Despite her fruit-inspired name, my Corgi, Peaches, loves cheese. Or maybe I should say she LOVES cheese. But when she begs for a taste of my Swiss cheese and crackers, I pause. Is Swiss cheese OK for her to eat? How about a little melted mozzarella off of a pizza? A handful of cheese curls?
Many dog owners face the same questions. Cheese seems like such a wholesome, innocent food; nutritionally sound and delicious. And our dogs love it. But there are so many types of cheese in the world — American, Muenster, provolone, Cotija, and the list goes on — how can we know for sure if it’s safe for our dogs?
So with Peaches’ full approval and support, I launched into a full-fledged cheese study. (It doesn’t hurt that I love cheese myself. It also doesn’t hurt that I live in the Dairy State. Basically, this research was a piece of cake — I mean cheesecake.)
Making Sense Of Cheese For Dogs
To learn more about the safety of cheese for adult dogs, I caught up with Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD, DACVN, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. And my first question was simple: Is cheese OK for dogs?
“For healthy dogs, yes, it’s OK, but calories can be a big problem,” Heinze says. “One ounce of most cheeses — one slice or a 1-inch cube or one string cheese — equals 90 calories, which is way too much for a small dog.”
She advises that dog treats should account for no more than 10 percent of our pets’ daily calorie intake.
“For a healthy, thin, young 10-pound dog, this means less than 35 calories per day, which isn’t much cheese,” Heinze says.
Pet obesity is a widespread issue, and monitoring of treats and calorie-counting are important for keeping our pets healthy and trim.
Common Reasons For Giving Cheese To Dogs
“Most cheese is probably best reserved in small amounts for training or giving meds when nothing else works, rather than being given regularly,” Heinze adds. “Fruits and veggies are much less likely to cause problems and they are lower in calories as well.”
Because it’s so tasty and beloved by dogs, many pet owners use it to disguise medication for their pets. For dogs who refuse to eat a pill, hiding the pill in a small piece of cheese can be an effective way to ensure that the medication is safely consumed.
When Dogs Can’t Have Cheese
In some cases, Heinze warns that using cheese to give medication isn’t a good idea.
“Cheese shouldn’t be used to give some antibiotics, such as doxycycline,” she says. The absorption of doxycycline may be reduced if dairy products are fed.
It’s natural to think that cheese is a wholesome, healthy food. And while cheese does offer some nutritional value — protein, for example — the nutritional benefits are negligible when you consider the very small amounts of cheese that you’ll be sharing with your adult dog.
Additionally, while cheese can be fed in small amounts to dogs of all ages, there are special considerations to keep in mind for older dogs.
“Senior dogs typically have lower energy needs and are more likely to have diseases [for which] we may want to keep fat or salt lower,” Heinze says.
Bad Cheese For Dogs
In general, cheese is OK for dogs, although there are some special cases to consider. “For some dogs, the fat and salt in cheese can be dangerous,” Heinze says.
“For instance, a dog with high levels of fat in the blood or a history of pancreatitis, or a dog with heart disease or high blood pressure that shouldn’t have high salt foods.”
Even though cheese contains lactose, which can cause upset stomachs in dogs, cheese usually isn’t the culprit behind digestive issues.
“While some dogs really don’t do well with milk sugar (lactose), most cheeses are pretty low in lactose compared to milk so we rarely see upset stomach from cheese,” Heinze adds.
Of course, the overall calories or fat content of a given cheese can make it impractical to feed to your dog.
“Mac and cheese is super high in calories and fat, so it would be hard to give a small dog much at all without overdoing it.” Heinze says. “Cheese Curls shouldn’t be eaten by people, much less dogs.”
And of course, some perfectly harmless cheeses are enhanced with additional ingredients that are harmful to dogs, which is something you’ll need to keep an eye on.
“Definitely avoid anything with onions, garlic, raisins, macadamia nuts, grapes or avocado,” Heinze says. All of those ingredients can be poisonous to dogs.
Another cheese it might be wise to have your dog skip is blue cheese, including Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton and others. The coloring in blue cheese is caused by Penicillium mold cultures.
Cheese Dogs Can Eat
When it comes to a “best” cheese for adult dogs with no known medical condition, many experts give the nod to cottage cheese, thanks to its high calcium content and comparatively lower calories (approximately 50 calories in a quarter-cup serving).
In and of itself, cream cheese shouldn’t pose any particular harm to dogs; however, many types of cream cheese are flavored with additional ingredients that are unsafe for dogs. Garlic with cream cheese spread is, of course, unsafe, but even many of the vegetable-flavored cream cheese spreads can contain onions and/or garlic, so should definitely be avoided for dogs of any age.
Similarly, Havarti cheese is occasionally embellished with additional flavors (including garlic), so its safety for dogs will depend on the individual ingredients.
Aged cheeses like cheddar (including sharp and mild), Swiss and Parmesan have particularly low levels of lactose, while feta and mozzarella have higher lactose content (although still minimal).
And then there’s goat cheese, made from goat’s milk, which contains less lactose than cow’s milk. For a lactose-sensitive dog, goat cheese can provide another low-lactose option.
Cheese In Moderation
Armed with our newfound knowledge, Peaches and I can now safely and happily navigate the confusing world of cheese and dog nutrition. I’m happy knowing that cheese, in moderation, is perfectly safe for Peaches, and Peaches is happy knowing that she can continue enjoying her favorite — or should I say FAVORITE — treat. It’s a win-win for all!
By: Samantha Johnson
Featured Image: Manuel Alvarez Alonso/iStock/Thinkstock