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Can cats eat ice-cream?

white cat eating an  ice cream advice © Shutterstock

The right kitty diet is all about balance, and that includes the occasional treat. But what about ice-cream? Can cats eat ice-cream? Here’s the low-down on cats eating ice-cream

By Ashley Murphy

As you’ll see, a little bit of ice-cream is usually OK for cats. However, like most sugary treats and other human food, cats should only eat it occasionally. Ice-cream is high in sugar; too much sugar can lead to obesity, which has a long list of medical complications including arthritis, depression, and an increased risk of certain cancers.

Can cats eat ice-cream? 

Ice-cream is made from milk, and milk contains natural sugars called lactose. Now you've probably heard of humans being lactose intolerant, but did you know that our cats are too? In fact, the vast majority of cats are lactose intolerant. 

What does lactose intolerance mean? 

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body doesn't have the right enzymes to break down sugars found in milk and other dairy products. Because the sugar isn't absorbed into the bloodstream, it sits in the intestines and starts to ferment. This can cause unpleasant symptoms such as an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much lactose has been consumed and can vary from cat to cat.  

As far as scientists can tell, lactose intolerance is an inherited genetic process that manifests itself as a kittens diet becomes less reliant on milk. It might be another one of nature little tricks. As a kitten begins to grow, its dietary needs change. Lactose intolerance might be a way of encouraging kittens to reject mothers milk in favour of some solid foods.

At the moment, there's no cure for lactose intolerance. That's why it's really important to recognise the symptom and then limit (or completely restrict) the amount of dairy your cat consumes. 

Most cats develop lactose intolerance at around 8 weeks of age, which is when they're weaned off their mother's milk. Other cats develop it much later in life.

Feeeding your cat ice-cream

If you still want to treat your cat with a bit of ice cream, then a few licks here and there is more than enough. Any more than that and you risk making them sick. Plus, ice-cream has no nutritional benefits. Added to the fact that your cat is probably lactose intolerant, is giving them a little bit of ice-cream really worth it?

Chocolate ice-cream is always off the menu

Cats are not designed to eat chocolate. That's because it contains an organic compound called theobromine. Cats can't process theobromine, meaning it builds upon inside their system and then soon turns toxic.

The exact levels of toxicity differ in various chocolate based products, but just a few licks of chocolate flavoured ice-cream can be poisonous to your cat. Symptoms include severe vomiting  and diarrhoea, low blood pressure, and organ failure

And there's no cure for chocolate poisoning in cats. It's a case of managing the symptoms as best as possible and then hoping for the best.

What else might happen if I give my cat ice-cream? 

Ever had brain-freeze? Remember how horrible it felt? Well, the same thing can happen to your kitty. 

Although there haven't been any in-depth studies on brain freeze, some experts think it's linked to the way sudden cold temperatures affect the arteries that send blood to the brain. 

It's sad to see, but some very irresponsible owners started a trend in which people purposely give their cats brain freeze and then post the videos on youtube. Although all the cats quickly recover, it's obvious that the experience was very unpleasant. Anyone with any sense would strongly recommend against deliberately freezing your cat's brain.

So should I give my cat some ice-cream or not?

This one is up to you. A little bit if ice-cream won't cause any lasting damage. If your cat likes it and you like spoiling then, then by all means continue. Just remember that too much will probably make them ill and excess sugar consumption can bring on a whole new set of medical complications.

We all love treating our cats. Making them feel good makes us feel good, and sharing a treat with your cat can be a really nice bonding experience. But make sure any ice-cream treats stay occasional. Letting your cat eat large amounts of ice-cream on a regular basis is both irresponsible and dangerous for your cats short and long-term health. The majority of your cats diet should be based around high-quality cat food with the right balance of vitamins and nutrients.

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