Can Cats Drink Milk? Everything You Need to Know

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: January 14, 2022 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: August 16, 2021  
Author:  Rebekah Carter
cat drinking from a milk bottle

Can cats drink milk? Cats and milk seem like the perfect combination.

For decades, we’ve seen countless representations in the media, indicating our feline friends’ love of dairy products. There are endless movies, cartoons, and drawings that depict kitties happily drinking a bowl of fresh milk. There are even sayings like “the cat that got the cream”, to further cement this love affair between cats and dairy.

Unfortunately, like most things you see on TV, the idea that kitties and dairy products are a perfect mix might not be as realistic as you’d think. The truth is feeding your cats milk isn’t particularly beneficial at all. Most vets and animal experts agree that milk doesn’t contain all the nutrients cats need to grow strong. What’s worse, most cats will actually suffer negative side-effects as a result of drinking milk, like stomach aches and diarrhea?

So, what is the truth, can cats drink milk? Let’s find out.

Can Cats Drink Cow Milk?

Cats absolutely can drink milk – but that doesn’t mean they should.

Often, when people ask can cats drink milk, they’re meaning, “can cats drink cows milk” from the grocery store. However, cats aren’t really supposed to drink cow’s milk at all. 

Like most infant mammals, kittens initially thrive on their mother’s milk. By the time they’re just a few months old. However, they quickly move away from milk and start consuming cat food and water instead. Typically, the only time when you’ll need to give a kitten milk yourself is when you’re hand-rearing them, because the kitten has been orphaned or abandoned. 

In this case, when you’re feeding a kitten not yet ready to eat solid foods, you’ll need to use a special kind of kitten milk, which is fortified with certain nutrients to help their young body grow. You’ll also need to gradually wean the kitten away from this milk after a while and encourage them to eat solid foods and water instead.

Can Cats Drink Milk? Cats and Lactose Intolerance

So, like most mammals, cats can drink milk from their parents when growing out of infancy. However, this doesn’t mean your cat should be drinking milk from a cow. As a baby, kittens produce an enzyme called lactase naturally. This is the same enzyme we humans produce to help digest the sugars in milk and dairy products, known as “lactose”. 

kitten drinking from milk bowl

When kittens drink milk from their mother, their lactase enzymes work to break down the lactose into galactose and glucose, so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and converted into energy. However, as a cat begins to grow up, their bodies naturally produce less lactase. This means instead of breaking down, the milk sugar remains intact and moves into the colon. 

Because the sugar in lactase ferments in the colon, it creates gasses and other substances which can cause symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other problems. 

This is where the problem starts with cats drinking milk. If a cat tries to drink the same amount of milk as an adult as they did as a kitten, they’re likely to experience some unwanted side effects. 

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In most cases, a small amount of milk might be okay for a cat to ingest without any side effects. However, it’s important to keep a close eye on how your kitty responds to dairy products. This includes watching over your cat if they ever eat cream, ice cream, and even cheese.

There’s also a possibility to get some raw milk and unpasteurized alternatives that contain their own lactase, but this can be a difficult thing to do. In many cases, there’s also a risk that raw milk will be more likely to contain bacteria. It may be best to stick to special dairy products without any lactose – these are becoming increasingly common in supermarkets.

Can Cats Drink Almond Milk?

We often see the question, can cats drink almond milk. Almond milk is certainly more popular in this modem age that we live in. Almond milk is somewhat different as it is made from nuts and is not dairy. So, in general, the answer would be yes. Cats can have almond milk in moderation. 

But there are a few reasons why this nut milk gets the okay.

glass full of almond nuts

Firstly, almond milk does not contain any dairy products. This means that there is no lactose, which, as discussed,  most cats don't have the stomach for. 

Secondly, almond milk also does not contain ingredients toxic to cats.

And lastly, your cat will love the taste. It can definitely be used as a special treat for your furball. 

And here is a handy pet hack for you. Some cat owners actually use almond milk as a way to hide the taste of cat medicine that's been mixed into their animal's food. And here is a handy pet hack for you.

