Any baby animal is one of the cutest things you will ever see. They are small, usually furry, sometimes a little noisy, but always precious. Your puppy is certainly no different. Your first instinct is to protect and nurture the little one.

How best to do that? Keeping her warm and safe, of course.

But, her nutrition is also vital. In addition to her dog food, perhaps milk would be good for her. Or, would it? Continue reading for our skilled advice on milk for puppies.

Depending on the age of your puppy, her nutritional needs vary greatly. Before the age of weaning at about four weeks, her mother supplies all her essential dietary needs. A puppy’s digestive system at this age is so immature that it can’t process any other nutrition.

A mother dog’s milk is made of several components, according to the scientists at Drs. Foster and Smith:

  • Fat, the major energy component — 8.3%
  • Carbohydrates, mostly from lactose — 3.7%
  • Protein — 9.5%
  • Water — 79%
  • Vitamins and minerals

Some components of the mother’s milk change over the course of nursing.

Fat starts out lower when the puppies are just born. It gradually increases to its peak toward the middle of lactation. By the time they are weaned, the fat content has decreased again to much lower levels.

Protein begins a steady increase from birth of the puppies. By weaning, around day 50, the levels have begun to decrease. This allows the mom’s mammary glands to start shrinking.


One absolutely vital element of nutrition your puppy receives from her mother shortly after birth is colostrum.

This is the antibody-rich first milk the mother dog produces within 24 hours of giving birth.

To benefit from this super protein and highly concentrated mixture of nutrients, a newborn puppy must drink this milk within 12 hours of birth.

The colostrum is absorbed through the wall of the intestines in a little-understood process. Scientists do know, however, that after about 12 hours the beneficial effects of the colostrum are lost.

This essential nutrition gives your puppy passive immunity from disease thanks to her mom. Read more in this article on the remarkable effects of colostrum, again from the veterinary scientists at Drs. Foster and Smith.

Milk For The Growing Puppy

Once your puppy begins weaning from her mother, she gradually moves on to eating solid food. At first, the food should be mushy puppy kibble. Mix the kibble with warm water and allow it to soften.

As your puppy’s teeth develop, the kibble can become firmer. This would also correspond with her digestive tract’s ability to process solid food. During this time, she is still enjoying nursing. Her mom, however, is limiting the time allowed.

As your puppy completely weans herself onto solid food, you might think supplementing her diet with cow’s milk would be a good idea. After all, milk has everything a baby needs nutritionally. Other infant animals (and humans) nurse from their mothers for far longer than puppies do.

What if you still fed her the puppy kibble you’ve chosen, but added cow’s milk to it?

Why cow’s milk for puppies is probably not a good idea

Cow’s milk contains a specific nutrient known as lactose, which is a type of sugar.

In order for the puppy to absorb the lactose, her body must produce an enzyme called lactase.

Dogs have that enzyme while they’re nursing as babies. Once weaned, their body changes and lactase is no longer present in high amounts.

Even having extra lactase doesn’t help digest cow’s lactose, though. This chart on the Lactose Intolerance Clearinghouse website shows cow’s milk has about 5% lactose, compared to 3.7% in dog’s milk. So, the lactose in cow’s milk normally causes digestive upset...flatulence, pain, diarrhea…if a puppy drinks it.

According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, cow’s milk can also contain a protein which makes it an allergen to puppies. That’s a pretty rare event, but it happens.

But, everything in moderation, right? If your puppy has had a little cow’s milk and showed no sign of tummy trouble, chances are she’s ok to continue. Cow’s milk certainly isn’t toxic for dogs.

Just be sure to keep the amount small and don’t do it every day. You don’t want to overload her intestines with lactose that she cannot process well.

Milk Alternatives For Your Puppy

There are times when a puppy will not get the amount of milk she needs from the mother dog. Maybe the litter is too large, the mother is ill, or the puppy cannot nurse successfully. At these times, there are a couple of alternatives to consider.

Hopefully, before you have to use either of these, your puppy has had a chance to nurse a little from her mom to get the crucial colostrum she desperately needs.

Commercial milk replacer

In this category, the product of choice is Esbilac. It is a high quality, balanced formula containing all the nutrients a puppy needs. Breeders have relied on Esbilac for over 70 years to supplement or replace the mother’s milk without worry.

It is easy to digest and closely resembles the mother’s milk nutritionally. Esbilac can also be used as a nutritional supplement for dogs of any age. It comes in liquid formula or powder that you mix with warm water. For very young puppies, you feed it with a nursing bottle. Older puppies can drink it from a bowl. It is available online and in most pet stores.

Milk from another animal

We’ve already seen that cow’s milk can be hard on a puppy’s digestive system. But, is there another animal whose milk is easier to digest and nutritious for puppies?

The answer is raw goat’s milk, considered by many to be nature’s most complete food, says this article from It is an easier-on-the-tummy alternative because it digests more completely and quickly than cow’s milk.

Goat’s milk is packed with prebiotics and probiotics. These, plus enzymes in the milk, combine for increased flora to promote gut health.

Always make sure the goat’s milk for puppies has not been pasteurized (cooked at high heat). This process kills the beneficial factors in the milk. Raw goat’s milk is available directly from goat dairies.

About the author

Carol Cornwall has loved animals from the time of her first childhood pet, a duck named Fluff. From then, it's been a steady parade of dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, horses, cows, goats, and sheep. In addition to writing, she's worked as a vet tech, cow hand, and owned a dog boarding facility. She now shares her home with three very spoiled dogs.