This is a question that comes up quite frequently on raw feeding and natural rearing email group lists. There are camps that think it is not a “natural food” for carnivores and therefore should not be fed, while others, like myself, argue the opposite. In my opinion, yes dairy can and likely should be consumed, because I am certain it is a “natural food” for carnivores, however I also add a caveat: It should be raw dairy.
Do Wild Canines Consume Dairy?
I think I will start by talking about wild canines like wolves, coyotes and foxes (not to mention other carnivores like cougars, lynx, bobcat, fishers, bears, raccoons and the like). We know these animals hunt and generally they will try to make their dangerous job as easy as possible, whenever possible. This means that when hunting large prey they will try to bring down those that are very young or somewhat disabled or infirm. So the menu often has nursing young, pregnant or just freshened (given birth and heavily lactating) females or older infirm animals. They will consume most of a carcass save perhaps the larger bones, but even the large bones of a very young calf can be easily consumed. The stomach and intestines of the nursing young are full of their mother’s milk. The stomach contents are somewhat curdled like the consistency of old fashioned cottage cheese. It is very much of the cheese genre as the stomach begins the fermenting (digestive) process when the milk enters the rumen (stomach). The contents of the intestines are similar although more concentrated into leftover dark yellow-colored proteins and have the consistency of a soft cheese. The stool is more concentrated yellow and cheesy in consistency. Canines eat this stuff with gusto.
During spring and summer, when newly freshened cows are grazing and walking they are also dumping puddles of raw milk onto the ground. As they move, their rear legs hit the udder and this causes milk to pour out of the teats and onto the ground. Friends of mine who are farmers report seeing wolves or coyotes out in those fields, licking up the puddles of milk. I would hazard to guess that if they kill a late term pregnant female or a nursing female, that they will also consume the udder which is rich in fats and has possibly quarts of raw milk within it. I would also guess that when they capture and eat whole rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals that sometimes included in that meal will be a lactating female. They gobble these prey items down pretty much whole, leaving nothing behind, so that means once again, they are eating some raw dairy.
Another Observation—When Given a Calf Carcass My Dogs Went for the Dairy First
I am lucky that in years past I bred and raised dual purpose cattle and goats. Dual purpose means that they can be used both for meat and dairy production. I have seen both dump milk onto the ground when walking. I have also lost the odd calf or kid to accidental death (usually smothering by the mother). Nothing is wasted here, so rather than bury the bodies, I would offer them to the dogs. It made for some great note taking! The first thing the hounds went for was the belly. They would open that and consume all the organs, including the stomach and intestines of these young animals. They were full of this “fermented” raw dairy and the dogs just loved it. They couldn’t gobble it up fast enough. They ate that before they ever touched meat or bone on those bodies.
So I think this puts an end to the theory that canines, whether wild or domestic would not be consuming dairy in a prey animal.
Raw Dairy vs. Pasteurized Dairy
I think it is very important that any dairy consumed ideally should be raw (unpasteurized) dairy. My preference is raw goat, because the fat globules are smaller than bovine fat globules and therefore are easier to digest. Bovine dairy also contains high amounts of a protein called casein, to which some individuals may be sensitive or allergic. According to an oft-cited French study, dairy from goats contains 89% less alpha s1 casein than cow dairy. (Alpha S1 is considered to be the most allergenic form of casein.)
Raw dairy is far superior to pasteurized dairy. Remember that pasteurization means the milk has been heated to microbe-killing temperatures for a sustained period of time. This heating also kills heat sensitive enzymes and good microbes (probiotic flora). It also changes fat molecules into less digestible and less healthy fats, and destroys most of the heat sensitive vitamins. There is nothing in this world more delicious and health-promoting, than raw dairy from a clean, healthy herd fed on lush pastures, ample hay, fresh air, sunshine and clean fresh water.
In the USA it is relatively easy to find raw milk in many states (although most of it is bovine), but it is almost impossible to find in Canada because all raw milk sales are illegal, never mind that most dairy farmers use their fresh raw milk for their own family’s health and enjoyment. There are a few brave farmers who are bucking the system and challenging the laws by selling milk under cow-share agreements at their farm gates. So while it is possible to find some raw cow milk for your dogs in Canada, it is extremely difficult to find raw goat milk, unless you are prepared to have a doe or two on your own property.
This leaves a problem for those of us who live where raw milk can be impossible to find. My suggestion would be twofold: An easy to source dairy food would be fermented such as yogurt or kefir, because even though the original milk product was pasteurized, it has now been infused with beneficial probiotics to produce a healthier fermented food. The other thing you could feed is raw milk cheese. In Canada, raw milk cheeses are legal providing they have been ripened for 60 days or more. If you search you may even be able to find raw goat cheese. Raw milk or cheese is the best choice for food versus pasteurized diary of any sort. I will always suggest feeding raw dairy first, but when you have no choice, fermented pasteurized dairy (yogurt or kefir) is a viable second choice.
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Roberta has also rescued many dogs over the years and restored their health with natural rearing practices. She manages the Ontario Whippet Rescue & Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada, full-time. She also manages a Natural Rearing Yahoo! email group where she helps hundreds of other dog owners and breeders who care for their dogs using natural rearing principles.