A cat and a bowl of milk: the image has been ingrained in our minds by everything from Disney movies to French posters. But the sad truth is that cats and milk don’t go together like peanut butter and jelly. Milk makes many cats sick, and those that can tolerate it don’t get much of a nutritional boost from the cold and creamy treat.
Lactose intolerance is a common condition in cats
Your cat’s milk mustache (or beard) is quite a sight, but wait a couple of hours and the surprise that he leaves in the litter box isn’t going to resemble anything close to cute. That’s because a lot of cats have trouble digesting milk sugar, or lactose. While it’s not toxic, lactose can cause nausea, gas, vomiting and most commonly, diarrhea.
To digest lactose, a cat needs to have lactase in his belly. Kittens are born with plenty of the stuff, but as they grow up, they begin producing less. Many cats end up making so little lactase that their stomachs become unable to tolerate lactose. Since the only time cats are naturally exposed to milk sugars is when they are nursing, lactose intolerance is actually very common in cats.
Milk: Cats don’t need it the way kids do
Some cats can tolerate milk, but that doesn’t mean they should be lapping it up. Cats will get all the nutrients they need to grow big and strong from the cat food and water you provide. If your cat really enjoys milk and it agrees with his digestive system, a small amount can be given as a treat.
Don’t let your cat drink milk in place of water. The two beverages don’t have similar hydrating qualities. Your cat needs water to help regulate body temperature, digest food, lubricate tissue, eliminate waste and allow salt and electrolytes to pass through his body.
If your cat’s crazy about milk, but his belly isn’t nearly as enthusiastic, try soy or lactose-free milk. Coconut milk, another alternative for lactose intolerant humans, isn’t toxic to cats, but the flesh and milk contain oils that may cause nausea, loose stools or diarrhea.
You can also check your local pet store for cat milk, cow milk that has been specially formulated for lactose intolerant cats. Products like CatSip or Whiskas Cat Milk are treated with lactase, which gives your cat’s stomach a boost in digesting the milk sugar. Although it should only be given as a treat, cat milk does come with a bonus. These products both contain taurine, a nutrient that helps maintain a cat’s heart and eye health.
Never give your cat chocolate soy or lactose-free milk. Chocolate contains methlxanthines, which can not only wreck havoc on your pet’s digestive system, but also cause hyperactivity, seizures, tremors and even death.
Wait, what about kittens and milk?
Kittens are the exception to the cats-not-needing-milk rule. They need milk for survival until they are old enough to be weaned, which usually starts around four weeks of age.
So suppose you find a motherless kitten that hasn’t yet been weaned. You want to help the poor little guy, but all you have is what goes on your cereal in the morning. Milk is milk, right?
Actually, milk from cows contains more lactose than cat milk and a kitten doesn’t have enough lactase to digest it. Check with your vet or pet supply store for a milk replacer for kittens. It’s made from cow milk, but some of the lactose has been removed. The amounts of casein and whey in replacer have also been reformulated for a kitten’s digestion.
In summary, while the image of a cat lapping up a saucer of milk is a beloved cultural icon, the reality is much different. Milk and cats, contrary to popular belief, don’t pair well together due to a common condition in felines – lactose intolerance. While the symptoms aren’t fatal, they can cause significant discomfort, ranging from nausea and gas to vomiting and diarrhoea.
As kittens, felines naturally possess an enzyme called lactase, which aids in digesting lactose found in their mother’s milk. However, as they mature, the production of this enzyme decreases, leading many adult cats to become lactose intolerant. Milk, therefore, doesn’t contribute to a cat’s nutritional needs the way it does for humans, particularly children.
That said, there are alternatives available for cats who enjoy the taste of milk without the associated digestive woes. Lactose-free or soy milk can serve as substitutes, as can specially formulated ‘cat milk’ available at pet stores, which is treated with lactase to aid digestion.
For orphaned kittens who have not yet been weaned, it’s crucial to provide them with a suitable milk replacer designed specifically for kittens, as regular cow’s milk can be harmful to them.
So remember, while a purring cat might look adorable with a milk moustache, their digestive system will thank you if you stick to water and nutritionally balanced cat food, keeping milk as an occasional treat, if at all. By doing this, you ensure your feline friend’s health and well-being, providing them with the hydration and nutrients they need to live a long, happy, and comfortable life.