What Percentage of Dogs Are Allergic to Dairy? (Plus Difference vs. Lactose Intolerance)

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Many dog owners have witnessed their dogs experience adverse reactions after consuming certain foods or ingredients. Food allergies and intolerances appear to be relatively common in the canine population, with many dogs suffering from food-induced allergic symptoms.

Among the extensive list of potential dietary triggers, dairy products frequently emerge as one of the top allergens for our canine friends.

But exactly what percentage of dogs have an actual allergy or sensitivity to dairy ingredients? Examining the scientific research can provide some insights into the prevalence of dairy allergies in dogs.

While estimates vary across different studies, dairy consistently ranks near the top of the list when it comes to the most common food allergens for dogs. Understanding the prevalence and risks of dairy allergies in dogs can help owners and veterinarians better manage any food-related health issues.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key research investigating dairy allergies in our canine companions.

  1. Dairy Allergies in Dogs
  2. Dairy Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance
  3. Signs and Symptoms
  4. Diagnosing Dairy Allergies
  5. Dairy Free Diets
  6. Selecting Dairy Free Treats and Foods
  7. Prevalence Across Breeds
  8. Tips for Dairy Allergic Dogs
Jack Russell Terrier eating ice creame cone. What Percentage of Dogs Are Allergic to Dairy? (Plus Difference vs. Lactose Intolerance)

Study Findings on Dairy Allergies in Dogs

In one notable study, researchers reviewed documented cases of food allergies in 297 dogs with symptoms of cutaneous adverse food reactions (CAFRs).

CAFRs involve the skin and include presentations such as itchy skin, chronic ear inflammation, and skin infections that recur on certain diets. The study included dogs exhibiting these CAFR symptoms in which an underlying food allergy was suspected.

To identify the culprit food allergens, the dogs underwent intradermal testing, elimination diet trials, or controlled food challenges. These are all standard diagnostic approaches used to pinpoint specific allergenic ingredients.

Out of the 297 dogs showing CAFR symptoms, the researchers found that 51 of them, or 17%, reacted positively during allergy testing to dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, or other dairy ingredients.

This placed dairy as the second most prevalent food allergen for the dogs in the study, behind only beef which affected 34% of the canines reviewed.

Other less common food allergens identified through testing of this population included chicken (15% of dogs), wheat (13%), lamb (5%), soy (6%), corn (4%), eggs (4%), pork (2%), fish (2%), and rice (2%).

So while dairy was not the single most common food allergen, it did top the list as the second leading cause of CAFRs and allergic reactions in the dogs included in this research sample.

Dairy Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance

It’s important to understand the difference between a true dairy allergy and lactose intolerance when it comes to adverse reactions to dairy products in dogs.

A dairy allergy stems from the immune system identifying milk proteins as a threat. This triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals in the body that lead to an allergic response.

Symptoms are usually skin-related (itching, hives, etc.) but can also include vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, dairy allergies can even provoke life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.

Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is due to an inability to properly digest the main carbohydrate (sugar) found in dairy products called lactose. When lactose cannot be broken down, it draws extra fluid into the intestines via osmosis. This results in loose stool or diarrhea.

With lactose intolerance, the immune system is not involved. No swelling, itching, or other hallmark allergic responses occur. The issues are confined to digestive upset and discomfort after consuming dairy products.

Some dogs may have temporary, transitory lactose intolerance as puppies before gut enzymes fully develop.

True dairy allergies involve the immune system reacting to the proteins casein and whey. Lactose intolerance only involves the lactose sugars. An elimination diet is still a valid test for both, but the symptoms and mechanisms differ.

Down the line, reintroducing dairy will provoke an immune reaction in a dairy allergy, and digestive troubles with lactose intolerance.

Being aware of the distinction between these two conditions can help owners understand the type of dairy issue impacting their dog. Consulting with a veterinarian is the best way to correctly diagnose a canine dairy allergy versus lactose intolerance.

Once identified, following the ideal management plan can greatly improve the dog’s health and comfort.

Signs and Symptoms of Dairy Allergies in Dogs

What signs and symptoms might a dairy-allergic dog exhibit after consuming milk, cheese, or other dairy products?

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased flatulence
  • Skin irritation and itching
  • Ear inflammation
  • Paw licking/chewing
  • Face rubbing
  • Skin infections

Essentially, dairy allergies in dogs can manifest both through skin-related symptoms as well as gastrointestinal issues.

An allergic reaction occurs because the dog’s immune system overreacts and sees the dairy proteins as a harmful invader. This spurs an inflammatory response that produces the observable symptoms.

Dogs may react to the proteins in either the whey or casein elements found in dairy products. Pasteurization does not remove the allergy-triggering proteins.

Fortunately, high-quality dairy alternatives like coconut milk and almond milk are available for dogs with dairy sensitivities.

Diagnosing Dairy Allergies

So how do veterinarians actually go about diagnosing a suspected dairy allergy in dogs?

Typically, they will recommend putting the dog on an elimination diet trial. This involves removing all dairy products from the dog’s diet for several weeks to see if symptoms improve.

