Loved for its creamy and mildly salty flavor, cheese is one of the most common food ingredients used in pasta, salads, bread spreads and sauces. But is this delicious dairy product safe for your pets, in small amounts? It is, as long as your pet isn't lactose-intolerant! Most varieties can be used as an occasional treat for animals that can healthfully consume dairy products.
Did You Know?
There are over 1,800 varieties of cheese produced in the world. One unique variety is churpi, which comes from Nepal and is said to be the hardest type of cheese.1,2
Where Does Cheese Come From?
Considering how cheese is so widely used around the world, it would come as no surprise that its use dates back to centuries ago — from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece. While its exact origins are not exactly clear, three possible processes may have led to the first-ever cheese product in the world:3
- Raw milk stored in containers made out of animal stomachs may have curdled after exposure to the leftover digestive enzyme, rennet
- Combining fruit juices with milk may have caused some curdling due to the acids
- The practice of salting curdled milk for preservation may have led to the discovery of cheese
Today, cheese is made in different ways, which also led to the production of numerous tasty types, including mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan, brie and cheddar, each with its own distinct texture and flavor. They are also used in different ways.4 But aside from its versatility and flavor, cheese can be used as treats, but treats (including cheese) should make up less than 10% of your pet's daily caloric intake.
Which Countries Are the Biggest Producers of Cheese?
The U.S. tops the list of the countries with the biggest production, with Wisconsin being hailed as the top state when it comes to producing cheese. It's even hailed as "America's Dairyland". Germany is at second place, followed by France and Italy.5
Have You Heard of This Antiaging Compound Found in Cheese?
Spermidine is a natural polyamine that's been linked to the stimulation of cytoprotective autophagy and macrophagy — two processes closely related to aging and recovery. The richest source of spermidine is culinary and medicinal mushrooms, but lesser amounts can also be found in fresh meats and other animal-based products, including aged cheddar cheese.6
In human studies, spermidine contributes to a lower overall mortality risk due to cardiovascular disease and cancer. This effect has been observed in animals, with spermidine extending both lifespan and health span. Spermidine also plays an important role in cell growth and proliferation, tissue regeneration, enzymatic modulation and other metabolic functions.7
The Calcium in Cheese May Help Support Skeletal Health
Cheese, just like milk, contains calcium, an essential mineral needed for bone maintenance, muscular contraction and nerve function.8,9 Two tablespoons of cottage cheese contain about 28 milligrams of calcium.10 For pets, calcium is important for supporting growth and development, especially for puppies and kittens.
Cheese Also Contains Protein
While protein is often found in animal-based products, such as beef, chicken and eggs, it may also be found in cheese — with two tablespoons of cottage cheese containing approximately 3 grams of protein.11 Protein plays a crucial role in preserving muscle mass, slowing down age-related muscle wasting and controlling growth and differentiation in your pet's body. It is also a key player in transporting molecules, generating movement and transmitting nerve impulses.12
Cheese Provides Fatty Acids for Your Pets
Cheese's nutritional composition largely varies depending on the origin, cheese-making technology and rearing conditions of the source animals. One of the nutrients that is affected by these is fatty acid content, with buffalo and goat cheese having high saturated fatty acid, and sheep cheeses having high levels of conjugated linoleic acid and unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid.13 Dietary fats and fatty acids contribute to your pet's health by providing energy, aiding in fat-soluble vitamin absorption, modulating inflammation and promoting healthy skin and coat.14
In addition, cheese sourced from pasture-raised cows and animals is higher in omega-3 fatty acids.15 Omega-3s influence the structure of cell membranes and are crucial in the formation of eicosanoids, or signaling molecules needed by your pet's cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems.16
Cheese Fun Fact
The most expensive type of cheese is sold at a staggering $600 per pound! Pule cheese is the rarest produced cheese made with the milk from the Balkan donkey, a donkey native to Serbia and Montenegro.17
Which Types of Cheese Should You Choose for Your Pet?
Because of the varying components of different cheese varieties, some types may be more suited for your pets than others. If you're looking for cheese options to give to your pet, here are some types to choose from:
- Cottage cheese — Plain organic cottage cheese contains low levels of fat and sodium, which may be a good choice to lower your pet's risk of obesity. It also contains calcium and protein, which may be beneficial for your pets.
- Fresh white cheese or queso blanco — Queso blanco may help improve your pet's gut microbiome by decreasing the abundance of Enterobacteriaceae and Fusobacterium, and, in turn, assist your pet's immune response.18
- Mozzarella cheese and soft goat cheese — Dogs may eat mozzarella and soft goat cheese because of their lower fat content.19
- Cream cheese — Cream cheese is safe for dogs in small quantities and many pet parents use this type of cheese to hide pills and medications.
Reminder: Not All Cheese May Be Safe for Pets
Note that there are some cheeses that you should probably steer clear of, including blue cheese and shelf-stable American cheese. Blue cheese contains roquefortine C, a substance produced by a fungus used during production. Dogs are highly sensitive to this substance and may suffer from high temperatures, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures when ingested.20 If you have blue cheese at home, keep it in an area your dog cannot reach.
Shelf-stable American cheese is heavily processed and has a high chance of containing synthetic ingredients such as sodium citrate and natamycin.21,22 These ingredients may have certain repercussions on your pet's health,23 so it's best to steer clear of these varieties, as well as processed cheese spreads and canned, sprayable cheese products.
Go for Cheese Made From Pasture-Raised Animals' Milk
"To make sure that you're giving your pets only the highest quality cheese, you should source your cheese from organic, trustworthy farms."
Pasture-raised, grass fed cows and animals produce more nutrient-dense milk, which may carry over to the cheese upon processing.24 In a 2020 study from Foods, researchers noted that dairy products, including cheese and butter, derived from grass fed milk had a smoother and more yellow color, thanks to the higher concentration of beta-carotene and unsaturated fatty acids.25
How Can You Give Cheese to Your Pets?
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), trainers typically use cheese as treats, while some people use it to hide pills or medicines so dogs can take them without issues.26 Generally speaking, all treats should constitute less than 10% of your pet's overall calorie intake.
Try This Tasty Cheese Treat Recipe for Your Pets
If you're looking for a delicious treat recipe that's also nutritionally dense, here's an easy-to-follow recipe.
✓ 1 pound ground pastured turkey
✓ 1 egg
✓ 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
✓ 1/4 cup shredded cheese
✓ 1/2 cup chopped veggies (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix all ingredients in bowl.
- Shape mixture into bite-size balls.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until brown.
- Cool and serve, or seal in airtight container and store in fridge or freezer until ready to serve.