Contrary to charming children’s book illustrations, cats and milk are not really a match in heaven. That is because even though most felines love a lap or two of milk, they sort of face with an unrequited love from the milk’s lactose. How’s that for a genuine ‘cat-scratch’ fact?
Just like some human, many cats can’t digest lactose and suffer stomach upset or diarrhea after drinking milk.
So should cats drink milk at all? Here’s a compilation of experts’ advices.
Cats and Milk Fact 1: Lactose Intolerance Is Common
Just like people, it is normal for a cat to be lactose intolerant. To digest lactose, the cat digestive system must contain sufficient enzyme lactase to break down the milk sugar, lactose.
Newborns have plenty of enzyme lactase to help them digest their mothers’ milk. As kittens grow older, production of the enzyme slows down and without sufficient lactase, the ability to digest milk lactose diminishes as well.
When a lactose-intolerant cat drinks milk, the undigested lactose passes through the intestinal tract, drawing water with it. Bacteria in the colon have a field day fermenting the undigested sugars, producing volatile fatty acids and gases that cause problem.
Most common symptom of lactose intolerance in cats is diarrhea; other symptoms are upset stomach and induced vomiting. The symptoms usually appear within eight to twelve hours after consuming the milk.
Cats and Milk Fact 2: Many Cats Can Handle Milk
Some cats do tolerate milk just dandy. If the cat doesn’t show any lactose-intolerance symptom after taking a lap or two of milk, the cat is fine with occasional milk.
However, most cat experts don’t recommend giving milk to them. Cats don’t need milk, their diet should mainly consist of high-quality cat food which meet their nutrient requirement. Treats of all sorts — such as meat, tuna, cheese, milk, or other “people foods” should not be more than 10% of your cat’s total diet. Also, remember that a cat often fed with table food is likely to be a finicky cat.
Cats and Milk Fact 3: Kittens Don’t Need Cow’s Milk
Despite those lovely storybook illustrations, cow’s milk is really not meant for kittens. It has way too much lactose for a kitten digestive system to handle.
In addition, the proportion of cow’s milk proteins: whey and casein, is completely off for a kitten. Hey, cow’s milk is meant for calves, not kittens or other babies!
If your kitten is young and still nursing, you can try a milk replacer made specifically for kittens.
Sold by veterinarians or found in pet stores, cat milk replacers often contain cow’s milk that has been adjusted to mimic as closely as possible the nutrient composition of cat’s milk. With correct casein and whey ratio, and appropriate amount of lactose, it is suitable for fostering or raising an orphaned kitten.
For a grown cat, offer milk replacers in small amounts as a treat if it has a taste for it; otherwise, it is not necessary. The same practice apply to dairy substitutes designed for humans, such as soy and lactose-free milk.
Cats and Milk Fact 4:Yogurt and Cheese May Be Easier to Digest
Sometimes a cat that can not take milk may have no problem with other forms of dairy, such as cheese, yogurt, butter, or ice cream. That is because different forms of dairy food contain different amounts of lactose.
There are two reasons explaining that. Diary like ice cream and yogurt are often diluted with other things, such as water, regular sugar, or added fats. They may also be cultured, meaning microorganisms have digested part of the lactose.
So if your feline pal likes dairy products but is lactose-intolerant, you may still try with cheese, yogurts, and other cultured dairy.
Cats and Milk Fact 5: Cats Need Plenty of Water
No matter how well your cat process cow’s milk, your cat will always need plenty of fresh, clean water. According to the web site of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, water is needed for:
Body temperature regulating
Tissue lubrication and regeneration
And allows salt and other electrolytes to pass through the body
To encourage your cat to drink water, placing several bowls of different depths around its active zones usually helps. Many cats find flowing water fascinating, if yours is one, kitty fountains are available at pet stores. Some cats are taught or taught themselves how to turn on and off the water tab.