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Should Cats Drink Milk | Lactose Intolerance in Cats

Picture of cat drinking from a bowl

The simplest answer to this question is no. Many cats are lactose intolerant, like their human counterparts. While kittens are, to some extent, capable if digesting lactose, especially from other species, this capability decreases as they grow older. The lactase levels of an adult just aren’t the same as those of a young one, and so their bodies have to make an effort to digest milk.

There’s this universal belief that a cat, in order to be a cat, needs to have a preference for milk and cream. The truth is that most adult cats will develop diarrhea or vomiting over the time span of eight to twelve hours after being fed dairy.

Why isn’t milk good for your cat?

Milk is, in fact, a general denomination for all types of milk. It goes without saying that the vast majority of cats are not truly lactose-intolerant; otherwise, they couldn’t survive seeing how they must feed on their mother’s milk.

The problem is that the lactose found in cow and goat milk is considerably different from that in cat milk. Lactose is a sugar (carbohydrate), so even if your cat has a preference for it, it’s not really good for the animal. There are imbalances in terms of protein, carbs, as well as fats that make cow milk extremely different compared to cat milk. Most adult mammals, including humans, have some degree of lactose intolerance, so your feline companion is basically less equipped to handle this type of sugar as he or she gets older.

Keep in mind that many cats can handle milk significantly better than others, and they might not even experience vomiting or diarrhea, especially if they are completely healthy. However, that doesn’t mean that you should regularly integrate milk into your feline buddy’s diet.

Why do some cats actually like milk?

We’ve talked about how many cats (and many other types of pets, for that matter) don’t necessarily have an attraction to a particular type of food unless it has something that appeals to them. Visually, most dogs and cats won’t find anything interesting to munch on, but when it comes to their senses, things are a bit different.

Cats find it extremely hard to resist fats, so if you feed your cat high-fat milk, he or she will probably want to consume it, unless the animal really doesn’t fancy it. There are cats that refuse all dairy products, and good for them. However, there are others that will manifest an interest in dairy products mostly because of the fat content in them.

Almost anyone knows that a high-fat diet can lead to digestive imbalances, and diarrhea is only one of the symptoms of indigestion. If you want to make sure that your cat never experiences it, you have to either avoid feeding milk to your cat altogether or, if he or she really loves it, at least do it in small amounts and only using organic skim milk with a 1% fat content.

What about soy milk and other plant-based types?

Naturally, cats are carnivorous, so there’s no reason whatsoever to feed them soy milk because it is made from soybeans. Pretty much all types of plant-based milk are a no-go, and almond and coconut milk can be even riskier.

Almonds have a high amount of fats and oils and can become toxic when consumed in excess. Coconut also has plenty of oil and fat, and as we have discussed above, these can cause indigestion.

Can you give kittens milk?

It would be great if all kittens could get their milk from their mothers, but we don’t live in an ideal world where all animals have mothers. Instead of having to feed a young one cow’s milk, it would be better to find a foster mother.

Cat milk is rich in a variety of nutrients which are necessary for ensuring that the animal’s body grows up to be healthy. It contains vitamin A, vitamin D, niacin, and even amino acids like arginine and taurine. Arginine is very important because cats can’t synthesize it on their own, and so they have to get it from their diets. Low levels of arginine have been linked to anorexia and cataract.

Taurine is necessary for normal digestion, a healthy immune system, as well as good vision and heart health. Yes, cow milk does contain a variety of vitamins and calcium, and other nutrients, as well, but it is simply not perfectly compatible with the young cat’s body. Why take the risk of getting the animal sick if you can prevent it? So if you shouldn’t feed kittens cow milk, what should you do?

Substitutes

You can now purchase a kitten milk replacer. Most of the formulas available these days are specifically designed to provide a caloric pattern that is similar to cat’s milk in terms of protein, carbs, and fat. They’re also supplemented with vitamins and minerals to ensure the right development and health.

Milk replacers come in the form of powder, so you have to mix them with warm water. If possible, avoid using a syringe to feed the kitten. You can get a nursing kit, which is very similar in terms of design to a baby bottle, only it comes with considerably smaller nipples.

Kittens should receive around 13 to 18 ml of kitten milk replacer per 100g of body weight. This amount can be increased as the weight of the young one grows.

One important note that must be made is that cats should never be fed baby formula because it is extremely high in lactose, so it is just too much for the animal to digest it properly and without any issues. If you give your cat baby formula, it’s quite likely that he or she will experience gastrointestinal distress.

Nothing’s worse than having to manage a kitten’s diarrhea, because the animal can lose so much water in this way that the subsequent dehydration can pose a real threat to the cat’s life.

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