Should I give my cat milk?
One of the most common misconceptions is that all milk is good for cats! Milk can be high in fat, in fact one saucer of milk is the equivalent of four burgers (based on a 4.5kg cat and an average size woman) - but giving your cat ordinary cows’ milk can also cause upset tummies, cramps and even severe diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can be fatal to kittens because it dehydrates their bodies very quickly. After weaning, milk is not necessary in a cat's diet. Their ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk) reduces. Cats can even become intolerant to ordinary cows’ milk, resulting in the diarrhoea mentioned above.
Fresh, clean water is actually all cats will ever need - read our advice if your cat doesn't seem to drink enough water. If you do wish to give your cat milk, then you can buy lactose reduced cows’ milk (lactose is the sugar found in milk) from your pet food store, vets or supermarket, some even have added vitamins and minerals. So although milk is not essential in a cat’s diet, some cat owners find that lactose reduced cows’ milk can be a great way to give their pet a healthy treat and to help keep them hydrated. Indeed, some cats will not drink milk at all. Read our advice about giving your cat soya milk.
Does my cat need the calcium from milk?
Most cats are lactose intolerant because they lack the enzyme lactase, which aids in digesting lactose. As undigested lactose passes through the cat's digestive system it draws water from the intestines. Lactose cannot pass easily through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, so it remains in the intestines.
Next, gut bacteria invade and fermentation sets in causing large amounts of gas to form. The result is pain and diarrhoea for your cat. Very young kittens produce the enzyme lactase when suckling from their mother but the ability to produce the enzyme diminishes after weaning.
Soft tissues such as meats (essential in a cat's diet) and offal are very low in calcium and if they are fed as the sole food source, calcium deficiency will occur. You might think that milk is the only source of calcium and the answer to this problem, but good proprietary diets will contain adequate supplies of the major and trace minerals, which includes calcium. Read our essential advice and top feeding tips to ensure your cat is getting the best from his food.
Toplife answer five commonly asked questions about giving your cat milk:
Can kittens/cats have dairy products?
Digestive problems can occur in adult cats but usually a small amount of dairy is OK. Owners could consider suitable dairy alternatives available which might be more easily digestible such as lactose reduced cows' milk, goats' milk, soya milk and rice milk.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. There is generally insufficient lactase present in the system, the enzyme that breaks the lactose down into its individual sugar components glucose and galactose.
What are the benefits of lactose reduced cows' milk?
Lactose reduced cows' milk is easier for the cats and kittens to digest and enables them to enjoy milk without experiencing the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Lactose reduced cows' milk is very gentle on the digestive system and shouldn't upset them. If your kitten/cat does however suffer from an adverse reaction it is always sensible to consult your vet immediately.
How often can I give lactose reduced cows' milk to my kitten/cat?
It can be given to kittens or cats as often as you like. It is ideal on its own to help with weaning or mixed with solid food to encourage lapping. It can also offer a delicious treat for your cat as they grow into adults.
Will this affect how much water they drink and is this ok?
Unlike dogs, cats don't have the innate instinct to regulate their water balance very well. It is often very difficult to get a cat to drink and so many vets recommend wet food or supplemented milks to try to encourage them to drink. Lactose reduced cows' milk is nearly 89 per cent water so this will inevitably help. You should always make sure there is plenty of fresh drinking water available for your cat or kitten at all times.