If the concerning symptoms do resolve during the dairy restriction, this provides a clue that dairy may be the culprit. However, elimination diets alone are not sufficient to definitively diagnose a food allergy.

After an elimination period, controlled food challenges are necessary. In this process, dairy ingredients are methodically reintroduced to the dog’s diet in a gradual, stepwise manner under the veterinarian’s supervision.

Return or worsening of symptoms during the challenge helps confirm that dairy is the problematic allergen triggering the dog’s adverse reactions. Skin tests and blood tests can also sometimes be utilized to detect antibodies to specific food allergens like dairy.

Importance of Dairy-Free Diets

Identifying and addressing food intolerances is important for dogs’ health and quality of life. Allergic reactions can range from mild to extremely uncomfortable for our pets.

Severe flare-ups may require urgent veterinary care and medications to manage, which is stressful for both dogs and owners. And chronic mild allergic symptoms can negatively impact a dog’s skin, coat, digestive function, and overall well-being.

That’s why paying attention to common allergen sources like dairy can facilitate faster diagnoses and treatment for dogs exhibiting signs of food-related allergies.

This allows veterinarians and pet owners to implement appropriate elimination diets and avoid the problematic ingredients.

Since dairy ranks near the top of common food allergens for dogs, eliminating dairy products from the diet is often one of the first steps. For dogs confirmed to have a dairy allergy, maintaining a strict dairy-free nutritional plan is imperative.

This provides the best opportunity for the dog’s symptoms to significantly improve or resolve completely. Relapses are likely if the dog is re-exposed to dairy through treats, chews, tablets, or by consuming human foods containing dairy.

Veterinary-prescribed hypoallergenic diets may be recommended, which are formulated with hydrolyzed proteins to avoid reactions. These specialty diets offer balanced nutrition for dogs requiring dairy-free and other allergen-limited nutrition.

Selecting Dairy-Free Treats and Foods

What should dog owners look out for to best accommodate a dairy restriction for their pup?

Reading pet food labels very carefully is crucial to identify dairy-based ingredients that should be avoided. Watch for terms like:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Whey
  • Casein
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Custard
  • Curds

The level of avoidance required varies based on the individual dog. Some may only react to milk, while others may need total restriction of any product containing any dairy derivatives at all.

Providing tasty dairy-free treats and foods helps owners show their dog love and care through diet during the adjustment period. Brands like Sojos offer grain-free and dairy-free options. Meat-based treats without dairy are ideal.

Natural snacks like apple slices, bananas, carrots, and green beans can provide healthy alternatives. Homemade baked treats using dairy-free ingredients are another option. Just be sure to check with your veterinarian about any diet changes.

The good news is that with vigilance and proactive management, most dogs with dairy sensitivities can enjoy long-term improved comfort on a nutritionally balanced dairy-free diet.

Prevalence Across Breeds

Do dairy allergies in dogs seem to be more common in certain breeds compared to others?

Some research indicates that German Shepherds may have an increased risk of developing food allergies, including to dairy products.

One study found food allergies in 17.6% of German Shepherds with allergic skin disease and ear infections. However, experts note conflicting evidence on breed predispositions.

Overall the current research suggests dairy allergies can affect any breed of dog. More studies across larger groups of dogs are still needed to further investigate if meaningful breed tendencies exist when it comes to canine dairy allergies.

Tips for Dairy-Allergic Dogs

Caring for a dog with a dairy allergy does require diligence, but is very manageable with these tips:

  • Work closely with your veterinarian to identify allergenic ingredients and ensure nutritional needs are met with alternative foods.
  • Read all pet food labels extremely carefully to watch for hidden dairy products.
  • Stick to treats and chews confirmed to be dairy-free.
  • Supervise your dog closely on walks and outside to prevent scavenging of unknown food items.
  • Communicate your dog’s allergy to anyone caring for or feeding your dog, including pet sitters, boarders, daycare staff, and groomers.
  • Look for pet-friendly menus and dairy-free options when bringing your dog to cafes, breweries, or outdoor restaurants.
  • Focus on the positive of your dog feeling so much better without dairy!

By avoiding the problematic allergen, most dogs experience a significant improvement in chronic symptoms and skin/coat condition. Paying attention to dairy can make a big difference for your dog’s happiness and wellness.


In summary, while the exact percentage varies across different research studies and populations, dairy allergies clearly impact a substantial portion of dogs experiencing food-induced allergic reactions.

Dairy ranks among the top allergens for dogs alongside beef, chicken, and wheat. When a dog presents with possible food allergy symptoms like itching, gastrointestinal upset, ear issues, or skin infections, dairy should be one of the first ingredients eliminated.

Confirming and addressing dairy sensitivities through an elimination diet and challenge trials can greatly improve a dog’s quality of life. At minimum, hundreds of thousands of dogs in the U.S. likely suffer from dairy allergies.

Understanding the prevalence and risks allows veterinarians and owners to catch and manage dairy issues early. With proper care and nutritional adjustments, most dairy-allergic dogs can thrive despite this common canine food intolerance.

Kevin William

Kevin grew up with a female West Highland White Terrier named Murphy who was always by his side. Kevin currently lives in New York state with his family including a Labrabull (Labrador Retriever Pit Bull) named Lily.

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