Cats can drink milk occasionally and in very small amounts, but it isn’t the best thing to feed them. My cat loves trying to steal it from the counter, our glasses and even bowls of cereal. He loves the taste, and clearly finds drinking it enjoyable and even relaxing (provided we don’t catch him in the act!) But unless you are giving an abandoned kitten some pet safe formula, milk really should be left off the menu. Today I’ll share why I avoid feeding it to my adult cat, and what dairy substitutes there are that you might want to try to offer your kitty.
- Does milk have any benefits for cats?
- Are cats ever allergic or lactose intolerant?
- How cats react to the different types on offer
- Should I give my kitten milk?
If you have a cat, you probably know that they love milk. They seem to crave it, and if you leave some out too long, your kitties might jump on the table and drink the milk from the bottom of your bowl! But why do they like it so much?
The classic image of a kitty lapping from a dish in a farmyard seems super wholesome. And it was a staple in my childhood picture books. But this picture is quite misleading, as most adult cats don’t get any benefits from this drink and can have a whole host of issues.
Can Cats Drink Milk?
We don’t recommend dairy products for adult cats. And nor would your local veterinarian if you happened to ask. Some furry felines can cope with it better than others however. The best way to figure out if your cats can have it is to offer just one tablespoon at a time. Then monitor their health for about 12 hours. If you don’t see signs of gastrointestinal distress, it may be all right to offer a drop as a very occasional treat. But this really isn’t a good idea.
Milk doesn’t have essential nutrients that they need. So if you are desperate to share some with them, you should only give them a small amount. It should never make up a regular part of their diet, and is never okay for weaned kittens.
The Good and The Bad
Cats enjoy the high fat content in dairy products. Research has shown that drinking it induces relaxation behavior, the same way grooming and drowsiness do. In other words, the act of lapping it up is pleasurable. But milk is not recommended as a way of calming them. The effects on the intestines will quickly negate any potential benefits!
All cats are individuals, and some can handle it better than others. But this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to give it to any of them. Those drinking dairy products may develop symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. These include vomiting and diarrhea, upset stomach, gassiness, and soft stools.
Giving milk to cats is like giving them junk food. They won’t get enough of the nutrition they need, because it dilutes the nutrients from their better food sources. Also, research shows that feeding milk as part of regular, long-term diet can result in negative effects on longevity, reproduction, bone structure, and growth.
Are Cats Lactose Intolerant?
Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products. They lack an enzyme, called lactase, that is need to digest lactose. So, lactose remains in the digestive system and begins to ferment, causing stomach upset.
Kittens do make lactase and can actually handle it in drinks. But milk does not offer the protein, antibodies, and vitamins that growing kitties need. This means that giving it to kittens can harm their development. After they are weaned from their mothers, kittens stop developing lactase.
Milk Allergies In Cats
In studies, almost a third of cats have been shown to have some kind of food sensitivity. This includes allergies to lactose, and another protein called casein. However, not all of them are allergic to lactose or casein.
Allergies often show up as gastrointestinal distress, or on the skin dermatologically as hives or redness. Inside the gut, allergies show up as congestion, edema (swelling from fluid retention), degeneration of the villi (small projections from the mucous membranes), hemorrhage, and an increase in plasma cells.
Allergies sound serious, but can be managed successfully. You just have to avoid those foods your pet is allergic to!
Can Cats Drink Other Types Of Milk?
If your pets show a tolerance, you can generally feed them raw cow and goat’s milk. Stay away from plant- and nut-based options such as soy, almond and coconut milk. If possible, do not feed pasteurized versions, and stay away from high-carb options like sweetened condensed and evaporated milk.
Yes, some cats can drink a very small amount of cow’s milk, but you should be careful. In general, you should avoid giving them whole or cream because of the higher fat and sugar content. Organic skim or versions with a 1% fat content is preferred.
Lactose-free cow’s milk is also a safer option. Some veterinarians prefer substitute products such as Cat-Sip, available in pet stores.
Research has shown that raw, unpasteurized milk has fewer negative effects on their development than many other types.
Pasteurized cow’s milk has been shown to cause skeletal abnormalities, developmental deficiencies, and reproductive issues in felines.
Sweetened Condensed or Evaporated
Scientists believe that sweetened condensed milk may be the worst you can feed your pet. Evaporated milk is also bad for them. Excessive carbohydrates in these types cause the same kinds of problems you see from pasteurized milk, only more severely.
Cats are carnivorous, and should not be given soybeans. Their digestive systems do not have enough carbohydrate-metabolizing enzymes to handle plant-based proteins. Also, some are allergic to soy proteins.
Almonds have a high amount of oils and fats. These may cause vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes, eating almonds can result in pancreatitis. A half gallon of homemade almond can contain as many as 16 human-sized servings of almonds.
Avoid giving cats coconut milk. As with almonds, coconuts have a high amount of oil and fat. Although coconuts are technically not nuts, they have some similar properties to nuts and fruits. They are drupes, also known as stone fruits.
Obligate carnivores’ digestive systems cannot handle plant proteins. Coconuts, which grow on palm trees, fall into this category. Specific research on this question is sparse. Yet, studies also show that coconut juice can protect rats from ulcers and increase their antioxidant levels. Past studies have shown that rat digestion is similar to feline digestion.
Is Goats Milk Safe For Cats?
If your kitty can tolerate it, raw goat’s milk is a good option for a small and infrequent treat. Goat’s generally has a higher mineral and vitamin content than cow’s, and includes some taurine.
