In the movies, cats love a bowl of cold milk. In the real world, giving a cat milk can do more harm than good.
While milk might seem like a natural choice for your cat, the truth is that cow’s milk offers no nutritional value for cats, and it can cause digestive problems in many. The reason is that most cats develop intolerance to lactose shortly after they are weaned. This means that they are unable to digest the sugars that occur naturally in milk. This causes problems that include diarrhea and other unpleasant digestive problems.
Some people think that cats need to have milk in order to get all the necessary nutrients. This is not true. In fact, cow’s milk does nothing to meet a cat’s nutritional needs. If a cat was fed only milk, it would not be able to survive. Feral cats provide proof that cats do not need milk to be healthy, as wild cats do not usually have the opportunity to drink cow’s milk.
As long as your cat is eating a high quality food, and has access to clean fresh water, she is getting all that she needs. Milk alone is not a sufficient diet for any cat, and should never be given in place of food OR in place of water. Replacing a cat’s food or water with milk can cause your cat to become malnourished.
Many cats do seem to enjoy milk, and this causes a dilemma for many cat owners who love to give their cat treats that they enjoy. While most cats are lactose intolerant, some are not. For these cats, milk as an occasional treat is fine. The only way to know how your cat will react to milk is to feed her some. If she does not develop diarrhea then it is safe to assume that she is not lactose intolerant, and you can continue to give her the treat she loves. Again, milk should never be given in place of food, but as a treat.
Is Your Cat Lactose Intolerant?
If your cat IS lactose intolerant, but still seems to crave a bowl of milk now and then, there is a way to satisfy her without upsetting her digestive system. Milk substitute that is specially formulated for cats is sold in most pet food stores. Like regular milk, it should only be given as a treat and not as a replacement for meals. Even if you feed this “cats milk” on a regular basis, a high quality cat food and fresh water should always be available. Another option for lactose intolerant cats is to give lactose-free milk. This milk is available in the same aisle as regular milk in most grocery stores.
In addition to cat’s milk, there are a lot of other ways to treat your cats to special food.
If your cat normally eats dry food, give her some wet food once or twice a week as a special treat. Many makers of dry cat food also make wet food, so you can stick with your favorite brand if that is important to you.
Another way to treat your cats is to find ways to make their dry food special. Pet stores sell special gravy that can be poured over dry food. Several flavors are available, so you can offer your cat a variety to keep her from becoming bored with her food. Another version of this is to pour the water from a can of tuna over the dry food. You can also feed your cat some tuna, in place of wet food, as an occasional treat.
Take a trip down the treat aisle at the pet store, and you will see row after row of treats. While most of them are fine for your cat, keep in mind that treats should be given as such, and should not be fed to your cat in excess as this can cause an unhealthy weight gain.
Kittens, unlike full grown cats, DO need milk, but the milk they need is their mother’s. The mother’s milk is full of all the fat, protein and antibodies that a kitten needs to grow and survive. Until a kitten is weaned, approximately four weeks after birth, a kitten should have only milk. NEVER give a kitten cow’s milk. Obviously, the ideal milk is that from the kitten’s mother. If this is not possible due the kitten being abandoned or orphaned, you will need to feed a substitute that should be available at your local pet store. The kitten will need to be fed this milk substitute several times a day. While the pet store personnel can probably answer most of your questions about caring for abandoned kitten, you should consult a veterinarian to be sure that the kitten is getting exactly what it needs.
The bottom line is that milk is not necessary for a cat, but as long as she seems able to tolerate it, an occasional bowl isn’t going to hurt.