Is It Bad For Cats To Drink Milk?

What if there’s a parallel universe where cats are our masters and keep us as pets. Wait, hang on… that’s our universe.

OK, let’s try that again. Imagine a universe where cats actually look after humans. I can just hear the sorts of things they would say:

  • You really must get one, they’re so cute.
  • Have you seen how they carry things around with their cute little hands?
  • They beg so adorably for ice cream or chocolate.
  • I train mine using those horrible smelly sweets.

Then there would be the responsible cats who say that you should never give your human any chocolate, ice cream or sweets. It’s just not good for them and shame on you other cats for spoiling your human so.

Now back to reality. Hopefully, you can see what I’m doing. A Google search will tell you that cats are lactose intolerant and that milk causes gastrointestinal upsets. All this is true, in theory. In practice, it’s all about the individual cat and the amount you give.

Why Give Cats Treats

Cats aren’t dogs. I don’t feel any need to give my dogs treats because everything they get is a treat to them. Crumbs? Awesome! You dropped a piece of banana? Double awesome! An unguarded cat litter box? I’ve died and gone to heaven!

Cats don’t work that way. Cats aren’t going to give away their appreciation for just any old thing. You’ve got to earn it.

Getting a cat to do a trick or even just to come when called feels like a major life achievement. That’s why most cat owners when asked will admit to feeding treats to their cat. Things like meat offcuts, fish, or odd personal tastes like Grendel and his seaweed rice crackers. So what about milk?

Can Cats Drink Milk?

In practice, cats love milk and I have never known a problem with an owner feeding it. Yes, I’m sure it’s possible to give them an upset tummy but we aren’t exactly running milking sheds here. It’s usually only a small amount on offer.

Of course, some cats will suffer food allergies to any ingredient. If you look at this data on cat food allergies you’ll see why I stop dairy and fish in any cat with skin or gastrointestinal problems. Then there are kittens, who should never be given milk containing lactose. However, these are the exceptions to a generally harmless treat.

Is It OK To Give Cats Milk?

As long as you only feed a treat-sized amount and your cat is healthy, you are doing no harm. Like most things, it’s better to give the same amount regularly than causing big changes in the diet each day. This allows the gut to adapt.

cat lapping milkAs for lactose, small amounts are tolerated by most cats. If you’re worried about the lactose you can buy special lactose-free pet milk, or use yoghurt which has a naturally lower lactose level.

How do I give Grendel a milky treat? Every morning I froth milk for our coffees and ‘somehow’ there’s always too much froth left over. The warm frothy kitty-cino is probably only a splash of milk but it’s one of the many highlights of his day.

What Treats Are Bad For Cats?

The good news is that cats generally are clever enough to avoid problems. This list of dangerous foods for dogs is also true for cats if they actually ever ate them. As for foods that might just be too rich or unbalanced, the solution is in the very word we use: ‘treat’. If you keep them to under 5% of a lean diet the only risk you take is that your cat may become more demanding, not any less healthy.

Related: How to keep cats from getting overweight

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
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