Are Dairy Substitutes Safe for My Pet?

September 27, 2018

a cat on a kitchen counter

Nowadays, the dairy aisle at the grocery store has an incredible amount of non-dairy options. Almond milk, coconut yogurt, soy ice cream—the popularity of dairy alternative products has skyrocketed over the last several years. People are going dairy-free for a variety of reasons: allergies, lactose intolerance, adherence to a vegan or plant-based diet or as part of the ASPCA’s Factory Farm Detox

While we’re all for the recent rise of dairy alternatives, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) has been receiving calls from concerned pet parents asking one question: if dairy-free is safe for me, is it also safe for my pet? Because let’s be honest, it’s hard not to let your four-legged friend help you finish your ice cream or lick the last of the milk out of your cereal bowl. APCC has all of the information you need to keep your pets happy and healthy in the wake of this rising dietary trend.

Non-Dairy Ingredients

The first step to keeping your pet safe is reading the full ingredient lists on your favorite dairy-free products. 

Dairy alternatives are often derived from: nuts (almond, cashew and macadamia), cereal (oat and rice), legumes (soy and pea) and seeds (flax and hemp), as well as coconut, potato and avocado. 

Once you know the main ingredient, don’t forget to check the detailed ingredient list. Some non-dairy products will be fortified with vitamins and minerals, as well as having emulsifiers, stabilizers and added sweetener. 

So, What’s the Problem?

Certain ingredients commonly found in dairy-free products can pose a problem for your pet. The ingredients you’ll want to avoid at all costs are chocolate, macadamia and avocado

  • Chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, tremors and seizures in dogs. Make sure to keep any products containing chocolate far out of paws’ reach! 
  • Macadamia nuts can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and elevated body temperature in dogs.
  • Avocados, which contain a toxin called persin, can cause cardiovascular damage and death in birds and possibly rabbits. Horses, donkeys and ruminants (including sheep and goats) can develop swollen heads and necks when they ingest avocados.   

It’s also important to check what sweetener is present in your dairy alternative products. Xylitol, a common sugar substitute, can cause life-threatening issues such as low blood sugar and liver injury in dogs. Luckily, xylitol is not commonly used in dairy alternative products—but you should always double check, just in case.

Even if all the ingredients check out safety-wise, it’s still better to give non-dairy products to your pets in moderation. Many people foods can still lead to symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea for a variety of reasons. Remember to always check with your veterinarian before changing anything major in your pet’s diet.  

For more information concerning potential pet dangers, consider downloading the APCC mobile app today

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances or ingested something dangerous, contact your veterinarian or call Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 immediately.