A cat drinking from a bowl of autumn leaves while being mindful of pet safety in summer.

Is Milk Bad for Your Cat?


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For decades it’s been a common misconception that a ‘cat and milk’ go hand-in-hand like a ‘dog with a bone’. So, we don’t blame you for also thinking it’s okay to treat your feline to a bowl of milk. Surely a little bit won’t hurt, right? Can cats drink milk at all?

It’s hard not to imagine the little furry creature lapping up a big bowl of milk, when advertisements and media have associated cats with milk for centuries.

Can cats drink milk?

Contrary to popular belief and even though Bella would give you snuggles for days in return for a big bowl of milk, veterinarians have warned that milk and dairy products can upset your feline’s stomach.

We know you may be tempted to give in to your cat’s meows when he or she smells a glass of milk or any dairy product. However, saying no will help your kitty stay healthy and out of the doctor’s rooms.

Vets recommend that all your feline friend needs to stay hydrated is a healthy amount of water as part of a well-balanced diet. Whether you opt for dry cat food or wet is up to you and your kitty’s tastebuds. Having said that, wet food will help with your cat’s hydration.

Now let’s get to the bottom of why exactly milk and dairy products should not form part of your pet’s daily diet.

Why is milk harmful for cats?

Bringing home a new addition to the family can be exciting and daunting all at the same time, especially when it comes to making sure your new fur baby has everything it needs!

On a side note, before you commit to bringing home a new kitten or cat, it may be worthwhile to prepare a cat health checklist before your fur baby arrives. This includes ensuring little Bella gets a well-balanced diet to grow up healthy and strong.

Even though cats love the taste of cow’s milk, it’s bad for their digestive system. Most cats are lactose intolerant. Being lactose intolerant means your furry friend is unable to digest the sugar (lactose) in milk, leading to issues like diarrhoea, vomiting and other illnesses.

this little white cat looking up wonders can cats drink milk?

But don’t they drink their mum’s milk?

When answering the question “can cats drink milk” we need to get specific on what type of milk.

After kittens are born, they usually drink their mother’s milk until they’re around 8 or 9 weeks old. They can digest this milk because they’re born with a digestive enzyme in their stomach, called lactase.

However, adult cats produce no or a very minimal amount of lactase. This makes it difficult for them to break down the lactose in milk. The accumulation of bacteria from the lactose in the small intestine results in an upset stomach.

Cats are instantly attracted to the high fat and protein content in milk and all dairy products. They don’t know it’s incredibly unhealthy for them. So, while they may not know any better…you can make sure they stay healthy by not feeding it to them. 

Cats and milk: Best drinks for your feline friend

Even though the answer to ‘can cats drink milk’ is no, water is a big yes. Water as part of a healthy balanced diet is the best drink for cats but some felines need encouragement.

The amount of water a cat needs differs according to their age, size and whether they eat wet or dry food. A cat that eats wet food will get more of their water intake from that, while a cat eating dry food will usually drink more water. A cat can drink anywhere between 135ml to 300ml of water per day.

You need to be cautious about dehydration, which can be caused by excessive diarrhoea and/or vomiting if your cat drinks milk and is lactose intolerant. Dehydration amongst cats is a serious issue that can lead to diabetes, kidney failure and heatstroke. 

How to know if your cat is dehydrated

To make sure your kitty isn’t dehydrated, The New Zealand Cat Association recommends lifting the skin between your feline’s shoulder blades. Then, see how fast it returns.

“The skin of a hydrated animal will spring back to his muscle almost immediately, while the skin of a dehydrated animal will return more slowly. Dehydrated kitties will have tacky-feeling gums and their eyes may appear sunken.”

This stripey feline lying down asleep wondered 'do cats drink milk'

What if my cat won’t drink water?

If your cat won’t drink fresh water try enticing them with the broth of some unsalted chicken or fish.

As a treat cats could be given ‘cat milk’, which can be bought from a pet shop. If there are concerns of dehydration speak to your vet about oral rehydration fluids. This could be more appealing than fresh water.

Although lactose-free milk could be used as an alternative to cow’s milk, caution should be exercised. Depending on labelling regulations a tiny amount of lactose may still be found in the milk. 

Healthier treats such as homemade tuna cookies or carrot and catnip treats will leave your feline delighted and help keep them out of the doctor’s rooms. Read our article on homemade cat treats for more suggestions. Most leading pet food manufacturers also have a range of treats that have been approved by veterinarians.

Planning for the unexpected

So, can cats drink milk? That’s a no. And even though we all try to be as informed as possible in keeping our fur kids well protected, they tend to get up to sneaky mischief when your back is turned.

If little Bella is lactose intolerant, you’ll know within 8-12 hours if she’s had one too many sips of milk. Remember: can cats drink milk = no! She’ll show symptoms such as excessive gas, diarrhoea and vomiting. If you’re concerned your cat may become dehydrated due to the amount of diarrhoea and vomiting, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. An infusion of fluids may be required.

We all know how expensive a trip to the vet is, which is why you should consider pet insurance. It can help ease the stress in such situations.

PD Insurance specialises in low cost, high value pet insurance. The kind that’ll cushion you against hefty vet bills for tests, treatments, medication and more. Our three simple policies have the quality protection your furry family member deserves, with no lock-in contract. You can go to any vet of your choice, and you can upgrade or downgrade your plan. Why not give us a try?

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