Cartoons, like The Aristocats, always seem to depict sweet kitties lapping up their milk from a fancy saucer. Your cat has probably begged for the leftover milk from your cereal a couple of times, but did you know that no matter how much your cat begs for milk, it is not healthy for them? Yup, most adult cats are actually lactose intolerant. And this is because cats are obligate carnivores and their bodies aren’t genetically designed to breakdown milk past kittenhood. (More on that here).
When your cat is a newborn, they depend on their mother’s milk. The milk has lactose in it, a sugar that gives the kittens energy to move around and survive. Kittens have an enzyme in their stomachs called lactase, which allows the digestion of the lactose.
As your kitten grows and becomes an adult, they starting losing the lactase enzyme in their digestive system and with it goes the ability to digest the lactose in milk. Instead of their mother’s milk, their diet consists of big kid food such as kibble or canned food paired with a dish of water. This makes sense if you know and understand that cats are carnivores by nature. The majority of their diet, especially in the wild, comes from meat and protein.
What happens if I give my cat milk?
Because your cat is now an adult and does not have the enzyme to break down the lactose in milk, it just sits in their gut and ferments. Yes, ferments, like apple juice that has been sitting in the fridge for six months.
As the lactose ferments in your cat’s gut, it can cause some very uncomfortable symptoms similar to when humans are lactose intolerant. Cats that have consumed milk may experience painful stomach cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What do I do if my cat drank milk?
If your cat consumed milk, you will know it in a few hours if they reacting to the lactose fermentation. Keep an eye out for a hunched posture that may inform you they are having stomach pains. Vomiting and diarrhea are common, but if you feel like your cat is lethargic and will not eat or drink water, you need to call your veterinarian.
My cat loves milk, what can I give them instead?
If your cat loves milk as a treat, there’s plenty of alternatives to give them that are not harmful to their gut. Cat’s are carnivores and need protein, so a couple of teaspoons of tuna fish is a great treat! If your cat loves milk, speak with your veterinarian about giving them a lactose-free version of milk in moderation. Want your cat to have real meat as a treat? Simply cooked chicken breasts without any additives is a tasty treat too!
Remember, despite all the adorable kitties in the cartoons, milk is not the best choice for a treat. Cats become lactose intolerant as they become adults, just like some people do. Speak with your veterinarian about healthy treat choices to give your cat instead of milk so you can keep their tummy feeling it’s best.