Giving Milk to a Golden Retriever: Is It Okay?

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Often navigating the world of what is acceptable for our Golden Retrievers to eat and what is not can be challenging at times. Milk is one of those products that Golden Retriever owners are often unsure of. After all, puppies drink milk from their mothers, and milk is often touted as a healthy food option.

So, is milk a yes, no, or maybe food? Specifically, can you give a Golden Retriever milk? 

In general, it is OK to occasionally give Golden Retrievers a SMALL quantity of milk if they have no intestinal issues consuming it. However, milk can cause intestinal problems if given in large amounts or to those Golden Retrievers that are lactose intolerant. 

So, it depends or “maybe.” If your Golden Retriever has no issue tolerating milk, then a small amount is no consequence. However, if the dog shows any signs of stomach distress, then the answer is no.

However, watch the amounts given. Often, it may not be lactose intolerance, but rather, you’ve given the dog too much. Beware that large quantities of milk may cause symptoms similar to lactose intolerance.

However, there are other reasons you want to limit the quantity of milk given, even if your Golden Retriever has no issues consuming it.

How much milk you can give a Golden Retriever and why is discussed next. 

How Much Milk Can I Give a Golden Retriever?

Milk is not toxic, so there are no worries about poisoning your Golden Retriever if given milk. However, even if your dog can tolerate milk well, you should limit the amount given.

As a whole, one or two tablespoons of milk given as an occasional treat is fine, provided your Golden Retriever has no intestinal issues with milk consumption. However, milk is high in fat, calories, and sugars. Too much may increase their risk for obesity or pancreatitis, so keep milk amounts low. 

So, even milk tolerant dogs must be cautious – both in terms of it being both a high calorie and fat-dense food.

Consider whole fat milk. One cup has roughly 150 calories and 8 grams of fat and protein. 

Beware that too much milk can significantly increase calories, putting your Golden Retriever at risk for obesity. And obesity in dogs predisposes them to a host of potential health issues. 

Hold up. If you’re interested in how to know if your Golden Retriever is becoming overweight or obese (and the potential health consequences for such a weight gain), then check out this article I wrote: 

A Fat Golden Retriever? (How To Know and What to Do)

But, calories are not the only pitfall. Whole milk, ice cream, sour cream, and most cheeses are very high in fat, and a high-fat diet can lead to pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas and commonly occurs in dogs. It can be acute or chronic and mild, moderate or severe. 

According to VCA Hospitals, The exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown. However, it may be triggered in some cases by a fatty meal or corticosteroid administration.

So, what about lower-fat milk options? Skim milk, in contrast, has 89 calories and 0.2 grams of fat with 8 grams of protein and 2% about 102 calories and 2.4 grams of fat with 8 grams of protein. 

So, while low or skim milk helps reduce calories and fat for Golden Retrievers, the amount should still be limited. Why?

Consider that milk products are one of the primary food intolerances in dogs. Most dogs don’t tolerate milk well. Plus, skim or no-fat milk still has plenty of lactose.

Cheese and yogurt can make better options in SMALL quantities, as some dogs can better digest those dairy products.

The main benefit of cheese is it’s low in lactose. However, cheese is still high in fat and calories, so be cautious with how much you feed your Golden Retriever.

However, plain yogurt and cheese can still contain higher fats, sugars, and salt, which may not be the healthiest options for the reasons discussed earlier. 

In the table below, I list the most common dairy products with fat, calories, and lactose. Whole milk leads the list for containing the highest amount of fat and lactose.

Please note that these are estimates only. Actual content can vary by product, brand, or recipe. The intent is to illustrate how most common dairy products contain high calories, fat, and lactose.

ProductServing sizeCaloriesFat (grams)Lactose (grams)
Whole Milk1 cup1497.912 – 13
Skim Milk1 cup830.212 – 13
Ice Cream½ cup1377.52 – 6 (varies by brand)
Plain Low Fat Yogurt1 cup1433.55 – 10
Sour Cream2 tbsp484.60.7
2% Cottage Cheese½ cup1074.73
Swiss Cheese1 ounce1118.8< 0.1
Cheddar Cheese1 ounce 1159.4< 0.1
Source: Calories And Fat / Source: Lactose

So, the key takeaway is this. If your Golden Retriever has no issues with milk products, a tablespoon or two on occasion will not be an issue. However, refrain from giving milk too often and in large quantities. 

And, if your Golden Retriever is showing any intolerance, then it goes without saying that any amount is too much.

Lactose intolerance is discussed next. What it is and the signs that your dog has it. 

Are Golden Retrievers Lactose Intolerant? 

Lactose intolerance can range from mild to severe and everywhere in between. Therefore, it’s essential to know the signs of intolerance and beware that even mild symptoms most likely indicate a sensitivity to lactose. 

If your Golden Retriever is lactose intolerant, there will be typical signs and symptoms of intolerance.

In general, Golden Retrievers may or may not be lactose intolerant. Lactase is an enzyme naturally produced by the body. Some Golden Retrievers produce it; others do not. Consequently, if your Golden Retriever does not produce this enzyme, it cannot break down lactose, making it lactose intolerant.

Most dairy products contain lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose is broken down in the body by an enzyme called lactase.

If the body does not have the enzyme lactase or only minimal levels, you cannot break down the lactose and are lactose intolerant. If lactase is not present in humans and dogs alike, the body cannot produce it. 

So, some Golden Retrievers are lactose intolerant; others are not.

