I was hanging out on Google+ earlier and came across an argument about dogs and yogurt. Someone called someone else a bad dog person (they did use stronger wording than that…) for giving their dog yogurt and after that it was pretty much mud been slung both ways. I didn’t get involved there but here’s what I think.
It is true that dogs are lactose intolerant, although different dogs have different sensitivity levels. But as a rule they should not be given milk as it can cause diarrhea, gas and discomfort. The argument however was specifically about whether it was bad dog parenting to give them yogurt because of this intolerance to milk. There was also a strong chorus of supporters saying how dogs get cheese as treats and are fine. Personally I am not a huge fan of the cheese treats, as there are healthier options your dog will like just as much if not more, but it’s not the worst thing out there either, so I won’t get into that. So let’s focus just on yogurt.
Yogurt can be a great addition to your dog’s diet for multiple reasons as long as they are not obviously highly sensitive to it. So if your dog runs out with diarrhea every time you give him a spoonful of yogurt or some cheese, don’t give him any. But if he tolerates small quantities well, the right kind of yogurt can be very beneficial. Yogurt with active cultures can actually help calm sensitive stomachs for those dogs that like to eat anything and everything they find out in the yard (Oliver), and it works to lessen noxious gas eruptions that can clear out a room (Oliver), as well as help calm skin conditions, and just keep your dog more regular. Just don’t give too much of it, a spoonful or two is enough at each meal (scale spoon to size – teaspoon for little dogs, tablespoon for big dogs). For picky eaters it has the additional benefit of making the food much more interesting, you can even hide some not so tasty medicinal treats with it. Although that doesn’t always work… one of my dogs could smell meds through yogurt and would then just avoid the whole meal. I guess tactics on getting a dog to take his meds is going to be another topic for later. And speaking of medicine, if your dog is ever on antibiotics, yogurt will help build back his own defenses and immune system by boosting the beneficial bacteria in his gut. So even if you do not want to make it a regular part of their diets, you can add it when they need that extra support.
But if you just don’t want to get into yogurt for whatever reason, or if your dog just doesn’t tolerate any milk products at all, then the other option is to look for probiotic supplements for your dog. There are several probiotic supplements now available specifically formulated for dogs. Common bacterial colonies include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Entercoccus faecium, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bacillus coagulans, and other bacteria that are also common in human supplements. The difference really is that pet supplements will often include (or at least you should look for one that does) a helpful combination of enzymes that help digestion along with the probiotics, so that your dog can get the most benefit from the supplement. An ideal supplement should have at least three bacterial strains and include enzymes such as protease, lipase, amylase, and peptidase. If your dog eats a raw meat diet then these enzymes are not necessary as he will get them from the meat, but for all the others they are beneficial, thus making probiotic + enzyme supplements preferable to yogurt.
Dogs who are generally healthy should receive a probiotic supplement once a day (check the label for instructions). Dogs who are taking antibiotics should get a higher dosage of probiotics during the duration of the antibiotic treatment, as well as for a week or two afterwards. Pets who are ill or undergoing prolonged stress should receive a concentrated probiotic/enzyme formula that contains three or more times the amount of a regular dosage, but please make sure to consult with your vet before starting on a concentrated regime.
You can buy the probiotic supplements in powder form and mix them with the dog food if you feed a wet diet. Or you can go the yogurt route. Choice is really yours.
What kind of yogurt to give
I mentioned before that not any kind of yogurt is good, and that’s actually quite important. Only give plain yogurt, look for one with as little sugar as possible, and make sure it has the beneficial bacteria and probiotics, ie active cultures added. Any fruit or berry or even vanilla yogurt just has unnecessary added sugar and flavorings that your dog won’t need (or miss). Sugar free yogurt has artificial sweeteners that can be quite bad for your dog so steer clear of those as well. You see a lot of advice online saying to give only non-fat yogurt, but that’s not actually good advice in my opinion. Whole yogurt is as natural as it can be. Manufacturers often add other chemicals and ingredients to make non-fat and low-fat products taste better, including adding a lot more sugar. If you are worried about your dog’s fat intake, make sure he is not getting fatty treats (cheese…) rather than skimp on the yogurt. Or give the probiotics in supplement form. So look for regular whole milk (preferably organic) plain yogurt and don’t go for fat free or low fat versions.
If your whole family likes yogurt, it might be a good idea to get a yogurt maker for your home, they cost anywhere from $16 to $70 and pay back themselves in no time. Most are very easy to use and you can find good ones from Amazon.com or Wal-Mart. Remember to buy the active cultures separately to add to your home made yogurt, Amazon at least carries them as well, both the human and the canine kind. Making your own means you know exactly what the ingredients are, and you can make healthy plain yogurt for your dog and flavored ones for the whole family.
Oliver is one of those dogs that will eat anything he gets his mouth on, especially outdoors. Well, except spinach and lettuce. I have yet to meet a big dog that likes lettuce. But grass, poop, berries, food scraps, dead rodents, all of things he loves to look for… and most of it not really that edible at least in my mind. He seems to have another opinion on that. Forgetting to close the kitchen trash can lid will lead to a huge mess and lots of detective work trying to figure out if he ate plastic or something else potentially dangerous. Every now and then he still manages to eat something that doesn’t agree with him when we go for walks. For him I first tried yogurt but soon figured out he was fairly intolerant to milk products and so switched to a supplement instead. It has helped him stay more regular and less gassy in general even when he doesn’t get into trouble eating something off the yard. And if this dog gets gas, the smell will clear out not just one room but the whole floor he is on, and occasionally pretty much the whole house. At least the smell made it easy to spot out the lactose intolerance. After about 6 months on probiotics though he hasn’t had diarrhea or gas issues at all.
Frisco, my very first lab, had a lot of skin issues due to allergies when I first got him and a combination of 2 tblsp of yogurt and fish oil combined with oatmeal shampoo at bath time, helped him to be itch free and made his coat shine beautifully. Eventually I figured out what in his diet he was allergic to but even after eliminating allergens whenever I would slack off on the yogurt and fish oil, I would fairly soon notice his skin getting drier and flakier again.