Milk is high in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and as a rich source of high-quality protein, contains all the essential amino acids. However, milk is high in fat and natural sugars, so you should give your dog a small amount.

The nutritional benefits of milk make it good for healthy bones and teeth, and it’s also good for the heart. A few tablespoons of cow’s or goat’s milk once in a while can be a lovely treat for your dog, as you can see in the below photo of my German Shepherd enjoying some milk…

Can German Shepherds Drink Milk? German Shepherd licking milk from a bowl
My German Shepherd Willow enjoying a lick of milk!

Nonetheless, some dogs may experience unpleasant reactions to milk, including flatulence, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Learn More on Dogs Drinking Milk from This YouTube Video…

If you wish to try your German Shepherd with some milk or any other dairy food, you should only give it sparingly. Many dog owners only find out that their dog is lactose intolerant after they’ve fed them milk.

Remember – dairy foods are not an essential part of your German Shepherd’s diet. If you find your dog cannot tolerate even a small amount of milk, it will be an unpleasant experience for both of you!

“Due to the deficient levels of lactase, milk ingestion can lead to GI upset including diarrhea and vomiting.”

Pet MD

It’s also interesting to note that the lactose content of milk is also not greatly affected by heat or fat content. For example, whole fat milk contains the same amount of lactose as low-fat milk.

Many dairy foods, for example, whole fat milk and cheese, may also contain too much fat, which can also lead to diarrhea and vomiting. German Shepherd dogs are known to have sensitive stomachs, and repeatedly eating high-fat foods may also lead to pancreatitis, a potentially serious disease.

High-fat foods can also lead to obesity – especially if your dog is inactive or elderly. You may also find that your German Shepherd is allergic to the protein in milk, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and itchy red skin.

Can German Shepherd Puppies Drink Milk?

So, what about German Shepherd puppies? Can they drink milk?

German Shepherd puppies can not drink milk as it contains too much lactose. It has around 5% compared to 3% in their mother’s milk. Even with this small difference, puppies will have a hard time digesting milk which can overwhelm their delicate digestive system, causing diarrhea and vomiting.

German Shepherd puppies should only have the milk that comes straight from Mom!

Even in rare cases where the puppy has been orphaned or the mother has fallen ill, milk from a cow is still inappropriate. It is important to either seek out a foster mother for nursing or use a puppy milk replacer in these situations.

Puppy milk formula mimics a puppies’ mother’s milk and has a lactose content very close to that of maternal milk, and is easy for the puppy to break down. The nutritional composition is also as close as possible to a bitch’s milk, with high energy and protein levels. It is also easy to prepare.

Can German Shepherds Drink Lactose-Free Milk?

German Shepherds can drink lactose-free milk. However, milk isn’t a necessary part of your dog’s diet, but he will come to no harm should you decide to let him have a few tablespoonfuls. Alternative dairy-similar products include lactose-free milk, almond milk, and soy milk.

Are German Shepherds Lactose Intolerant? A Selection of Lactose-Free Dairy Products, Lactose-free milk, Almond milk, lactose-free yogurt, lactose-free cheese

Several varieties of lactose-free milk and lactose-free dairy available may be suitable for your German Shepherd. However, when choosing a non-dairy milk substitute, bear in mind that many lactose-free products contain added ingredients, e.g., sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial flavors.

If you decide to try your dog with almond milk, you will need to experiment first with a tiny amount. Soy milk products are generally safe for most dogs. However, excessive amounts are not recommended:

“Excessive amounts have been shown to increase estrogen-like activity and can lower thyroid levels.” 

Wag!

Soy milk is also high in calories and sugar, leading to weight gain and tooth decay. You must also carefully check the ingredients and make sure the product does not contain xylitol (sweetener) which is poisonous to dogs.

Remember, if you wish to feed lactose-free dairy foods to your German Shepherd, only feed small amounts in moderation, and make sure you speak to your vet if you have any questions or concerns about any lactose-free products.

My take on the subject is this – there would have to be a perfect reason why I would want to feed my dog lactose-free foods as your dog will thrive perfectly well on a healthy diet suitable for a German Shepherd without them. Just my two cents worth!

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in German Shepherds

Lactose passes undigested through your dog’s GI tract and into their large intestine, which draws in water, causing diarrhea. The fermentation of bacteria in their colon may also cause gas and general discomfort.

