Why Do Dogs Love Cheese?

Adrienne Farricelli

Many dogs love cheese, there's no bones about it. Whether your dog does back flips for a piece of string cheese or goes bonkers for a slice of Swiss, one thing is for sure: cheese is certainly one of the those treats dogs seem to never grow tired of. Indeed, many dog owners use cheese to hide their dog's pills inside or as a reward for some fancy tricks, but what makes cheese so addicting to dogs? There's a possible scientific explanation for this and it may explain why you may love cheese too.

Does your dog love cheese? If so, rest assured, he is likely in good company. Cheese is a highly palatable food and from a nutritional point of view, cheese supplies a vast array of essential nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, and also short chain fatty acids. 

Natural Born Eaters

 Let's face it, gluttonous is a dog's second name. Sure,once in a blue moon, it is always possible to stumble on a finicky dog, but the average dog is blessed with a healthy appetite that at times may even appear voracious. 

Why is that? Why do dogs act as if if they are starving all the time? The voracious nature stems back to the olden days when a dog's ancestors led to what's known as a "feast or famine" lifestyle. 

In a dog's evolutionary past, his ancestors never knew what food or how much was on their menus every day as life in the wild was unpredictable. They could have had no food for several days, and then when they hit the jackpot and there was a large killing, they faced massive amounts of food all at once.

It therefore came natural for them to wolf down as much food as possible before the vultures or other opportunistic predators would dive in and scavenge any remain-and since food wasn't always available, it made sense for a dog's ancestors to want fill up to full capacity.

Even as scavengers, and nowadays, as domesticated companions, dogs still retain these instincts, leading to dogs acting as indiscriminate eaters, devouring food down (including cheese!) as if there was no tomorrow. 

The Law of Reinforcement 

Behind a dog who loves cheese, there is often a dog owner doling it out or perhaps leaving cheese unattended on tables or counter tops allowing Rover to snatch it.

Here's the thing: dogs have a tendency of repeating behaviors that lead to reinforcement, so if your dog happens to look at your cheese sandwich, and then at you, and you give in doling out a piece of cheese, rest assured your dog will want to have cheese on every occasion. 

This is the law of reinforcement at play. B. F. Skinner, also known as the father of operant conditioning, claimed that behaviors that are reinforced tend to be repeated, while behaviors that are not reinforced tend to die out-or become extinguished. 

What this means is that, if you give in to your dog's cheese-begging behavior, you'll see more cheese-begging behaviors in the future. However, if you decide not to give in anymore one day and stick to this plan, consider that the cheese-begging behavior will likely weaken over time. However, the process isn't without any bumps: expect some extinction bursts somewhere along the way. 

Dogs love cheese so much some may decide to steal that cheese sandwich left unattended

The Addicting Nature of Cheese

Pu together an animal who is naturally inclined to having a healthy appetite and then add to that a dog owner who can't say no to pleading eyes asking for just one morsel of cheese, and you have the perfect recipe for a cheese-loving companion-but wait, there's possibly more!

According to Dr. Neal Barnard, author of the book: "The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy," cheese is a highly addictive food, and the reason for this is that its dairy proteins potentially act as mild opiates. 

Here's a closer look into what may be going on: once ingested, cheese is broken down into the dog's stomach where it produces a special peptide known as casomorphin. 

Casomorphin has been known to attach to the same brain receptors as heroin and other narcotics, with the end result of producing a hit of dopamine known to trigger the brain's reward center just like a drug would. It's like a form of "dairy crack," points out Dr. Neal Barnard. 

Barnard's addicting belief is further confirmed by research. According to a study, published in the journal Plos One, pizza, unsurprisingly, topped the list as one of the most-addictive foods available and a possible scientific reason behind this has to do with the way cheese is processed. Cheese alone instead ranked somewhere in the middle. 

So there you have it. You and you dog's cheese addiction has been validated by scientific research! Now, it's no wonder why dogs and humans are so crazy for cheese!

"These casein fragments are called casomorphins—that is, casein-derived ... In other words, dairy protein has opiate molecules built right into it. ... Just as cocaine manufacturers have found ways to turn an addictive drug (cocaine) into an extremely addictive one (crack), dairy producers have found their own ways to keep you coming back."~Dr. Neal Barnard.

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for loving cheese, Whether you share a morsel of cheese with your canine companion or he's quick to steal it from the counter, one thing is for sure: cheese is surely an addicting food. However, as much as cheese may sound like a tasty treat, it is not without any dangers. Following are some things to be aware of before doling out cheese. 

  • While cheese is not toxic to dogs, consider that it can cause digestive problems in certain dogs. Flatulence and diarrhea after eating cheese (especially after larger quantities!) is not uncommon and is likely to occur around 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. Some dogs may vomit too as a result of being very sensitive to even the slightest changes in their normal diet.
  • Consider that, just as it happens in people, some dogs as they get older may have trouble tolerating dairy products. This means that milk, cheese or any other lactose containing foods may lead to excessive gas and diarrhea. 
  • The high fat content in cheese may irritate a dog's pancreas and cause pancreatitis in predisposed dogs. This may cause vomiting, loss of appetite and severe abdominal pain. 
  • The ingestion of old, moldy cheese can be particularly problematic. It has been reported that moldy cheese, bread or English walnuts may cause what's known as "roquefortine poisoning." According to Dr. Robert H. Poppenga, a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, affected dogs may develop restlessness, panting, and increased salivation followed by mild to moderate muscle tremors. At high dosages, seizures may occur. 
  • Keep in mind that some medications (such as tetracycline, marbofloxacin ) cannot be given with dairy products so always check with a vet if your dog is on medications and you want to feed him cheese.
  • Careful with any cheese/cheese remnants left unattended as many dogs in their eagerness to eat are likely to also ingest the cheese with its wrappers or even the wrappers alone. While the wrappers may pass through with no major problems, in some unfortunate cases, they may sometimes cause a blockage. Signs of a blockage are repeated vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, and pain on abdominal palpation. Consult with your vet.
  • If your dog steals cheese off the counter, you may be interested in learning more how to stop a dog from stealing food off counter tops.