Can Cats Drink Lactose Free Milk?

So, why do we all assume that cats love milk when biologically, it’s no good for them? The simple answer is that many cats do enjoy the taste of milk and other dairy products. Milk is full of fat (in most cases), which your cat loves. The flavor of milk is also appealing to a lot of cats, which is why it’s common to see milk-flavored cat treats in pet stores. 

Though most cats are lactose intolerant, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy drinking milk and eating dairy products when they have the chance. 

There are plenty of cats out there who will happily take any opportunity to lick the lids of your yogurt pots and lap up melted ice cream when possible. It’s important to keep a close eye on your pets in this case, as over-exposure to lactose isn’t a good idea.

While a cat’s love for milk isn’t a myth in itself, the common belief that pet parents should be feeding their cats milk and dairy products simply isn’t correct. Most people believe that this idea actually stemmed from cats drinking milk on dairy farms, where they were responsible for chasing and killing mice or rats. Farm cats were often drawn to the warm fresh milk from cows and were often found lapping it from milk pails. 

Notably, this raw milk often contained its own lactase, which helped cats to digest the dairy. Additionally, raw milk is a lot fattier and contained more cream. Today, the cow’s milk you’d buy from a grocery store has a lot less fat.

So, can cats drink lactose free milk? When it comes to lactose free milk your cat will be able to drink it, but again, in moderation. Lactose-free milk has been specially treated and lactose enzymes are added to remove the lactose so that the milk is safe for your cats and will not cause any discomfort.

What if My Cat Doesn’t Have Side Effects from Milk?

If your cat seems to adore milk – like many felines do, it might be possible to give them the occasional dairy treat. 

A small amount of lactose usually won’t cause any dangerous symptoms, however, it’s best not to give your cats milk or cream too often. Aside from the risk of side effects, it’s also worth noting that milk contains calories, which could cause your cat to gain weight

two cats drinking from a cat bowl with milk in

If you’re looking for tips on how to feed your kitty or give them the right treats, the best bet will often be to speak to your vet. Some cats have more intolerance issues and dietary requirements than others. You may find that your specific breed of cat is also more predisposed to certain conditions, like severe lactose intolerance. 

There are tons of alternative treats your cat may like just as much (if not more) than standard milk, so consider experimenting with some healthier options if you’re looking for a way to reward your feline friend. If you really want to give your cat milk, it’s also worth noting there are various options available in the supermarket specifically for cats today. 

Lactose-free cat milk and kitten milk products are often much safer and may come with additional nutrients and supplements included ensuring your cat gets the right benefits from drinking their milk. Remember, if you are going to be feeding your kitten milk to help him or she grow when a mother is not around, you will need a specially formulated mixture of nutrients and minerals.

What Happens to A Cat When They Drink Milk?

As mentioned above, though milk isn’t ideal for cats, it’s something they can and often do drink quite a lot. If you ever give your cat milk or dairy as a treat, it’s important to only offer the smallest amount, and make sure you track their response.

In most cases, it’s best to avoid any dairy entirely, as it will often lead to issues like bloating, pain, and diarrhea. Your cat might seem like they really want to drink the left-over milk from your cereal bowl. However, you’re often doing them a favor by getting rid of the milk before they lap it up. 

Milk should never be given to cats instead of water. Milk is not a nutritional alternative for water, as it’s more likely to cause dehydration by prompting diarrhea and other issues with your cat’s digestive system. 

Your kitty should always have access to plenty of fresh and clean water. It’s also a good idea to feed plenty of high-quality wet foods in most cases, as cats often get the majority of their water from the foods they eat. 

kitten drinking from milk bottle with human hand

If your cat’s do drink milk or eat dairy products, the most common side-effects will usually be bloating, discomfort, gas, and diarrhea. You may also notice some lethargy in your cat, or unusual behavior. If your cat is exposed to dairy too often, this could lead to significant problems in the form of dehydration and internal gut issues. Make sure you’re very cautious about what you feed your cat.

