A kitten slurping milk from a bowl is a common trope in cartoons and media. As a result, many people mistakenly believe that milk is a normal, healthy addition to a feline diet.
The reality is that it’s generally not a good idea for cats to have milk. In fact, milk can do more harm to your kitty than good. While it may be a tasty treat, there really aren’t any nutritional benefits. Plus, many cats have a difficult time digesting cow’s milk.
Cats and Lactose Intolerance
Like many animals, nursing kittens drink their mother’s milk before they begin eating solid food. They begin the weaning process as early as 4 weeks old; once weaned off their mama’s milk, many kittens lose their ability to process lactose (the sugar found in milk). This is because as solid food replaces milk in a kitten’s diet, there is no longer a need to digest lactose.
More than 50 percent of adult cats are lactose intolerant. Even if your furry friend doesn’t have any issues digesting lactose specifically, she may be sensitive to milk proteins or have difficulties digesting dairy in general.
If your cat does consume milk, monitor her over the next 24 hours for any signs of lactose or milk intolerance, including:
- Appetite loss
- Digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea/loose stools
If your cat enjoyed having milk and doesn’t seem to be having any issues digesting it, you may be able to give her small amounts of milk as an occasional treat. However, it’s never a bad idea to consult your vet to be sure.
Cats and Cow’s Milk
As many cat owners know, our feline friends are relatively self-sufficient when it comes to taking care of themselves. Just because they can independently manage grooming and portion control, though, it doesn’t mean they always know what’s best for them.
Lactose intolerant or not, many cats are drawn to milk. This may be because it’s comforting and reminiscent of their mother’s milk; maybe it’s just because they like the smell and taste. Cats who tend to prefer wet food over dry food often find milk appealing because of its creamy texture.
Keep in mind that milk can contain unhealthy amounts of fats which can cause your kitty to put on some extra pounds. If you’re giving your cat milk in addition to her regular diet, then she’s consuming excess fat. On the other hand, if you’re giving her milk in place of her regular meals, then she won’t be getting enough of her required nutrients.
Fermented milk (such as plain yogurt, sour cream, and cheese) and goat’s milk may be easier for your cat to digest than regular cow’s milk. However, dairy is still not a necessary or even helpful part of your cat’s carnivore diet.
Can Cats Have Non-Dairy Milk?
Plant-based milk such as oat milk, soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are all free of lactose and dairy. However, non-dairy milk still does not offer any nutritional benefit to your cat. In fact, many plant milk contains harmful ingredients such as sweeteners, oils and thickeners, salt, and preservatives.
The occasional taste is generally fine, but don’t make any plans to include milk of any kind as a regular part of your cat’s diet.
Keeping Your Cat Healthy and Hydrated
Unless you’re bottle-feeding a newborn kitten, there’s really no reason to be giving milk to your cat. Even if she has no problem digesting lactose and dairy, milk is not a necessary part of her diet—it doesn’t provide nutritional benefits, and may even lead to weight gain and related issues.
As far as hydration goes, the only fluid your cat needs to consume is water. Many cats are able to get a significant portion of their daily water intake from wet food; some cats prefer drinking from a fountain to drinking from a bowl. If your kitty is reluctant to drink her water, milk should never be used as a replacement. Plus, digestive issues associated with milk can lead to dehydration.
If your cat doesn’t have any digestive issues when it comes to milk, you can allow her a small amount (a few tablespoons) as an occasional treat at most. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s diet and digestion, talk to your vet for an individualized recommendation.
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