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Can Cats Drink Milk?

 
By Ameera Mills. August 8, 2018
Can Cats Drink Milk?

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Can cats drink cow's milk? Is it good for them or is it harmful? Without a doubt, these are some of the first questions that assail us when we decide to adopt a cat, no matter how old they are. Maybe this is thanks to the numerous times we have seen the stereotypical image of a cat enjoying a good bowl of milk on the big screen.

In order to clear up these myths and doubts, here at AnimalWised we will discuss if cats can drink milk. Additionally we will explain why it should be avoided or moderated, specifically if this milk contains lactose.

You may also be interested in: Forbidden Foods for Guinea Pigs

Cats and milk

Before indicating whether milk is good for cats or not, it is essential to talk about their digestive system and how a cat digests food.

As with humans, a cat's digestive tract is constantly changing and in turn modifying the production of certain enzymes (depending on the food). This will depend on the amount of protein, fat or sugars that a cat ingests. In this way, it is logical that these changes are also subject to the different growth stages. During the lactation period, infants produce a large amount of the enzyme lactase, responsible for digesting the lactose that makes up milk. As weaning progresses and milk intake is reduced, a kitten's digestive tract decreases its lactase production, which can sometimes develop into a lactose intolerance.

This same process can also happen in humans, which is why the percentage of lactose intolerant people is so high. However, not all cats are affected so radically by this enzyme production and, therefore, some of them have the ability to tolerate milk during adulthood. This is especially likely in felines that continue to drink cow's milk after weaning and tend to continue to generate lactase. However, although they have the ability to digest lactose properly, it should be noted that milk should not occupy majority of a cat's diet. As a kitten grows, it is crucial that their diet is adapted to their age. As they mature, they require more solid foods containing the necessary nutrients, vitamins and proteins needed for their proper development.

On the other hand, although lactase enzyme production generally decreases, if a feline continues to generate a small amount of it, in some cases, it is possible that it can tolerate milk in small amounts.

Can kittens drink milk?

Newborn kittens should ideally feed through their mother's breast milk. If, unfortunately, you are in the care of a kitten that has been orphaned, we do not recommend giving it cow's milk. The reason for this is because the composition of cow's milk is different from breast milk and, therefore, the animal would not be receiving the nutrients, lipids and proteins that it really needs . In the case that a kitten has been separated by its mother, you can consult a veterinarian on the best diet option for this kitten. For more, take a look at our article on: "How to feed a newborn kitten?".

Now, if the kitten has already been weaned: you can offer it small amounts of milk to see if its body digests it correctly. If the kitten does not present any health or digestive problems, you can offer this kitten some milk in moderation. However, remember, this is only complementary to its diet and cannot be considered a main ingredient.

Can Cats Drink Milk? - Can kittens drink milk?

Can cats drink cow milk?

As we have previously mentioned, most cats tend to progressively reduce lactase production after weaning. This means that, due to the deficiency of the enzyme or the complete disappearance of it, many cats can then develop an intolerance to lactose. But why does his happen? Milk consists of both glucose and galactose. To digest it, the body naturally produces lactase in the small intestine, which is responsible for breaking it down and transforming it into simple sugars. By transforming it, its absorption is facilitated. When the enzyme cannot fulfill its function, the lactose passes into the large intestine without being digested. This then affects the bacterial flora, resulting in digestive problems.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance in cats are the following:

  • Nause and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Swelling of the abdominal area

So, if after offering cow's milk to your adult cat, you observe these symptoms, it is probably due to an intolerance. If this is the case, you will have to eliminate the lactose from your cat's diet. On the other hand, there is a chance that your cat is in fact allergic to lactose: a pathology completely different from intolerance. While intolerance affects the digestive system, an allergy involves the immune system. In an allergy, the immune system develops hypersensitivity and emits an allergic reaction when it perceives that the allergen in question has penetrated the organism. A milk allergy would produce the following symptoms in a feline:

  • Itching accompanied by hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Stomach pain that can be translated into sudden meowings

If your cat is suffering from any of these mentioned reactions, we recommend consulting you veterinarian immediately. This becomes especially urgent if you notice that your cat is struggling to breathe.

Finally, it is possible that the animal does not develop any of these symptoms and, therefore, is able to correctly digest lactose. In such cases, we can say that cats can drink cow's milk without problems, however, quantity must always be controlled. In order to do find out how your cat reacts to lactose in milk, give your cat a little milk to try and supervise if there are any reactions. From there, you can decide whether it is necessary to eliminate lactose from your cat's diet.

How to give a cat milk

If it appears that your cat does not suffer from any intolerance or allergy to lactose, you can offer a little milk. In general, it is usually advisable to provide your cat with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, although some cats tolerate whole milk without problems. Therefore, we encourage you to try the different options and find the one which best suits your animal.

On the other hand, if your cat has shown signs of intolerance, but you would like to offer it milk, you have the option of offering your cat lactose-free milk. Similarly with humans, lactose-free milk is easier for cats to digest and, therefore, prevents the appearance of any digestive tract problems.

As for the amount of milk recommended for cats, the truth is that we cannot establish a certain number of milliliters because, as we mentioned before, it will depend on the cat. What we can suggest is that, whether your cat has the ability to digest lactose or not, it is not recommended to abuse its consumption. An excess of milk in a cat's diet can translate into too high a calcium percentage. Too much calcium in a cat's diet can lead to the development of, for example, kidney stones. We recommend establishing a veterinary managed diet, based on the needs of our cat.

Can Cats Drink Milk? - How to give a cat milk

Can cats drink or eat dairy products?

As we mentioned, if your cat does no suffer from an allergy or from lactose intolerance, it can consume dairy products. These products include; cheese and/or yogurt. Of course, as with all processed foods, we should always manage the quantity offered, avoiding medium to large quantities. This yogurt and cheese should however be natural and sugar-free.

In fact, yogurt in particular, is a highly beneficial food for cats. This is due to its high content in probiotics.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Cats Drink Milk?, we recommend you visit our Homemade diets category.

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