Mac and cheese has to be one of the greatest comfort foods of all time. It’s tasty, filling, and one of the foods that really says “home” to many people. But can dogs eat mac and cheese? Is it safe to give it to your dog? After all, it’s made from pasta and cheese so it’s not exactly the kind of food your dog’s wolf ancestors would have eaten. Find out if you can share some of this delicious food with your dog below.
Macaroni and Cheese nutrition
Contrary to what most people may believe, macaroni and cheese doesn’t always come in a box. You can make it from scratch. It’s generally healthier when you make your own, without artificial preservatives and other ingredients that might cause you to raise your eyebrows. If you make your own, there is no packet of cheese powder or packet of cheese sauce. It does take a little longer but it’s delicious.
If you are making mac ‘n cheese from a box, Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese is probably the most popular brand. Here is the nutritional data for one serving (one cup prepared or 70 grams).
One cup contains about 73 percent carbs, 9 percent fats, and 18 percent protein. It’s low in cholesterol and a good source of thiamin. It is also high in riboflavin, niacin, and folate, as well as iron, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium.
One cup contains 259 calories, 47.5 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of sugar. It has 2.6 grams of fat and 11.3 grams of protein.
The calorie content and other nutrients can vary, depending on the brand and whether you are using a homemade recipe. If you are making mac and cheese yourself, using butter and cream, expect the calories to be higher.
Despite the calories, cheese is a good source of nutrients and Cheddar cheese (most often used to make mac and cheese) is one of the lower calorie cheeses.
Most dietitians will tell you to avoid eating macaroni and cheese or only eat it occasionally because of the calories. There are ways to make healthier versions of this popular dish but you can also eat it sparingly if you are concerned about your weight.
Can dogs eat mac and cheese?
Yes, dogs can eat macaroni and cheese. Whether they should eat it or not is a different question. There is a lot of advice online that says dogs should not eat mac and cheese for the following reasons:
- Mac and cheese contains wheat gluten in the pasta. True. Most pasta is made from wheat and wheat contains glutens. So what? Most dogs can eat wheat and wheat glutens without any problem. Most dog cookies are made using wheat flour and dogs have been eating them for generations. If your dog is sensitive to wheat gluten, do not give him mac and cheese that uses pasta made from wheat. There are pastas made from other kinds of flour.
- Mac and cheese is made with cheese and milk products which are bad for dogs that are lactose intolerant. Not really true. Yes, mac and cheese is made with cheese and milk products (milk, cream, sometimes butter). However, not all dogs are lactose-intolerant. Cheddar cheese itself, which is most often used to make macaroni and cheese, has only a trace of lactose. Even many dogs that are lactose-intolerant can eat small amounts of Cheddar. If your dog is lactose-intolerant you might want to avoid giving him mac and cheese because of the dairy products in the food. However, it’s also possible that a small amount of the dish would not bother him.
- Mac and cheese is fattening. Usually true. No debate here.
- Mac and cheese contains sugar. Only in the sense that nearly all foods contain sugar that is broken down from carbohydrates. Sugar is not normally added to mac and cheese recipes.
- Mac and cheese contains artificial ingredients (flavors, colors, preservatives). Sometimes true, depending on the brand you buy. You are less likely to encounter any artificial ingredients if you use a homemade recipe. If you make macaroni and cheese at home you can also customize the dish to make it very dog-friendly. For example, you can leave out some of the salt, cut back on some of the more fattening ingredients, reduce anything that might bother your dog (such as the milk). You can also use a non-wheat pasta.
We are not making light of any dog that has a real problem with a wheat gluten sensitivity or with lactose-intolerance. However, most dogs do not share these problems.
If your dog is sensitive to wheat gluten, the symptoms might be chronic gastrointestinal upset (loose stools/diarrhea, mucus in the stools, constipation, flatulence); chronic dry, flaky skin, hair loss, constant scratching; weight loss; chewing on their paws; and chronic ear infections. These are serious problems. If you notice them, contact your veterinarian.
Some dogs do have a problem with lactose-intolerance. These dogs lack the enzyme necessary to break down lactose in dairy products. As a result, they can experience gas, diarrhea, and other digestive problems when they eat foods that are high in lactose after they are puppies. However, not all dogs are lactose-intolerant. Even dogs that are lactose-intolerant can often eat some foods that contain a small amount of dairy products.
If you are uncertain if your dog is lactose-intolerant, watch him carefully if you give him any kind of food that contains dairy products. If he has a reaction, it would usually occur within 24 hours after eating the food.
How much mac and cheese can you give your dog?
A small amount of mac and cheese won’t harm most dogs as long as your dog is not allergic or sensitive to any of the ingredients.
In general, treats and snacks should not make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s daily calories. If your dog needs 1200 calories per day, you could give him 120 calories in mac and cheese. (You can adjust your dog’s daily calories based on his weight, age, activity level and other factors.) One cup of Kraft mac and cheese contains about 259 calories so 120 calories would be about ½ cup.
How often can you give your dog macaroni and cheese?
Since mac and cheese is fattening, it’s best not to let your dog partake of it very often. One small serving once per week would be plenty.
However, some people with elderly dogs have been known to give some to their dogs to encourage them to eat. Since it does contain a lot of calories it can be a way to help an old, thin dog get some nutrition. Ask your veterinarian before giving your old dog mac and cheese to make sure it’s safe in your dog’s case.
Many of us love mac and cheese so it’s not surprising if we want to share it with our dogs. Mac and cheese is fattening and some dogs might not be able to eat it if they have problems with wheat glutens or lactose-intolerance. However, most dogs should be able to eat a small serving occasionally without any harm especially if you make homemade macaroni and cheese and customize the recipe to be dog-friendly.