Suppose your Golden Retriever does not have lactase. In that case, its body cannot produce the enzyme, and it will be lactose intolerant. In this case, any dairy is too much dairy. 

How Can I Tell if My Golden Retriever Is Lactose Intolerant?

Often it is difficult to tell if your Golden Retriever is lactose intolerant. Issues can arise from the dog being given too much dairy, or it may have been some other food or food additive in the dairy that is the problem. So, how exactly can you tell if a Golden Retriever is lactose intolerant?

To determine if your Golden Retriever is lactose intolerant, remove all dairy for a week or more, and then reintroduce a SMALL quantity. Shortly after reintroducing dairy, if the dog experiences gas, loose stools, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or indigestion, it most likely has lactose intolerance. 

Notice I said “small” amount – this is because whole milk and most dairy products have a lot of fat and sugar, and consuming a large amount can aggravate the intestinal tract causing the symptoms discussed.

Frequently, it’s the overindulgence or quantity, not necessarily lactose intolerance, that might be the cause. So, regardless of whether your dog shows intolerance or not, keep the amount and frequency of dairy low.

Obesity and pancreatic disease are far worse for your dog and much more difficult (and costly) to treat than simply providing other healthy treat options to your dogs, like certain fruits and vegetables. 

If you opt to feed some dairy to your dog, then choose ones that are lower in calories, fat, and lactose (the table in the next section compares various dairy products). Cheddar is a decent option and one that we give to our Golden Retriever as a special treat in small amounts on occasion. 

For other good options, consider healthy fruits and vegetables. But, again, keep quantities low and select healthy choices. 

Consider reading the article below to determine which fruits and vegetables are best for your dog (and the critical ones to avoid, such as grapes, which are highly toxic to Golden Retrievers.)

Recommended reading:

Golden Retrievers: Can They Eat Vegetables?

Can Golden Retrievers Eat Fruit? (Good Fruit Options Versus Bad)

The Golden Retriever’s Kryptonite: Why Are Grapes So Bad?

Can a Golden Retriever Be Allergic to Milk?

Lactose intolerance is your Golden Retriever’s inability to break down lactose. N contrast, a food allergy is an overreaction of the dog’s immune system and the production of antibodies to a usually tolerated food. 

Allergies are typically more severe.

Although rare, Golden Retrievers can be allergic to milk. Symptoms can include itching and rash, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, hyperactivity, malaise, dry skin, hot spots, bald patches, or even aggression in some instances. Allergies commonly develop as a reaction to the protein found in milk.

The culprit in most food allergies for dogs is most commonly the proteins in those foods. Common allergens can include beef, lamb, chicken, chicken eggs, soy or wheat (gluten), and dairy products.

Cow’s milk is most problematic in dogs with allergies to milk, although allergies to milk in dogs are rare. 

However, while food proteins are the most common cause, other food ingredients can cause hypersensitivity, i.e., a mild allergic reaction. 

How Can I Tell if My Golden Retriever Is Allergic to Milk? 

Diagnosing a milk allergy in your Golden Retriever is difficult primarily because there is no reliable test to confirm the presence of a food allergy. Diagnosis is usually obtained through an elimination diet, specifically the elimination of milk products and dairy.  

Yes, blood tests do exist but often give false positives. 

Saliva and blood tests for food allergies in dogs do not reliably distinguish between healthy and allergic dogs. They should not be used for the diagnosis of food allergy! The use of these blood and saliva tests could result in the false identification of many common foods as allergens. Source

So, we’re left with the elimination diet as the best tool

In an elimination diet, the suspected food allergen is removed from the diet for eight to twelve weeks and then reintroduced for 7 to 14 days.

Suppose symptoms disappear when the allergen is removed and reappears upon being introduced. In that case, an allergy to that food is confirmed. 

However, the dog is often fed a combination of ingredients, so it can be challenging to pinpoint the primary allergen.

For example, beef-based dog food contains many ingredients. When eliminating the food, you are eliminating those other ingredients as well. Therefore, it may be one of those other additives that are the culprit, not the beef. 

Therefore, ALL ingredients that your Golden Retriever has eaten in the past must be eliminated. Yes, all. You can see the difficulty now in diagnosing a specific food allergen. 

To determine a milk allergy, remove all dairy products for eight to twelve weeks and then reintroduce it. If your dog’s symptoms disappear and reappear upon ingesting dairy products, it may be allergic to milk proteins. 

Beware, however, that many dog products (including foods, supplements, and treats) contain milk and dairy products. Be sure to read the ingredient list to ensure you’re eliminating all milk sources if you suspect an allergy to milk.

The best advice is to talk with your veterinarian first before needlessly putting your dog on an elimination diet. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine another possible cause for your Golden Retriever’s allergic symptoms and if an elimination diet is needed. 

Final Thoughts

If your dog has no issues consuming milk, giving one or two tablespoons as an infrequent (as in rare) treat is fine. However, whole milk is high in calories, fat, and lactose.

There are far better options to provide to your Golden Retriever, such as cheddar cheese if dairy is given or, better yet, small quantities of good fruits and vegetables. 

Keep in mind, however, that things add up.

A small amount of cheese here and there, then a lick of ice cream and a little milk, can pose problems when added up over a day. Not only in terms of lactose but also calories, fat, and sugar.

Obesity, pancreatic, and diabetes are all health issues that can have dire and costly consequences.

Therefore, always be mindful of what and how much your Golden Retriever is eating. And always be on the lookout for any adverse reactions when giving your Golden Retriever milk or dairy products. 


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