When giving your kitten milk to help him or her grow, remember that cow’s milk is not a substitute for the milk a kitten gets from its mother. You will need to speak to your vet to get the right formula to protect your kitten as it grows up.

What Can Cats Have Instead of Milk?

Since milk and dairy products aren’t a necessary part of a cat’s diet, you can really substitute them with just about anything. If your kitty loves milk, you’ll be able to give it to them as an occasional treat in most cases, but that’s about as much as they should have. Generally, a better treat will be a lactose-free alternative, so your cat can get the flavor of the dairy without the side effects.

If possible, you should try raising your cat without exposing it to any milk or dairy products at all. This means they won’t feel like they’re missing out if you don’t share your glass of milk with them. You can always offer things like milk-flavored treats and cat “pudding” mixtures instead. 

While cats do like milk in some cases, they also love all kinds of other treats, from crunchy biscuits to freeze-dried pieces of meat. The added benefit of giving your kitty a meat-based treat is you’re actually providing some nutritional value with this option. Where milk doesn’t offer your cat anything but calories, a freeze-dried meat product will include protein and other essential substances. 

In general, when it comes to liquid, the only thing your cat should get plenty of is freshwater. You can keep the milk out of their diet entirely.

Can Cats Drink Milk: FAQ?

Q: Which kinds of milk are safe for cats?

Typically, it’s best to stay away from all kinds of standard milk, like cow and goat milk from your supermarket. Although your cat might be able to drink milk from an animal, it generally won’t be able to digest the dairy properly. If you’re going to give your cat milk-based treats, stick with something that’s lactose-free or dairy-free, according to the labelling at your store.

Q: Do cats like milk?

Though it’s not always healthy for them, cats do like milk. They’re often attracted to the fatty substance, plus, milk reminds cats of the first food they had from their mother. Experts also speculate that cats got a taste for milk as a species thanks to the exposure they had to fresh milk in farm environments.

Q: Is milk fatal to cats?

Fortunately, milk usually doesn’t have a very dangerous impact on cats. While it might make them uncomfortable, it’s unlikely that milk will cause any lasting damage to your feline friend. However, a large quantity could lead to serious discomfort and dehydration, so it’s best to be careful.

three cats from mums belly
Q: When should kittens stop drinking their mother’s milk?

Kittens generally begin the weaning products when they reach around four weeks of age. However, they should be able to stay away from milk entirely by the time they’re ten weeks old. You can give your cat lactose-free milk after this, but they should mostly be drinking water and getting moisture from the wet food they eat.

Q: Are cats allergic to milk?

Some people believe that cats are allergic to milk, because they know that dairy products can cause side effects like problems with digestion and diarrhea. However, the reality is that cats generally won’t be allergic to milk – they’re just lactose intolerant. Like humans with lactose intolerance, cats don’t produce enough lactase to digest the sugars in dairy, which causes side effects.

Q: How much milk can you give a cat?

If you’re giving a cat lactose-free milk, you should be able to give as much as you like – but be cautious. Generally, even lactose-free milk will contain a decent amount of fat. These extra calories can add up and lead to dangerous results like obesity. 

If you’re giving your cat standard cow’s milk, it’s important to minimize the amount of milk they eat. Most experts will only advise a few drops of milk or perhaps a single tablespoon. Think of it like giving your cat a treat -smaller doses are best. With a small dose, you can also more easily track your cat’s response to lactose.

Q: Will milk make my cat ill?

Milk can make your cat seem unwell by causing side effects like gas and diarrhea. Your cats might struggle to process the milk properly, which means they’re likely to seem a little unhappy or uncomfortable. In most cases, general discomfort caused by dairy shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Your vet will be able to provide advice if you notice your cat acting strange, however.

Q: What kind of milk do kittens need?

Growing kittens only need the milk they get from their mother. If a kitten is orphaned or abandoned by its mother, most care providers will need to give the kitten special milk formula. The milk you get to help a kitten grow will be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to ensure your cat can grow big and strong. 

If you’re raising and hand-rearing a ca ton your own, speak to your vet about the kind of milk products and other substances you can give the cat to keep it healthy.

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About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.