Images of cats slurping up milk are a staple of pop culture. The image is an understandable, if somewhat flawed, perception of cats. Their unique way of drinking the milk, by touching their tongues to the surface before drawing it rapidly back into their mouths has cuteness written all over it.
Coupled with the milk mustaches on their furry snouts, it’s an adorable image. But this adorable image may have a hidden dark side.
Cats love milk. Unfortunately, as cute as it is to watch cats lap up their milk, most cats are lactose intolerant. If you feed your cat milk or other dairy products it may result in you having to clean vomit and diarrhea.
Can I Give My Cat Milk? Answer: Depends on the cat.
They aren’t able to digest the sugars in milk, the consequences of which are less than pleasant. Milk is not needed as a dietary supplement though, so its only purpose would be as a tasty treat. Lucky for the milk-loving cats all over the world, humans have invested in providing them with milk substitutes.
Lactose Intolerant or Not
Almost all cats are lactose intolerant, but not all, so it may be possible to feed your cat milk without any problems. The only way to find out if by giving your feline friend a little bit of milk to see how it reacts. If they are lactose intolerant you will notice that they have an upset stomach and perhaps a bit of diarrhea. In that case, it is obviously best for them to avoid milk. If they tolerate it without any digestive difficulties, then giving them the occasional treat of a saucer filled with milk should cause no difficulties.
Many cat food manufacturers have recognized the average cat’s love for milk and created a product just for them. These ‘cat milks’ have been created with the metabolism of felines in mind, so it does have some nutritional value for them. It is also designed to be more gentle on their stomachs than real milk, so there will not be any nasty side effects. These ‘cat milks’ are available in most pet stores. Veterinarians recommend them even if your cat is not lactose intolerant as it has more nutritional value and is better for their stomachs. It basically has all the flavor of real milk, without all the sugars that are so hard to break down.
As a Treat Only
Think of your favorite food. Chances are if you would eat it every day, you would end up malnourished too. If your cat is not lactose intolerant a little bit of milk now and again will do no harm. If they are lactose intolerant, make sure to use a milk substitute. It’s not much of a treat if it makes you sick every time you drink it. As a staple of their diet, however, milk is completely useless. Cats need taurine and fatty acids that are not available in milk.
Not a Substitute for Water
Milk can never be used as a substitute for water. Water is essential to cats and should never be substituted by any other liquid. Water is crucial to digestion, the regulation of body temperature, tissue lubrication and waste processing. If you give your cat a bit of milk occasionally, be sure to have a dish of water on hand at all times as well.
No Milk for Kittens
Obviously kittens need milk, but cow’s milk (which is typically available for human consumption) is completely inadequate even as a substitute for mother’s milk. Kittens do have lactase, the enzyme used to digest the sugars in milk, in their systems, but not enough to properly digest the quantity of sugars in cow milk. The casein to whey ratios in cow milk are also inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of kittens. In this case it is essential to use milk that is as close as possible in composition to that of its mother.
No Milk is the Best Milk
Drinking unaltered cow’s milk usually results in indigestion for cats. Milk does not have any nutritional value for cats, so even though there are suitable milk substitutes available at the pet store there is no real reason to feed your cat milk.