Q. Is it okay to give my cat milk to drink?
A. One of the most common misconceptions is that milk is good for cats. Felines do not gain anything nutritionally from milk that is not present in a well-balanced diet.
The only cats that naturally do drink milk are kittens when they are nursing, but this is cat milk and it is different from cow’s milk. The milk from their mother contains a lot of protein and fats, and it offers the kittens the antibodies that are needed to fight viruses and diseases during the first few weeks of their life, before they get vaccines.
The biggest problem with milk for cats is the lactose it contains. Kittens are born able to digest the sugar (lactose) in their mother’s milk. This sugar is a very valuable source of energy for young animals, but soon after they are weaned, lactase – the enzyme that enables them to digest lactose – begins to disappear from the gut. Cow’s milk also contains lactose and without the enzyme lactase, cats in general have a natural intolerance to milk. Drinking it can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting because it sits in the stomach fermenting rather than digesting.
Some cats retain the ability to digest lactose as they age, but the majority of felines are lactose intolerant. There is no way to tell if your cat’s intolerant or not without giving her milk and risking her getting sick.
So to be on the safe side, stay away from milk. It is not an essential food in a feline’s diet to keep them healthy.
If you really want to give milk to your cat as a treat you can buy lactose-free milk. This kind of milk has the lactose removed by adding lactase enzymes that break the sugar down. Lactose-reduced cow’s milk is very gentle on a cat’s system and shouldn’t upset their stomach.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].