Ask a Vet: Is It Okay for Cats To Drink Milk?
Your kitty shouldn't be drinking regular milk from the carton.
If you’re a cat owner, you know that minding the do’s and don’ts of fluffy’s diet is essential. Do: Feed your feline fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and fresh fish. Don’t: Allow them to eat nuts, seeds, and fat trimmings. Giving your little one dangerous or toxic foods could lead to unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, or tummy troubles.
But what about cow’s milk? Pop culture loves to depict cats enjoying it — I vividly recall a scene from the cartoon Tom and Jerry in which Tom (the cat) happily laps up a bowl of the creamy stuff. But while life often imitates art, that isn’t the case here. Milk, it turns out, is not ideal for your kitty to ingest.
Below, veterinarian and behaviorist, Paola Cuevas, MVZ, provides an official answer to the question of whether or not cats should drink milk — and she explains what can happen if they do.
A Vet Weights In On Whether It’s Safe to Give Cats Milk
Dr. Cuevas tells Woman’s World that while cats like cow’s milk because of its high-fat content, it can do a number on their digestive tract.
WW: Why is it not okay for cats to drink cow’s milk?
Dr. Cuevas: Most cats are lactose intolerant, which means that they’re unable to properly digest milk. You might be thinking: but don’t kittens drink milk from their mother? The answer is yes; milk contains a sugar called lactose, and mammalian offspring (or kittens) can digest milk thanks to the action of a digestive enzyme called lactase. However, many will stop secreting lactase once they’re weaned off the milk-only diet — which occurs as early as four weeks of age. When this happens, milk can no longer be properly digested, and undigested lactose will pass through the intestinal tract where the sugar is fermented. This will result in excessive gas production, bloat, cramping and discomfort, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.
Cow’s milk is very low in proteins and high in fat as compared to a mother cat’s milk. Therefore, it is not enough to allow for a kitten’s healthy development and growth. So, if you’re hand-feeding kittens, opt for a kitten milk replacement formula instead, because it contains nutrients for healthy development (such as potassium and calcium).
Can cats drink other types of milk?
Specially formulated “cat milk” products are more suitable than regular cow’s milk, since they’re lactose-free. However, this isn’t a complete and balanced meal for your cat — so don’t just pour some into a saucer and call it a day. Cat milk is high in fat, and doesn’t contain all the nutrients (like iron and zinc) that should be included in your cat’s diet. With obesity being a trend of concern in our feline companions, I only recommend cat milk products when absolutely necessary. For example, using those products as part of a healthy homemade cat treat recipe, or to entice an underweight kitten to eat by mixing it with his or her food. These cases are less common, though, and your cat’s diet should be adjusted to compensate for the calories contained in the milk.
Is there any kind of milk I can give my cat?
If you still wish to offer your cat some milk, try PetAg CatSip Liquid Milk Supplement for Cats (Buy from Chewy.com, $2.13). This milk product is lactose-free, low in fat, and enriched with taurine. (Taurine is an important amino acid that cats should consume in their diet.) Follow the package’s instructions for recommended serving sizes and frequency of feeding. When serving your cat milk, make sure it’s at room temperature (the preferred eating and drinking temperature for cats).
Cat Conundrum Solved
So, the age-old question of whether cats can and should drink milk has been answered. The verdict: Generally, no. Though cat milk meets young kittens’ nutritional needs, cow’s milk is a no-no. In fact, to prevent adverse side effects, you should consult your vet before introducing any new foods to your kitty’s diet.
For more information on cat health, read our stories about buying your cat an exercise wheel to aid in weight loss and how to thoroughly clean your cat’s ears.
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