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Are Cats Lactose Intolerant? Can They Drink Cow Milk?

Cow milk_Pixabay

If you’re a cat owner or contemplating getting a cat, you may wonder if cats are lactose intolerant. Better yet, can they drink cow milk? In fairy tales and cartoons, it seems that cats love milk, and they give the impression that if you give your cat milk, they’ll love you forever and take a nap afterward with a smile.

This can’t be further from the truth.

Cats are lactose intolerant, and no, they cannot drink cow’s milk. Kittens can drink their mother’s milk before weaning off of it (like Mother Nature intended); however, kittens lose this ability to ingest lactose when they enter adulthood. Kittens have what is known as enzyme lactase that helps with milk digestion. Just like in humans, they lose this lactase as they grow older. The result is the inability to digest milk or becoming lactose intolerant. Without the enzyme lactase, bacteria forms in the intestinal tract, which could result in digestive issues.


Where did the cat drinking milk myth come from?

It’s believed that this myth originated from farms. Freshly squeezed cow’s milk is warm and consists of more cream, which makes the milk sweet. The cream also contains more fat and fewer levels of lactose. It’s thought that the farm tomcat is drawn to the sweet milk and laps it up. Milk from the grocery store has less fat and more lactose, making milk a bad choice to give your kitty as a treat.

milk in glass and pitcher
Image By: Couleur, Pixabay

Signs of lactose intolerance in cats

When cats lose the necessary enzymes that allow milk digestion, drinking it is no longer a fun experience. If your cat decides to lap up a saucer of milk, you may see signs that include diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal distress. This holds true for cow or goat milk, too. If your cat shows any of these symptoms, take them to your veterinarian for an official diagnosis.

How is lactose intolerance treated?

A simple solution is to avoid giving your cat milk of any kind. If you give your cat a small sip as a treat and digestive symptoms follow, talk with your vet. If the symptoms are severe, your kitty may need an IV to replenish fluids lost. In short, the best bet is to avoid giving milk to your cat in the first place. Instead of milk, try enticing your cat to drink more water. Cat water fountains are a great way to get your cat to drink more water. Or you can also feed your cat wet-canned food because it contains more water to keep them well hydrated.

sick cat
Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

Can cats drink lactose-free milk?

 To answer this question, let’s define lactose-free milk. The lactose has been omitted from the milk, making it easier to digest, but it’s still a dairy product—calcium, vitamin B, vitamin D, and protein are still present. However, we should note that you should only give this as an occasional treat for your cat and monitor afterward for potential digestive problems mentioned above. If your cat shows signs of digestive discomfort, stop giving it lactose-free milk.


Final Thoughts

Despite the popular myths about cats and milk, it’s a good idea to steer clear of giving your cat milk. Some cats may tolerate milk, but even then, you should only give it as an occasional treat. Instead of milk, you can feed your kitty top-quality cat food to ensure they are getting all the necessary nutrients to live a happy and healthy life.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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