Can Cats Drink Milk?

cat drinking milk from a bowl

When people think of cats, popular lore has them drinking from a small saucer of milk. Can cats drink milk? Unfortunately, research shows that this may not be the best thing to give them due to several reasons.

Where the Myth Originated From

Barn cats used to love to drink the fatty cream that rose to the top of milk pails, not the milk itself. This raw form also had fewer ingredients added in that could cause complications for your cat’s digestive system.

People took this idea of cats drinking milk from a saucer and carried it over to today’s culture, even if there is little truth behind it. Milk goes through a sterilization process today that removes most of the fat, and your cat could suffer from digestive upset even if they just drank the cream instead of the milk itself.

Understanding the Difference Between a Kitty and Adult’s Digestive System

When kitties are first born up until they wean, they’re able to drink milk from the mother cat. The main reason for this is that kitties posses a special enzyme called the lactase enzyme that allows their bodies to break down the lactose in milk, so it doesn’t upset their stomachs.

As your cat gets older, they lose this lactase enzyme, and their bodies aren’t able to process the lactose in milk. This can happen in people too when their bodies can’t break down milk, and you get lactose intolerance that can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, and gas each time you have products with lactose in it.

This is why you can buy special kitten formula from your veterinarian’s office if you have a kitten that hasn’t weaned but has no mother around to feed it. It comes with a variety of nutrients that will help your kitten grow without the ingredients that can make them sick.

Defining Lactose Intolerance in Cats

Lactose is a sugar that you find in milk and many dairy products that can wreak havoc on your cat’s digestive system because they don’t possess enough of the lactase enzyme to break it down. Most mammals have some degree of lactose intolerance, including humans.

Instead of digesting the lactose, it’ll pass through your cat’s digestive system and draw water to it. It can also draw bacteria that are attracted to the undigested sugar, and this can lead to diarrhea, cramping, discomfort, and an overproduction of volatile fatty acids.

These symptoms can occur anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after your cat drinks dairy products or has products that contain lactose, and the symptoms can last for a few hours at a time. Additionally, some cats naturally produce more lactase enzyme than others so they may not have as hard of time digesting it when they eat it.

There is also very little nutritional value in milk for cats, and this means that you can completely cut it out of their diets without having any negative side effects. They just like the taste, and there are other things that you can offer them that they like and that has viable nutrients.

Alternatives to Feeding Your Cat Milk

There are a few things that you can give your cat if you feel guilty about not giving them their milky treat every day or every few days. These alternatives include:

  • Commercial Cat Treats – There are dozens of commercial cat treats on the market today, and feeding your cat one or two of them a day is a great way to reward them. They’re usually formulated with things that are easy on your cat’s system, and this means no digestive upset after they eat it.
  • Cooked Meat – Cats are carnivores, and you can give them one or two small pieces of cooked meat to enjoy for a treat. You should stick to more lean meat choices like turkey or salmon, so you’re not loading them with extra calories.
  • Lactose-Free Milk – Both humans and cats can drink lactose-free milk without having the typical digestive upset. However, you do want to limit your cat’s intake because it doesn’t have many nutrients they use.
  • Water – It may sound boring, but your cat needs a lot of water in order for their organs and other systems to function properly. You can try getting them a water fountain to drink out of if they’re not interested in the traditional bowl of water.
  • Wet Food – Not only is wet food an excellent treat to break up your cat’s everyday monotony, but it also has a higher water content. This is great news for cats who don’t seem to drink enough water, and it can tempt them to eat their dry food if you mix it in too.

Things to Avoid Feeding Your Cat

Along with things you can give your cat as a treat, there are things that you want to avoid as well to prevent the unpleasant symptoms that come with lactose intolerance. You want to avoid feeding your cat foods that has the following listed on the label:

  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese Flavors
  • Curds
  • Lactose
  • Malted Milk
  • Milk
  • Milk Solids
  • Non-Fat Milk Powder
  • Non-Fat Milk Solids
  • Sweet or Sour Cream
  • Whey
  • Yogurt

Other Problems With Giving Your Cats Milk

Along with lactose, there are other problems that can arise from regularly giving your cat milk. It does depend on how much you give it to them and how frequently, but these problems include:

  • Calories – Milk can be packed full of empty calories that can contribute to weight gain in your cat. This is especially true if you plan to feed your cat larger amounts of it for a treat.
  • Casein – Casein is a protein that is very slow to absorb and digest in your cat’s body. This can cause digestive issues like upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, and discomfort.
  • Fats – Two-percent, whole, and skim cow’s milk contains an unhealthy level of fat, and your cat will get a dose of it each time they drink milk. This can lead to problems like weight gain in you give your cat a larger portion of it each day.
  • Little Nutritional Value – Since milk goes through a sterilization and purifying process before it’s bottled for the stores, it strips out almost all of the nutrients your cat would use. It’s like a human eating junk food. It tastes good, but there’s little nutritional value.
  • Whey – Whey is another protein found in milk that does have some benefits for your cat in small doses. However, there’s too much of it in milk products for your cat’s system to handle.

Bottom Line

Can cats drink milk? Now you know that the answer is yes, but it’s not necessarily good for them. The bad far outweighs the good, and you want to avoid giving your cat things that will upset their stomachs. Instead, you can try some of the healthy treat alternatives we pointed out to keep your cat happy and healthy.