Watching a cat drink from a saucer of milk is an image that has graced our movie screens for decades. Milk seems like it’s a part of a cat’s regular diet, or is it? Before you put down a bowl of milk for your neighborhood cat, not all cats can digest milk products equally.
Should Cats Drink Milk?
Besides lactose intolerance, there are good reasons why cats should not drink milk. Cats are obligate carnivores, and meat products alone should be their primary diet. Of course, there is protein in animal products beyond meat, but cats do not digest non-meat products as easy. Dogs are considered omnivores (though this is up for debate) and consume a wide variety of foods, whereas cats have to eat the basics of a carnivorous diet.
Because milk isn’t a meat product, milk has a lot of sugar and fats that make it difficult for a cat to digest thoroughly. If they have too much of it can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting. It is also on the ASPCA list of people foods you should avoid giving your pet.
Are Cats Lactose Intolerant?
The short answer is “sometimes yes,” but milk affects all cats differently. Before the 12-week mark, kittens are still nursing on their mothers’ milk. Kittens digest milk better at this time because their digestive systems have the enzyme lactase. When they wean off their mothers’ milk and grow up, the enzyme dissipates, making it harder for cats to digest lactose.
That doesn’t mean kittens should drink cow’s milk, however. Cow’s milk contains casein to whey proportions that are not right for a new kittens digestive system. So, if it isn’t the lactose, it’s something else!
If your adult cat is interested in milk, experts suggest giving them just a couple of tablespoons full and wait a few hours to see if they react.
What About Other Milk Products?
Much like humans with lactose issues, some milk products are easier on the digestive system than others. Yogurt and cheese are cultured, which means the microorganisms naturally digest lactose making it easier to eat for people with lactose issues.
These should be tested in small doses, though. Yogurt or cheese should be given in a small amount to your cat and wait a day to see if their body has a reaction.
Do Cats Like Milk?
Just like humans, cats like to eat and drink things that aren’t necessarily good for them. Likely due to the creamy texture, cats especially love high-fat milk and cream. However, because cats are obligate carnivores, they lack sweet receptors. The sweetness humans may enjoy in dairy isn’t shared with a cat. They simply can’t taste sweet things!
Most importantly, veterinarians recommend cat treats of any type should only be up 10-15% of their daily diet. Cats prefer consistency in their food and may reject things that are out of the ordinary. Having too many diverse foods, especially human foods, may wreak havoc on their digestive systems. Veterinarian-approved cat food should remain the bulk of their diet. Don’t worry though, there are many other cat-friendly treats for your cat to enjoy!