Cats and Milk: A Case of Lactose Intolerance

Cats and milk don't lend themselves to a healthy cat.

Would you feed a stray dog a full saucer of cow’s milk? Probably not. But a stray cat begging at the back door of a farm house will invariably be fed from a cow’s udder. This disparity between these two popular domestic mammals may cause some head-scratching, but despite the fact that cats cannot effectively digest cow’s milk, they continue to be offered bowls of it. Cats and milk have gone together for ages, but the product of their alliance is anything but pretty.

Can It Be Bad If It’s Satisfying?

Cats are lactose intolerant, which means they aren’t able to digest lactose, the main sugar found in dairy products. Cats aren’t born this way, indeed the very survival of kittens hinges upon regular milky meals freely given by their mothers. However, after they are weaned, the enzyme lactase that helps kittens digest lactose begins to fade.

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That’s Good, That’s Bad!

Cats, regardless of age, will likely lap up a taste or two of milk. Unfortunately, this gastronomic experiment can have very uncomfortable consequences for cats that have lost their lactose digesting powers.

Lactose is indigestible in a cat’s intestines. It is there that colon bacteria ferments this sugar and produces volatile fatty acids. Stomach cramps, general upset, diarrhea, vomiting, and more are the side effects between cats and milk that appear between 8-12 hours later.

What About Young Cats and Milk?

Kittens that still depend on milk can tolerate cow’s milk for a short period of time, but it’s much better for them to receive a feline milk replacement. Cow’s milk has different nutrient balance. As you can imagine, baby cows have vastly different nutritional needs than kittens. As such, cat milk products found in pet stores is the safer alternative.

Some Cats Are OK

There are some exceptions to this general health concern. Some cats continue producing lactase throughout their lives, and are able to digest lactose. While there are healthier treats to give cats at home (milk is a high calorie food), occasional offers of the white stuff can win you big points with a cat that doesn’t suffer indigestion.  

Age Old Wisdom

Our team at Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital are always here to help you make the right choices that support feline nutritional needs. Please let us know if you need any help finding the right snacks, treats, or food that boost overall health, wellness, and happiness.