The Truth About Cats and Milk

Cat next to bowl of milk.

The ancestors of today’s domestic felines likely enjoyed the fatty cream at the top of a farmer’s milking bucket—a great reward for keeping the barn free of rodents. These days, however, cow’s milk at the grocery store has little-to-no fat content. This doesn’t stop cat owners from offering it to their felines, but is it a good idea?

Just as cats probably shouldn’t play with a ball of yarn, cats and modern milk really don’t mix.

Archaic Practices

The combination of cats and milk goes back eons, probably dawning around the same time that cats decided to live among people. Milk packs a lot of protein and has a delicious flavor, but digesting it is another story. 

Lactose Intolerance

It may surprise lots of cat owners out there, but cats and milk are just not a good match. While they are still young and nursing, kittens are equipped with lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down milk. Once fully weaned, a cat no longer needs lactase and it disappears from their digestive system. The result is that cats become entirely incapable of digesting lactose, the primary sugar in milk. 

The Upset Tummies

If a cat drinks milk, they will likely have a tough time digesting it. An upset stomach is the likeliest symptom, but undigested lactose can begin to ferment in their digestive system. Vomiting and diarrhea are not uncommon after a cat eats dairy. 

Cats and Milk

Sure, your cat might not exhibit any ill effects of lapping up a small amount of milk or cream. It’s worth noting, though, that because they don’t need dairy, any extra calories can add to unnecessary weight gain. 

If your cat shows an exaggerated interest in all things dairy, you may try to offer a small amount of plain yogurt or mild cheese. Again, this shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, but if they tolerate it well, you may indulge them occasionally. Depending on your cat’s overall health and lifestyle, you can subtract a little bit from their daily food portion to account for the extra calories from dairy.

Additionally, there are commercially available, synthetic cat milks that may satisfy their craving. Supplementation may be helpful for your cat if still young and/or weaned too early.  

Feline Health for Life

Your cat’s nutrition is important to their lifelong health and overall quality of life. If you need support in finding the right products for your cat’s age, breed, weight, lifestyle and general health, the Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates are happy to help. Give us a call at (248) 646–5655.