The issue of ensuring optimal gut health in pets is becoming a widely talked about topic, and while there are high-quality pet probiotic supplements widely available today, it's still a good idea to let your fur buddies acquire healthy gut bacteria from foods. Aside from fermented vegetables , two other popular probiotic foods that pet parents can turn into delicious snacks are yogurt and kefir.
While most people are likely familiar with yogurt and what it looks and tastes like, kefir may be something new to them. The best way to describe it is it's like a drinkable yogurt. It's a fermented drink that is made from a combination of bacteria and yeast fermentation, both of which are good for digestive health.1
These two products are cultured differently, though — homemade yogurt is made by heating milk, mixing in a culture and keeping it warm, while kefir is made by simply adding kefir grains —tiny, cauliflower-like cell structures that carry the bacteria and yeast — to the milk and leaving it to ferment for 24 hours. The grains are then removed before the kefir is consumed, so they can be reused. Another type of kefir is water kefir, which is made using a different type of kefir grains and sugar, resulting in a fizzy liquid.2,3
This article will help answer your questions on giving these two types of fermented foods as a treat to your pets: which type of yogurt or kefir is OK for dogs and cats; the potential benefits that they can get; and the best amounts that are safe to feed to them. Plus, check out this delicious yogurt-based pet treat that you can make for your dog today!
Are Yogurt and Kefir Good for Dogs?
As long as your dog is not lactose-intolerant, they will definitely benefit from having some raw plain yogurt or kefir as a healthy treat. Human-grade fresh foods like yogurt and kefir can be a great snack for pets, and can constitute up to 10% of your dog's overall caloric intake for a day. In fact, these foods offer probiotic benefits that may help optimize your pet's gastrointestinal system and provide an immunity boost.
Animal Wellness Magazine notes that yogurt is also a good source of protein for dogs and gives them nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, vitamins D and K2, and essential fatty acids. As for specific good bacteria strains, some examples that your pet can reap from yogurt include:4
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Streptococcus thermophiles
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
If your dog has been prescribed antibiotics to help treat any type of infection, giving them yogurt may help restore the healthy flora in their intestines, as antibiotics are known to kill both bad and good bacteria.5
Meanwhile, kefir has been touted as the "21st century yogurt," and may offer beneficial properties such as "antimicrobial, antitumor, anticarcinogenic and immunomodulatory activities."6 It may help strengthen the immune system and provide protection against conditions, such as allergies, hypertension, gastrointestinal problems and ischemic heart disease.7 The probiotics and yeasts found in kefir include:
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- L. kefiranofaciens
- Lactobacillus kefiri
- Geotrichum candidum
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- S. unisporus
- Candida kefyr
- Kluyveromyces marxianus ssp. marxianus
Are Yogurt and Kefir Good for Cats?
Most cats won't be interested in yogurt and kefir, but if they are, these foods offer the same benefits to cats, as they do for dogs. While some pets have trouble digesting the lactose (the sugar present in milk), some are able to tolerate small amounts of dairy. What's more, because yogurt and kefir are fermented, microorganisms have already digested most of the lactose, so there's a lower risk of an intolerance reaction.8,9
Cats can be fed yogurt or kefir, but just like dogs, they should be given only as a healthy treat and should constitute only up to 10% of their overall caloric intake for a day. Make sure that it's a natural, homemade yogurt or kefir that has plenty of good probiotics. Greek yogurt can be given to pets, too.10 Felines are not very keen on fruits as much as dogs are, so stay away from flavored yogurt varieties. As with dogs, only give your feline friends fresh, homemade yogurt or kefir. If you only have the option to to buy yogurt, make sure the only ingredients are milk and yogurt cultures.
What Kinds of Yogurt and Kefir Are Best for Pets?
