Can cats drink milk?

It’s not unusual to see a cat enjoying a saucer of milk on our favourite TV shows, in picture books and shared through folk tales, so we don’t tend to question whether it’s something they should be drinking. We’re here to debunk any myths around cats and milk, explain what happens when they drink some and help with what you can give them instead.

Can cats have milk?

While your cat might be happy to be given some milk, it’s actually not good for them and should not be a part of their regular diet. Once weaned, milk does not contain the essential nutrients cats need to grow and can even cause problems as they’re not able to digest it properly. This is because, like most mammals, cats are lactose intolerant.

What happens when a cat drinks milk?

Most cats lack the enzyme needed (lactase) to be able to break down the sugar (lactose) found in cow’s milk. Because there’s nothing in a cat’s gut to help digest the sugar, it just sits in the gut for a while until it starts to ferment. This leads to tummy troubles, diarrhoea and one uncomfortable cat!

Important: other milk alternatives (soya, almond, coconut) contain high amounts of fat and oil that your kitty doesn't need in its diet so it’s best to avoid these too.

kitten drinking milk

What about kittens?

Young kittens still have the lactase enzyme needed to digest the lactose found in their mother’s milk, but this doesn’t mean cow’s milk is good for them or that it would make a suitable replacement for a cat separated from its mother.

If you find yourself caring for a kitten without a mum, speak to your vet who will be able to provide recommendations for milk that will ensure that your kitten gets the nutrients it needs.

What should your cat be drinking instead?

Cats need plenty of water. Water is incredibly important to help maintain good health in our feline friends, helping maintain their circulation and digestion and replacing any fluids they might lose through other bodily functions.

When living in the wild, the natural prey that cats caught would help keep them hydrated. Unless they go outside and catch additional food, cats today have a very different diet and get their water from a bowl or through any wet food they may eat.

Milk that’s made for cats

While milk that’s made for cats usually contains less lactose or none at all, their fat content is often just as high as any other milk your cat might want to drink! Cat milk can be provided as an occasional treat but shouldn’t be a part of their daily food.

Keeping your cat hydrated

To make sure your cat stays hydrated, you should make sure they have constant access to clean water. Some cats prefer to drink running water so you might want to try a water fountain if they’re not interested in what you’ve already provided.

We know that it’s nice to be able to give your feline friend an extra special treat but before you head out and buy some cat milk, why not get them a new toy or enjoy some time playing with them instead? Let us know what you and your cat get up to on our Facebook or Twitter page.

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