It is a long-held idea that a bowl of milk for a cat makes a nice treat, just like dogs are drawn to bones and mice are drawn to cheese. Images of cats drinking milk are widely seen, especially from years gone by.
But despite popular belief, cow’s milk could actually make them very ill.
Cats are naturally drawn to milk, however. And if they are given it, the likelihood is that they will drink it anyway. They find it tasty, for reasons discussed below. Because of this, you should always keep it away from them and stick to water or dedicated cat milk if they need the health boost.
But even then, cats milk isn’t necessarily right for all cats. To get to the bottom of this confusing subject, we have a guide on the relationship between cats and milk.
Why is cow’s milk bad for cats?
Milk contains lactose, and adult cats struggle to properly digest this. They don’t have the enzymes required to break it down, just like humans who are also lactose intolerant.
Cats are essentially lactose intolerant, so milk makes them very ill
When it starts to ferment in the stomach, it can cause digestive issues and an upset stomach. This could mean they are losing valuable nutrients and are off their food, which causes issues in the long-term.
Kittens do have this enzyme, but it is generally not thought that they need the fat. When they are young and before weaning, they will get everything they need from their mother’s milk. Cow’s milk doesn’t have all of the necessary nutrients to allow them to grow and develop properly.
Why do cats want to drink milk?
If a bowl of milk was ever placed in front of your cat, they would probably lap it up. They value the high-fat content, especially if it is whole or creamy. After all, fat is highly valued in the wild and their natural instincts kick in, particularly as they may not eat every day.
But your cat should already have enough fat intake from their food, which they don’t have to hunt for, so extra fat is unnecessary. Plus, shop-bought milk often doesn’t actually contain much fat, so the benefits would be minimal. Fat is removed before it hits the shelves, so it isn’t the same as it would be in its natural form.
What can my cat drink instead?
Unlike humans, there is only one drink good for cats – water. It is important that they are hydrated at all times and water is available for them to drink.
Cats are actually good at ignoring their thirst, so if there is nothing there for them to safely drink, they could quickly become dehydrated.
You can buy dedicated cat milk, which makes for a nice treat occasionally. It is also good if your cat needs some extra nutrition, such as if they are ill and can’t eat solid food or if they are recovering from an operation. This shouldn’t be a long-term thing, however.
What can kittens drink?
Before a kitten is weaned (feeding on solid food), they only need their mother’s milk.
A mother cat’s milk is called Queen’s milk
All of the nutrients they need are in this until they start eating solid food. When they start to be weaned at around four weeks of age, they will probably take a bit of food, a bit of their mother’s milk and some water which you leave out for them to ensure a balanced diet.
If for any reason your cat cannot access Queen’s milk, kitten formula milk is a really good idea. It contains all of the necessary nutrients in a balanced manner, without a trace of lactose, and slightly differs from adult cat milk so always purchase the proper one.