When feeding kefir to your pets, make sure you feed them homemade kefir using fresh, raw milk from grass fed animals. Milk kefir can be made using any type of animal milk such as that from a cow, sheep or goat. In fact, kefir grains work best when you use whole, full-fat milk.11
If you've decided to feed your dog yogurt, the American Kennel Club (AKC) advises choosing plain varieties.12 In fact, plain yogurt is the best choice for both dogs and cats13 because it's devoid of any added sweeteners, whether natural or artificial, which can impose health problems for your pets.
The AKC also recommends selecting high-quality yogurt with plenty of live cultures. For this reason, you can let your pets eat Greek yogurt. Compared to regular yogurt, which is usually pourable, this version is thicker and denser, mainly because it's been strained through a fine mesh cloth.14 Greek yogurt is good for pets because it has high amounts of good bacteria, which means it has lower levels of lactose.
You may also be wondering if dogs can eat frozen yogurt, and the answer is yes — provided it is made from plain homemade yogurt, and not the flavored or store-bought varieties.
One important reminder when feeding yogurt to dogs and cats: Opt to make your own instead of buying ready-to-eat yogurt from the supermarket. Store-bought yogurts, even those labeled organic and wholesome, often contain excessively high amounts of sugar to give them their enticing flavor.
In a 2018 study published in the BMJ, U.K. researchers found that the sugar in various yogurt brands range from 10.8 grams to a whopping 13.1 grams per 100-gram serving.15 Excessive sugar intake can lead to all sorts of health problems, such as upset stomach and diabetes.16
By making your own yogurt, you can ensure that you're not feeding your dog a product that's loaded with sugar. If you want to make sure that your yogurt is good for dogs, I recommend making your own version. Dr. Mercola has a healthy yogurt recipe you can try. Check out the article to learn how you can make Greek yogurt as well.
Lastly, make sure to use only grass fed milk when making homemade yogurt or kefir. High-quality raw milk contains many health benefits, such as:
- Beneficial amino acids, proteins and omega-3 fats
- "Good" bacteria that line and protect your gastrointestinal tract
- Healthy, unoxidized cholesterol
- More than 60 digestive enzymes that make raw milk very digestible (these enzymes are destroyed in milk that is pasteurized, which is why your body finds it more difficult to process pasteurized milk)
To ensure you're buying grass-fed milk, look closely at the product's color, which would have a more yellow-orange appearance, thanks to the carotenoids from the plants that the cows consume on pasture. Cows fed dried grass or hay will have a lower carotenoid and antioxidant content, hence a whiter appearance.
The fermentation process is simple and straightforward, and you only need to purchase high-quality kefir grains from your local health store.
But What if Your Pet Really Cannot Tolerate Dairy?
As mentioned above, some dogs or cats may encounter issues when consuming dairy, even raw, grass fed varieties. The AKC notes that dogs' bodies are not designed to digest this sugar after puppyhood, and too much of it can lead to side effects like vomiting, diarrhea and gas.17 If you see these signs, you may need to find some workaround to safely feed yogurt or kefir to your pet without the discomfort brought on by lactose.
You may experience the same digestive issues in lactose-intolerant pets when giving them milk kefir, so in this case, you can opt to make water kefir for your pet instead. You can also use coconut water and almond milk instead of water.18
Yogurt Dog Treats: Layered Doggie Ice Cream Bites
Once you've made a healthy batch of yogurt, you can try making this delicious frozen yogurt treat for dogs, which is perfect for hot and sunny days — it's better than most commercial treats and will have your pet coming back for more.
✓ 1 cup fruit of your choice
✓ Homemade yogurt
✓ Coconut oil, melted into liquid
- Blend the fruit until it turns into a puree.
- Place a tablespoon of yogurt in each of the freezer trays. Place in the fridge and let freeze.
- Add the puree and then freeze again.
- Add a layer of coconut oil and then freeze again.
- Once all layers have frozen, pop out each of the doggie bites. Let your fur baby enjoy!
Are Yogurt and Kefir Safe for Pets?
