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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Is my pup lactose intolerant?

We have a three-month-old Jack Russell who enjoys a bowl of milk each morning. (He also has fresh water available at all times.)
However, he frequently has diarrhoea and when I rang the vet she said he was probably lactose intolerant and not to give him milk at all.
I have now seen a brand of lactose-free milk in the supermarket, 'Ario Lactofree'. Would this be suitable for puppies?
Mrs C Gadan, Uffculme, Devon

As I so often say, 'common things are common'. Puppies are very like children, exploring with their mouths whether in the house or outside, so a bout of diarrhoea may be as a result of eating something intentionally which has been fed to him, or through eating something which he should not have eaten.

Whenever a client asks for advice about a puppy who has diarrhoea, my first question is invariably, 'Are you giving him milk?' If the answer is 'yes' then I will, like your vet, advise leaving out the milk. If the diarrhoea stops then the milk lactose is indeed the likely cause of the problem. This can be tested by giving your puppy a bowl of the milk as before - if the diarrhoea recurs, then a lactose intolerance is likely.

If the diarrhoea continues after you have stopped giving milk, then it may be in response to a different component in his diet (whether that is the food you are feeding or something else he has found to eat). Alternatively, simply overloading your puppy's digestive system may be the cause - I call this greedy puppy syndrome! The first part of your puppy's life was involved in competing for a nipple to access the dam's milk, and then competing at the food bowl with his siblings. It is therefore quite an adjustment to find oneself living without the need to guzzle as much food as possible in one sitting, and the result of eating too much at once can be diarrhoea. Feeding small frequent meals will generally solve the problem.

Once a puppy has been weaned off his mother's milk, and is eating a diet balanced to meet all the needs of an active growing puppy, then there is not the same need to offer milk. The dog is not a social drinker like us: a bowl of fresh water will meet his needs, whereas milk is more of a food. I quickly learnt with my children when weaning them to solids to offer water with the food, and reserve milk until afterwards. Otherwise they filled up with milk because they were hungry, and then had a much reduced appetite for the meal proper.

I looked up Arla Lactofree on the internet, and it is indeed lactose-free cow's milk but, by that token, not bitch's milk which would be more appropriate and is available, usually as a powder to reconstitute. However, personally I would not worry about giving him milk because now that he has been weaned his nutritional needs will be met by a balanced solid diet, plus the bowl of fresh water he already has available.

Alison Logan, vet


  1. My dog gets diahorrea if I give her milk. Lots of dogs do. I would just give him water to drink. He should not need milk if he has a good diet, but you could always give him a plain bio-yoghurt (full fat), if you want to give him some other diary thing. They seem to be able to tolerate yoghurt usually but not milk.
    Julia Lewis

  2. Dogs shouldn't really be given milk, most dogs are lactose intolerant. A good alternative is a special milk made especially for dogs, it's called "Top Life", you can get it in your local supermarket for around 40p per carton. My cocker spaniel and german shepherd love it! You can also get the same make of milk for puppies, kittens and cats.
    Lynsey Mitchell
    Canine behaviourist.