It is slightly lower in lactose levels, though the difference is very minor. Studies have shown that in rats, goats’ is more easily digestible than cow’s. And, it allows more absorption of iron and copper. Fat and weight gain in rats was improved with goat milk, and cholesterol levels were lower.
Can Kittens Drink Milk?
We all know that newborn kittens drink milk from their mothers.
Kitten milk contains a surprising range of nutrients that are not essential for most other animals but that your baby cat really needs. These are niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D, and the amino acids taurine and arginine. Taurine promotes good vision, digestion, heart health, reproduction, and immunity. Low levels of arginine have been linked to cataracts, anorexia, and decreased growth.
Regular cow’s and goat’s milk should never be used for kittens, because it doesn’t contain these all important components. If you are fostering or raising kittens whose mother has sadly passed away, they will need a surrogate mom or shop brought milk replacer.
How Much Milk Does A Newborn Kitten Need?
Scientists say kittens should get 13-18 milliliters of kitten milk replacer per 100 grams of body weight, to start with. As they get older, this amount should be gradually increased. Base the increase on health, appearance, and weight gain. Kittens should be gaining around 18-20 grams per day.
If your kittens are active and responsive to what’s around them, they are doing well. If they are always vocalizing and hungry, you may need to reevaluate. Kittens should be given regular food starting at around three-four weeks. They should be completely weaned at six weeks.
Pamela Burke' says
This was a very well written article…I really needed this info to help my 26 year old cat gain weight but not get sick in the process. Thanks again?
…very informative and soooo true. Thank you .
You have a cat 26 years old? Amazing!
Synclaire Sibella says
Congratulations to your kitty! Yo must be very proud getting to keep a kitty BF for so long. There must be lots of love in your house!
JEFF CAST says
What about oat milk e.g. from alpro
Oats like soy are a vegetable source and cats are carnivores so the two are incompatible. No best not to give your cat oat milk.
Laura Lee Ogan says
You advise lactose-free milk and also low- or nonfat milk for cats. Aren’t you aware that the higher the fat content of the milk the lower the lactose. I am lactose intolerant and avoided all milk for several years until I discovered that half and half does not cause me any distress and was informed of the above. I’m also advised by my physician to eat harder cheeses.
That was referring specifically to fat and sugar content, which isn’t good for cats. They specify, in the same portion, not to give your cats milk with lactose in it. So, hand-in-hand, it should read as, “If you give your cats dairy, go for low fat varieties, free of lactose.”
Very informative, my cat is addicted to milk, she sits at her bowl and demands it. She does seem to tolerate it but I will now be careful with the amount she has. Going to have one unhappy cat and dog for that matter.
Hi to all
Cats should not be given anything sweet for one simple reason. Their saliva is unable to get rid of sugar, unlike dogs, so eventually their teeth with rot.
Val Ludgate says
A very useful article, many thanks. I am lactose intolerant myself and only have lactose free cow’s milk in the house. When I have cereal or porridge my cat drives me crazy for it. I only give him about a tablespoonful in his bowl and only on the days I have cereal or porridge.
Darlene nicholson says
I have a sick ferrel cat that can’t eat anything, he seems to have a problem chewing so I was giving him cat milk from the store and he drinks it but still has a hard time. It’s very sad. The cat milk was getting to expensive so I was unable to continue with it .I just got laid off my job anyway I’m giving him goat’s milk and he is able to drink it easier. I do add a little water to it and lysine. Is this hurting him? I don’t know what else to do. There are so many stray cats I’m taking care of and I haven’t the money to get this poor baby to vet and don’t know if I could even get him in a carrier if I was able to get him help.
I don’t know about the milk but I learned recently how to get my cat into a carrier after not being able to get him to the vet for about 3 years! I was able to do this without anyone else’s help! Use a carrier where the top is separated from the bottom and can be joined together. Get a soft towel. Get the top ready nearby the bottom. Pick up your kitty and stroke him to keep him calm. Gently wrap the kitty with the towel around him and over his eyes, so he can’t see and his legs can’t move. Do this as quickly as you can and put him in the bottom half of the carrier. Hold him down and quickly align the top to the bottom. Lock the two halves of the carrier together. Make sure the door is locked on the carrier and you are good to go!
My cats love evaporated milk and I have been giving it to them for years. This article was quite informative. I am grateful that it doesn’t appear to have hurt them at all but perhaps I won’t be so generous with it from now on. 🙂
Can you please provide citations to any information regarding pasteurized milk causing harm to cats? Pasteurization is a very basic heat treatment, and does not alter the chemical structure of milk in any way.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is banned from interstate commerce in the US, is completely illegal in at least 20 states, and is very restricted in most of the remaining states. The reason for this is simple: Modern milk production methods in the US are very susceptible to contamination with dangerous, sometimes lethal bacteria. Unless you are 100% familiar with the source and production methods of the provider, raw milk consumption is very risky to humans, and probably to cats as well. I’m talking 100% familiar like, ‘bet your life on it’ kind of familiar.
Well I am lactose intolerant and remember the agony I went thru before we finally discovered my intolerance of milk. I would not wish that on anyone or anything. Having just inherited an 8 month old Siamese cat, I was thinking it may want some milk, I am glad I didn’t have any in the house or I may have given it some. I wouldn’t want one of God’s precious creatures to suffer.
Rather safe than sorry
Geraldine Hoffman says
Years ago we had a cat, agrey one we called Maltese. we raised him on people food leftovers and evaporated milk mixed with half water although not fat, he was large and if he was outside, he would chase all the dogs in the house. He lived to be quite old. When we moved and had to leave him, the neighbors took care of him and we would check on him when we could He was quite popular!
Hi, may I know how old?