As mentioned above, pets can safely eat yogurt or kefir as a snack, in addition to their balanced diet. However, there are some considerations to remember. One is to make sure the product is free of additives, including sugar and sugar substitutes. One particular sweetener to avoid is xylitol, which does not pose dangers to humans or cats,19 but is extremely toxic and potentially fatal to dogs.20 Xylitol is as sweet as sucrose, but only has two-thirds of the calories of sugar. It's also cheaper than other sugar substitutes, which is why a growing list of products are now using it.
When rapidly and fully absorbed within about 30 minutes, even a small amount of xylitol can cause a dangerous insulin surge and a rapid drop in blood sugar in dogs. Hypoglycemia is usually evident from 30 minutes to one hour after a dog ingests xylitol. Other symptoms may rapidly manifest afterward, including lethargy, weakness, vomiting, seizures, coma and even death.21 To learn more about the dangers of this sweetener to dogs, read, "Urgent Food Poisoning Alert for All Dog Owners."
Carrageenan is another potentially dangerous ingredient found in some commercial yogurt brands. Sourced from seaweed, carrageenan acts as a thickener, stabilizer and texturizer to various products, even in pet foods. However, it can be potentially carcinogenic.22 According to a report from the Cornucopia Institute, "food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations and even malignant tumors."23
This is why, as much as possible, you should give only plain homemade yogurt and kefir to your pets. Making your own fermented foods means you have full control over what goes into the food, so you'll ensure all the ingredients you use are safe for your pets.
How Much Yogurt Can You Give to Your Pets?
As mentioned, treats should constitute only 10% of a pet's daily caloric intake, including yogurt. It's important to moderate the servings of yogurt that you give to your pet. A safe amount would be a teaspoon of yogurt per day for every 20 pounds of body weight.24
Remember that moderation and careful observation are both important when feeding new foods to your dogs. Start with small quantities and just slowly increase the amount. If you notice any negative reactions, check with your veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Yogurt for Pets
Q: Can you feed yogurt to pets with dairy sensitivities?
A: If your pet experiences unpleasant reactions like diarrhea or vomiting after consuming yogurt or kefir, then it might be because they're sensitive to the lactose in these milk-based products. If this occurs, try making homemade kefir without using dairy. One way to do this is to make homemade yogurt using coconut milk instead. As for kefir, you can try making water kefir instead of milk kefir.
Q: Which type of kefir is best for your pets?
A: Homemade kefir made from raw, grass fed animal milk from a cow, sheep or goat (provided your pet isn't lactose-intolerant) is the best option. Raw, grass fed milk offers a host of benefits and more nutrients compared to pasteurized milk.
Q: Which type of yogurt is best for your pets?
A: Plain, homemade yogurt with plenty of live culture is the best choice for both dogs and cats because it's devoid of any added sweeteners, whether natural or artificial, which can impose health problems for your pets. Avoid commercial yogurt products that are loaded with sugar and artificial sweeteners, which can lead to other health problems.
Q: Why is homemade yogurt best for pets?
A: Store-bought yogurt, even those labeled organic and wholesome, often contain excessively high amounts of sugar to give them their enticing flavor. These products also contain additives like xylitol and carrageenan, which can be dangerous for your pets.
Q: Can I give my pet yogurt every day?
A: You can feed pets yogurt every day as a healthy treat, but ideally start slowly and with small amounts. Check for any negative reactions to yogurt — if this happens, your pet may be sensitive to lactose. Make sure you're giving them yogurt with live cultures. If side effects still occur, consult your veterinarian.
Q: Is yogurt helpful for dog diarrhea?
A: Yes, as long as your dog can tolerate milk and milk products. The AKC recommends yogurt as one of the cupboard remedies for canine diarrhea.25
Q: How much yogurt is safe for pets?
A: It's best to start with small amounts, and work up to 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight. Fresh, human-grade foods like yogurt should be given as treats and should constitute only 10% of a dog's or cat's daily caloric intake.