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The Truth About Cats and Milk

September 1, 2018

For whatever reason, cats and milk just seem to pair well together. Although your feline friend may happily drink milk if it’s offered to her, you may be surprised to learn that cats and milk don’t mix! Your Brampton, ON veterinarian fills you in on the details below.

Why Can’t Cats Drink Milk?

It turns out that the vast majority of adult cats are lactose-intolerant. This is the same condition that many humans deal with; it means that your cat doesn’t possess enough lactase in the gut to digest lactose, the main enzyme found in milk. Essentially, your cat’s digestive system isn’t built to handle milk very well.

If a cat ingests too much milk, they will likely experience an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. While an overdose of milk won’t have long-lasting health effects, it’s just not worth the pleasantries for your cat. It’s definitely not worth the mess you’ll have to clean up!

Don’t Kittens Require Milk?

You may wonder about kittens, who drink their mother’s milk (or a synthetic milk substitute when the mother isn’t available) at a young age to receive essential nutrients for growth. It’s true—kittens do need this milk to start life out on the right foot. However, kittenhood is the only time in a cat’s life that milk is a necessity in the diet. Typically, cats start to produce less and less lactase as they age, gradually becoming lactose-intolerant over time. By the time a cat is grown, they are most likely entirely lactose-intolerant!

Would you like more information about the nutritional needs of kittens? Contact your veterinarian’s office to learn more.

What About Other Forms of Dairy?

Since other forms of dairy, like cheese or yogurt, contain lower amounts of lactose than pure milk, they’re generally safer to feed to cats. Remember, though—no dairy is a nutritional necessity for your feline friend, and even small amounts of dairy could affect their digestive health in a negative way. If you must give your cat dairy, make it a tiny nip of cheese or a small dab of yogurt.

Our Advice on The Truth About Cats and Milk in 2024

Why are most adult cats lactose intolerant, and what does this mean for their diet?

Most adult cats are lactose intolerant because, after weaning, they naturally produce less lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose in milk. This reduction means they can’t properly break down lactose, leading to digestive issues like diarrhea and upset stomachs when they consume dairy products. Consequently, a cat’s diet should generally exclude milk and milk-based products to avoid these adverse reactions. Instead, their nutritional needs should be met with high-quality, specially formulated cat food and fresh water to maintain optimal health.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in cats after consuming milk?

After consuming milk, cats with lactose intolerance typically exhibit symptoms like diarrhea, stomach upset, and vomiting. These occur because their bodies lack sufficient enzymes to digest lactose, leading to gastrointestinal distress properly. Other symptoms can include bloating, gas, and discomfort. While these reactions are generally not life-threatening, they can cause significant pain for the cat and should be a signal to avoid giving them milk or dairy products containing lactose in their diet.

At what stage in a cat’s life is milk no longer a dietary necessity?

Milk ceases to be a dietary necessity for cats after they are weaned from their mother. This typically occurs when kittens are around 8 to 10 weeks old. Following the weaning process, kittens undergo a gradual reduction in the production of lactase, an essential enzyme required for the digestion of milk. Consequently, they start transitioning to solid food to meet their dietary needs. As a result, most adult cats become lactose intolerant. After the weaning period, a cat’s diet is recommended to comprise nutritionally balanced and age-appropriate cat food with access to fresh water. They avoid milk or milk-based products as they may not provide the nutrients required for the cat’s optimal health.

What are the lactose levels in different dairy products compared to milk?

Different dairy products contain varying levels of lactose compared to milk. Generally, cheese and yogurt have lower lactose levels than milk. During the yogurt fermentation process, lactose is broken down into simpler sugars. During cheese production, lactose breaks down, resulting in a lower lactose content in aged cheese varieties. However, cream and ice cream typically have lactose levels similar to or higher than milk. It’s important to remember that even lower-lactose dairy products can still cause digestive issues in lactose-intolerant cats, so they should be given sparingly.

What should a cat’s essential diet consist of for optimal health?

For optimal health, a cat’s essential diet should primarily consist of high-quality commercial cat food specifically formulated for their life stage (kitten, adult, senior). Cats require a diet rich in animal proteins and amino acids, particularly taurine, which is crucial for heart health and vision. The diet should also include a balanced mix of fats, vitamins, and minerals. While wet food can help maintain hydration, dry food may benefit dental health. Always provide access to fresh, clean water. Treats should be given sparingly and not exceed 10% of their caloric intake. It’s essential to tailor the diet to the cat’s specific health needs, activity levels, and medical conditions, often in consultation with a veterinarian.

All that your cat needs for a healthy, balanced diet is her normal wet or dry food and clean, fresh water. For further information on your cat’s dietary needs, as well as advice on how to make sure your beloved pet is receiving the proper nutrients, call your Brampton, ON animal hospital today.