The Lowdown on Cats, Milk, and Dairy

For whatever reason, cats and milk just seem to fit together. Believe it or not, the two shouldn’t be paired up! The truth is that adult cats should not be given milk to drink. Here, your Orangevale, CA veterinarian elaborates.

Why Can’t Cats Drink Milk?

As cats age, they produce less and less of the lactase enzyme in their digestive systems. Lactase is needed for digesting lactose, the primary enzyme of milk. This is called becoming lactose intolerant. That’s right, it’s the same condition that affects many humans! If most cats drink too much milk, symptoms like upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea are likely to occur.

What About Kittens?

You may wonder about kittens, who consume their mother’s milk during the nursing period (or a milk-formula substitute if the mother is not available). It’s true—kittens do require milk for proper nutrients and growth. This is the only time in a cat’s life cycle, though, that milk is required for any reason. As cats age, their digestive systems typically start producing less and less lactase. By the time a kitten has grown into an adult cat, they are most likely partially or entirely lactose-intolerant.

Is Any Dairy Safe for Cats?

All true dairy contains some amount of lactose; as such, no dairy is fully safe for cats and may result in upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. Since certain dairy products like yogurt or cheese contain less lactose than milk does, they’re less likely to cause harm but are still not nutritionally necessary. If you must give your cat a dairy product, keep the portion size very small, and only indulge your feline friend very occasionally.

What Should Cats Be Drinking?

There is only one liquid that your cat needs to stay healthy and happy: water. Provide your cat with a dish of cool, fresh water to drink from at all times, and be sure to check the dish often to refresh or refill it if necessary.

There are also manufactured “cat milks” on the market today. These products taste like milk to your cat, but have all lactose removed so as not to cause any health symptoms. If your cat loves milk but you don’t want a mess on your hands, ask your veterinary professional to recommend such a product.

Contact your Orangevale, CA animal clinic with any further questions on your cat’s dietary needs. We are here to help!

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