Is milk bad for cats?
If like many cat owners, you have found yourself giving your cat cows milk regularly at feeding time, then you’ll know that a lot of cats seem to happily lap up this tasty white liquid without it seeming like a problem. However, cow’s milk is actually not a good drink to be giving to your cat!
This may come as a surprise for a lot of people. We may have been lead to believe by childhood stories or cartoons, that milk and cats go together like bread and butter. So what is the reality of the relationship between cats and this tasty dairy product?
Why is cow’s milk bad for your cat?
The simple reason that cow’s milk can be bad for your cat is that it contains a type of sugar called lactose. As with all mammals, kittens will naturally feed on their mother’s milk and get the nutrients that they need to grow up into healthy full-sized cats.
When a cat grows into an adult however, many of them begin to have a large reduction occurring in the production of the lactase enzyme. As lactase is resposible for helping the digestion of lactose by breaking it down, when your cat’s body stops producing enough of it, they become lactose intolerant.
If your cat is lactose intolerant, then drinking milk containing lactose can cause them to have various negative symptoms such as:
Excessive production of gas
It may take around 8-10 hours after your cat has consumed lactose before they show signs of diarhhea.
The reason your cat will become intolerant to the lactose found in cows milk is purely genetic. For fully-grown cats, milk is not a natural source of nutrients due to them being completely carnivorous. This is not an allergic reaction, as the symptoms are not caused by your cat’s immune system triggering a biological response to lactose consumption.
Is milk bad for ALL cats?
Firstly, it is completely normal and expected that your cats can become lactose intolerant, so you don’t need to see this as a problem in their lives.
The reaction your cat’s body will have to drinking milk will vary on their individual genetic make-up. For some cats, they will completely stop producing lactase when they grow into adults. However, other cats will simply start producing less of the enzyme. So for certain cats, milk won’t trigger as much of a bad reaction as it may for others.
It is best that you observe your cat well to check if they react badly to milk or not. Especially if you’ve found yourself giving your cat milk in the past as a treat. If you weren’t feeding your cat milk when they were young, they will generally not be bothered about wanting to drink it as an adult.
What we can say, is that milk is never going to be a “good” food source to feed your cat. It is generally best to not feed your cat milk at all, but if your cat is particularly partial to it and doesn’t show negative symptoms from your past experience, then it will be okay to feed them milk as a treat every now and again.
Is ALL milk bad for my cat?
All milk will naturally contain lactose, so it is best avoided. Goat’s milk may contain about 10-20% less lactose than cow’s milk but you should still treat it the same.
You can purchase specially made lactose-free cat milk from stores or supermarkets as an alternative to regular milk. Even with cat-friendly lactose-free milk, it is best to carefully regulate the amount that you feed to your cats due to it containing calories. So it’s still best to keep it as a little treat now and again!
Regular lactose-free milk could be better for your cat to handle than cows milk, however it is still advised that you should choose the lactose-free milk formulated especially for cats as that milk will contain extra nutrients that are actually beneficial for your cat to consume.
Plant based milks such as almond, coconut and oat milk are also generally not suitable to give to your cat as they contain various ingredients that are unhealthy for them. The ingredients can cause various problems for your cat.
Be aware that plant based milks can contain sugar, oils, additives and salt. These ingredients can lead to your cat suffering from tooth decay, gastrointestinal issues, diarrhea, dehydration and diabetes.
What is better than milk for my cat?
The best advice here would be to simply feed your cat water. As much as we love to treat our cuddly friends, water is by far the most healthy source of hydration for your cat. It does not contain calories like lactose-free milk does and your cat will be happy to drink it if you don’t feed milk to them at early stages in their life.
If you are wondering if your cat can eat other dairy products, then it is possible to purchase unpasturized plain yoghurt, and cheeses. The bacteria in these unpasturized products will have already broken down the lactose that was previously present. These foods should still not be given to your cat regularly as their diet does not naturally contain them.