In this post, we’ll examine the connection between cats and milk, including the nutritional advantages and health impacts of milk, the reasons why cats shouldn’t consume excessive amounts of milk, and what you may offer your cat in its place.
Can Kittens Drink Milk?
There’s no denying it. Cats can definitely drink milk. You’ve seen the illustrations of kittens clustered around a saucer of milk. You’ve seen milk-flavored cat treats. Maybe you’ve even watched your own cat lapping it up.
Whether it’s from a cow, goat, or mama cat, kittens and adult cats can and do drink milk. There’s also no denying that milk is a natural part of the feline diet—when it comes from Mom.
Like all mammals, kittens rely on their mother’s milk as their sole source of nutrition. A cat’s milk has the perfect balance of essential nutrients to help kittens grow and thrive.
And like all baby mammals, kittens produce an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme’s primary job is to digest lactose, also known as milk sugar. When kittens drink their mom’s milk, those lactase enzymes go to work on the milk sugar, breaking it into glucose and galactose, two simple sugars that absorb easily into the bloodstream.
Instead of breaking down and moving smoothly into the body, the milk sugar would stay intact and move into the colon. There, the undigested lactose would start fermenting, draw water into the colon, and cause the symptoms we associate with lactose intolerance—bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Is Milk Bad for Cats?
After Kittens Are Weaned, They Start Producing Less Lactase. Most Become Lactose-Intolerant.
And herein lies the problem with cats and milk. Cats are, for the most part, lactose-intolerant animals.
Should Cats Consume Milk?
If an adult cat tries to drink the same amount of milk they had as a kitten, they’d get an upset stomach. They just don’t have the lactase enzymes needed to make the milk digestible.
Small amounts of milk won’t make your cat sick, but more than a tablespoon or so could cause digestive distress.
There Are A Few Exceptions To This Rule.
Cats can more easily digest lactose-free milk and other products made for lactose-intolerant people. They can also eat other low-lactose dairy products, including most hard cheeses, yogurt, and sour cream.
As with all foods not intended or balanced for cats, these should be considered occasional treats that make up less than 10% of a cat’s total calories for the day.
Milk Is Not Very Nutritious For Cats
Nursing kittens rely on their mother’s milk to survive, but any other type of milk fails to deliver the well-rounded nutrition your kitten or cat needs. It’s not a nutritionally complete food or even close. If you choose to give your cat milk, make it a very occasional treat.
It’s not a substitute for a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. And if you’re caring for a young kitten, never substitute cow’s milk for mother’s milk or kitten formula.
What Alternatives Are There To Milk For Your Cat?
If your cat loves milk, feel free to give it to him as an occasional treat. As long as you’re not giving him so much that it triggers a reaction or makes a big dent in his daily calorie budget, milk can be a great treat. If you want to play it safe with lactose intolerance, opt for a lactose-free product.
Cats who love milk and want more than just a few sips might enjoy specially-formulated cat milk products, often found on the cat food aisle of pet stores and groceries. These products are lactose-free drinks made with cats in mind. Some are fortified with taurine for an amino acid boost.
For very young kittens, there’s no substitute for mother’s milk or a specifically formulated kitten formula. Cat milk replacers are the only safe choice for bottle-feeding a kitten.