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Can cats drink milk?

two cat drinking milk advice © Pixabay

Cats need lots of protein to stay healthy. But what about milk? It’s full of protein. We know they love it, but is milk bad for cats? Or can cats have milk? Let's find out!

By Ashley Murphy

Can cats drink milk?

You might be surprised to hear this,  but milk isn't very good for most cats. In fact, the majority of cats are lactose intolerant, which makes digesting quite delicate. This because lactose intolerant cats don't have the right enzymes to break down the natural sugar found in milk.

Because it remains undigested, the milk stays in the intestines where it starts to ferment, causing stomach problems like cramp, nausea, and diarrhoea. The symptoms normally present themselves within 8-12 hours of drinking milk.

A minority of cats can handle lactose. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if your cat is tolerant to milk is by giving him some. Chances are it will make him sick. Is it worth taking the risk?

So why do cats like drinking milk?

Cats seem to prefer full-fat cows milk. Farmyard cats were notorious for trying to get at the buckets of white stuff milked straight from the cows. This is because the fat rises to the top, forming a thick layer of cream that cats love.

High fat content foods are a rich source of nutrients and energy, and most cats will take any opportunity to stock up on stuff that contributes to their short and long-term survival.

Is there any type of milk my cat can drink?

Nut milk is an option. Almond and cashew milk are popular choices for humans who are lactose intolerant. But there's always the chance your cat could have an allergic reaction to nuts. So again, it's really not worth the risk.

But if you still want a saucer of milk as a cat treat, you can buy lactose-free pet milk from most pet stores and online retailers. This specially designed milk has added enzymes that break down the lactose, meaning it won't cause an upset tummy.

But what about kittens?

Kittens have the ability to digest lactose. This is one of nature's little trick to make sure they get enough nutrients into their developing systems. The enzymes then “disappear” after about 8 weeks, although no one really knows why!

If you're hand-rearing young kittens, it's still best to avoid cows milk as its particularly high in lactose. Opt for a branded kitten milk instead.

So what should my cat be drinking?

It doesn't sound very exciting, but the only fluid your cat really needs is water.
Staying hydrated is really important. In fact, up to 80% of your cat's body is made up of water. Even the smallest water deficit can have an impact on their health, and long-term periods of dehydration can lead to serious health complications. Inadequate water consumption can contribute to liver disease, weakened immunity,  and urinary tract infections.

Why do some cats not drink enough water?

Cats evolved from desert-dwelling animals that developed the ability to conserve fresh clean water. This was vital for their survival in harsh, arid environments. Our domesticated kitties are a long way from the African plains, but they still carry some of the same DNA as their big cat cousins.

How to keep your cat hydrated?

Most cats prefer fresh running water, so look at investing in a kitty water fountain. You purchase these from any good online pet retailer. They cost between £20-45.

Most tinned cat food contains high levels of moisture which helps cats stay hydrated. So if they're currently on dry kibble, you might want to think about switching to the wet stuff. If your cat will only eat dry kibble, then mix some water into their food. Start off small, and then gradually increase the amount as your cat gets used to it. Remember, cats are picky eaters. Any sudden changes to the diet are likely to put them off their food.

Cats might like the taste of milk, but they don't really need it. In fact, for most cats, a few bowls of milk will do more harm than good. Cats who regularly drink milk are likely to suffer from sickness, an upset stomach, cramps, and diarrhoea. This will be very unpleasant for your cat, and most owners won't enjoy cleaning up that mess! So focus on keeping them hydrated with water instead and only give them milk as a treat.

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