Q: My dog drinks about a half-cup of organic milk (same as I drink) with his evening meal. He is a strong, healthy 10-year-old dog, and has never had any problems with arthritis or digestive troubles. My husband, though, is certain that milk is bad for dogs. I look at my dog and feel certain I’ve been doing things right; he looks great. Is there any reason to discontinue his milk?
We asked CJ Puotinen, a frequent contributor to WDJ, to answer this question. Puotinen is the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats.
A: Milk is a controversial food. Some pet nutritionists say milk and dairy products are perfect foods, while others blame them for every canine disorder from ear infections to cancer.
The truth lies somewhere in between. Raw, organically grown, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk straight from a healthy cow or goat can be an excellent food for dogs of every description. After all, it has been for thousands of years. Unfortunately, America’s supermarkets stopped selling raw, whole milk long ago. Supporters of the Campaign for Real Milk, a grassroots movement that advocates a return to humane, organic dairy farming, small-scale dairy food processing, and the sale of good-quality raw milk, documents many problems with America’s milk supply. Today’s dairy cattle are often raised in crowded conditions, fed inappropriate feed, and dosed with hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs that disrupt or alter the production of milk while leaving their residues in dairy products.
But that’s not all! Most of the organically grown milk and cream sold in America’s supermarkets and health food stores is ultrapasteurized and homogenized, which makes it an inappropriate food for dogs.
The two most common methods of pasteurization heat milk to 145 degrees F for 30 minutes (low temperature, long time) or to 161 degrees F for 15 seconds (high temperature, short time). Both methods kill nearly all the bacteria, yeast, molds, and enzymes in milk. Another method, ultra-pasteurization, was developed to give slow-selling products a longer shelf life. These products are heated to 280 degrees F or higher for at least two seconds and packaged in an aseptic atmosphere in sterilized containers. The high temperatures destroy proteins as well as enzymes and bacteria, giving these products a cooked taste.
Pasteurization, which is intended to kill harmful bacteria, is ineffective against drug-resistant strains of salmonella. In addition, pasteurization and ultrapasteurization alter milk’s amino acids, promote the rancidity of unsaturated fatty acids, and destroy vitamins and enzymes. In homogenization, jets of milk collide under high pressure, breaking fat molecules into tiny particles that remain distributed rather than floating to the top. These particles can enter the human and canine bloodstream, explaining why homogenization has been blamed by some researchers for heart disease and circulatory problems.
In most states, the sale of raw, whole milk is illegal, but some states allow raw milk to be sold for pet use, and some allow consumers to buy raw milk directly from dairy farms. Your local health food store may be able to help you find a supplier, as can the Campaign for Real Milk.
Fortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers raw milk cheese to be safe if properly aged. Connoisseurs agree that the world’s finest cheeses are made from raw rather than pasteurized milk, and some have an international following. Raw cheeses are available in specialty shops, health food stores, and a few upscale markets. Warning: Some are incredibly smelly – and expensive! Your health food store is a likely source of mild, affordable raw milk cheeses that hold their shape when cut and make high-reward treats for dogs.