German Shepherds lactose intolerant will experience the same acute intestinal symptoms as humans suffering from the same condition. The symptoms are not life-threatening unless they continue for an extended time, although this is rare.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance in German Shepherds are:

  • Abdominal pain and bloat
  • Dehydration or excessive thirst
  • Diarrhea and flatulence
  • Vomiting and weakness
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss

Some symptoms may start as soon as 30 minutes to 2 hours from your dog consuming the milk product.

How Do You Treat Lactose Intolerance in German Shepherds?

The initial treatment of lactose intolerance in German Shepherds consists of eliminating the offending dairy product and then wait for the lactose to pass through your dog’s digestive system. Try to settle your dog’s stomach by feeding a bland diet, e.g., cooked chicken and white rice.

Bland foods are highly recommended for treating your dog’s tummy troubles. You can also find other ideas and helpful advice on what to feed a German Shepherd with diarrhea.

Make sure that your dog does not become dehydrated due to diarrhea. Fortunately, most dogs recover within a couple of days. However, diarrhea left too long can lead to dehydration. You must contact your veterinarian for advice if diarrhea persists, as they may recommend your German Shepherd fasts for 24 hours to help speed up recovery.

When a dog becomes dehydrated, blood flow is reduced, reducing oxygen delivery to organs and tissue. There is also a loss of electrolytes, such as sodium, chloride, and potassium, which all have important functions.

In severe cases of dog dehydration, the shortage of fluids can lead to kidney and other organ failure and then death. You don’t need to worry, though, as this is quite rare. However, these are the symptoms of dehydration to look out for, courtesy of the American Kennel Club:

  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Vomiting, with or without diarrhea, or loss of appetite
  • Reduced energy levels and lethargy
  • Panting or a dry nose
  • Sunken, dry-looking eyes
  • Dry, sticky gums or thick saliva

Dogs suffering from diarrhea will need to keep their fluid levels up to replace the extra water they’re losing in their poop. Make sure your German Shepherd has access to water at all times and that they are drinking throughout the day.

A good idea is to let them lick ice cubes which can also help with rehydration. You can also use a dog water fountain such as the Petsafe Drinkwell from Amazon that entices your dog to drink. I like this one as it’s two-tiered and is the perfect size for German Shepherds. This one also includes carbon filters to remove bad tastes and odors from the water.

Once the symptoms have gone, gently reintroduce your dog to their regular diet over the next few days. If there is no improvement with the bland diet after a day or so, and diarrhea persists, you should visit your veterinarian for advice and eliminate any other cause.

What is the Difference Between Lactose Intolerance and a Dairy Allergy?

Many people get confused between German Shepherd food intolerance and a German Shepherd food allergy, and they are not the same thing. We have learned that lactose intolerance is when your dog has insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy foods.

In contrast, an allergy to a certain food is an over-response or hypersensitivity by your German Shepherd’s immune system to a usually harmless food. For example, a milk allergy is caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in milk, or a food allergy can be caused by the protein in fish, lamb, or eggs.

Your dog’s immune system reacts to the food as if it were under attack and tries to defend itself against the threat with antibodies. When the allergen (food in this case) comes into contact with the antibodies, histamine is released, which causes inflammation, e.g., redness, swelling, and itching.

Other symptoms of a food allergy in dogs include vomiting and diarrhea, ear infections, and red and watery eyes. An allergic reaction doesn’t happen the first time a dog is exposed to the allergen but develops in time, and sometimes this can take years.

Some German Shepherds may suddenly develop an allergy to a specific type of protein, e.g., beef or chicken, and may subsequently have to change that protein source in their diet to one they have never eaten before, such as novel protein sources like duck or venison.

To find out a ton more info on German Shepherd’s allergies, I wrote an in-depth article including causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention tips that you may find helpful.

Final Thoughts

Not all German Shepherds are lactose intolerant. Although dairy foods are not an essential part of our German Shepherd’s diet, if you wish to try your dog with any milk-based product, I’d recommend you try one type at a time.

Many dog owners use cheese cubes as training treats or feed a few tablespoons of milk with no ill effects, including myself.

It’s also wise to consult your veterinarian before introducing anything new into your German Shepherd’s diet, especially if they already have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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