The dangers of raw milk: why it isn’t healthy or safe for your pet

Many pet owners are lured into the notion that raw milk is a healthier alternative for their pets. The idea of ‘natural’ and ‘unprocessed’ foods has become a trend, but when it comes to raw milk, it’s a harmful one. Whether it is cow’s milk, goat’s milk or milk from any other animal, feeding raw milk to your pets post-weaning can pose serious health risks. Here is why:

Why Not to Feed Milk

Once the dog or cat is weaned, the body’s ability to digest lactose in milk drops off significantly due to a decrease in lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose in milk) production and an increase in amylase production (the enzyme that digests starch) necessary to digest solid food. 

Milk from animals other than the species ingesting the milk also has a vastly different makeup. For example, cow’s milk contains a much higher level of lactose, with a very low level of fat and protein compared to dog or cat milk, meaning they are not “biologically appropriate” for cats and dogs and it is likely to cause illness and nutritional issues.

Post weaning, milk should not form part of your pet’s diet as it typically causes diarrhoea or weight gain.

The Problem with Raw Milk

Raw milk refers to unpasteurised milk. Pasteurisation is a process by which the milk is heated to kill harmful bacteria. It doesn’t affect the nutritional quality of milk. 

As raw milk does not undergo pasteurisation, it still carries harmful pathogens. Some on these being Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E.coli, Listeria, Brucella, and Salmonella. These pathogens have been linked to severe and life-threatening diseases such as Guillian-Barré Syndrome resulting in paralysis – to learn more about this condition in animals, called Acute polyradiculoneuritis or APN, check out my blog post here. Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome has also been linked to the consumption of raw milk which results in kidney failure, stroke, and death.

The presence of bacteria in raw milk is unpredictable, therefore one can drink milk or give it to their pets for many years and not get sick – however this does not mean it is safe, or will never be contaminated. Countless food safety organisations have condemned the drinking of raw milk in humans and conversely, pets, and in many states and countries it is illegal to purchase or sell raw milk for consumption. From 1998 to 2011, there have been 148 outbreaks of disease due to the consumption of raw milk or raw milk products that were reported for the Center for Disease Control in the USA. Collectively, these have resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalisations and 2 deaths. These illnesses were caused by E.coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Listeria. And yes, your dog can get sick from Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Beyond all of this, there is no benefit to drinking raw milk.

The Problem with Raw Goat’s Milk

Goat’s milk has the same amount of lactose as cow’s milk therefore the myth that it’s better tolerated in pets is false. There is also demonstrated cross-reactivity between cow’s milk proteins and goat’s milk, making it no ‘less allergenic’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ compared to cow’s milk. 

Goats along with sheep, pigs, and cows can all pass on brucellosis – raw goat’s milk is no safer than raw cow’s milk as it has the potential to contain Brucella. Products made from raw milk such as yoghurts, ice cream, kefir, some cheeses etc, are all equally as dangerous.

Many pet owners believe giving goat’s milk contains probiotics that improve the gut health of their dogs and cats. However, the bacteria in raw milk are not probiotic at all, and for strains of bacteria to be probiotic must be from the target species to be effective – meaning if you give a dog some goat’s milk it isn’t going to necessarily contain the probiotics a dog will benefit from. Why? Because your dog is not a baby goat. 

Key Takeaways

There is no benefit to feeding any milk (raw or pasteurised) to pets. Raw and pasteurised milk is nutritionally the same – pasteurisation does not change the nutritional makeup of milk but only kills deadly bacteria rendering the product safe to consume.

Feeding raw milk to pets involves a significant health risk, with zero benefit. Absence of illness does not mean a product is safe – it only takes one time for the product to be contaminated to result in serious harm.

If you are looking for a probiotic benefit, choose a veterinary product designed specifically for your pet’s species and condition.

References & Further Reading

Andersson, I. and R. Oste. 1995. Nutritional quality of heat processed liquid milk, p. 279-307. In P. F. Fox (ed.), Heat-induced changes in milk, International Dairy Federation, Brussel, Belgium.

Efigenia, M., B. Povoa, and T. Moraes-Santos. 1997. Effect of heat treatment on the nutritional quality of milk proteins. International Dairy Journal. 7:609-612.

Hayes, M. C. and K. J. Boor. 2001. Raw milk and fluid milk products, p. 59-76. In J. L. Steele and E. H. Marth (ed.), Applied Dairy Microbiology, Marcel Decker, Inc., New York, NY.

Oliver, S. P., B. M. Jayarao, and R. A. Almeida. 2005. Foodborne pathogens in milk and the dairy farm environment: food safety and public health implications. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. 2:115-119.

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