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Home > General > Can Kittens Drink Human Breast Milk? Vet Approved Facts & Safety Guide

Can Kittens Drink Human Breast Milk? Vet Approved Facts & Safety Guide

human breast milk

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Dr. Lauren Demos

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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All newborn mammals subsist on their mother’s milk, including kittens. But if they’re orphaned, what can replace a cat’s milk? Can kittens drink human breast milk?

No, cats should not be given human breast milk. It not only lacks the nutrients that kittens need to develop properly, many older kittens lack the enzymes needed to digest the lactose in human breast milk. and young kittens won’t get the proper antibodies from human breast milk.

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Can Kittens Drink Human Breast Milk?

It may seem like one type of breast milk can replace another, but all mammals produce different breast milk with nutrients specific to the species.

Human breast milk has a high level of lactose (milk sugar). Compared to other mammalian milk, which contains about 5 grams per 100 mL, human breast milk contains 7.5 g per 100 mL like cow’s milk, human breast milk is too much for a small kitten and can overwhelm its system.

Short term, human breast milk can cause significant digestive upset for a small kitten—which can quickly lead to dehydration and possible death. Feeding the wrong milk over a long period can stunt the kitten’s growth and impact its long-term health. Human breast milk also doesn’t contain the feline-specific antibodies that neonates need to acquire from their mothers.

Cute kitten drooping ear with gray fur walking
Image By: Broken White, Shutterstock

Are Cats Lactose Intolerant?

Thanks to television and movies, most people think cow’s milk is appropriate for cats. Despite the trope, many cats are lactose intolerant, which means they can’t break down the sugar found in milk. This doesn’t apply to just milk but all dairy products.

So, how can kittens drink milk? Kittens, like other mammals, are born with the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose in their mother’s milk. Once they wean, many animals lose the enzyme necessary to break down lactose. Humans are often lactose intolerant as well, but we’re also the only species that drinks the milk of other animals regularly.

What Happens If a Kitten Is Given Human Breast Milk?

Without the enzymes to digest the lactose in milk, the kitten’s digestive system becomes irritated. The undigested lactose in the intestinal tract attracts bacteria, the sugar ferments, and the kitten will experience a variety of issues including diarrhea, gas, bloating, vomiting, constipation, dehydration, excessive thirst, and abdominal pain. This can happen with human breast milk, cow’s milk, or other mammalian milk that’s not from a cat.

Kittens are delicate, especially in the first few weeks of life. Having diarrhea, vomiting, and pain puts overwhelming stress on a fragile, developing body, which can lead to severe or fatal effects.

little kitten inside the litter box
Image Credit: Boonlert Saikrajang, Shutterstock

So, You Have an Orphaned Kitten. Now What?

If you have an orphaned kitten that needs nourishment, don’t use human breast milk in a pinch. Kittens need an appropriate milk replacer to survive, which provides the exact vitamins and nutrients they need during this critical development period.

You can get milk replacers from your vet or a pet supply store. When you first obtain an orphaned kitten, take him or her to a vet and get advice on how to proceed. Your vet is the best resource for ensuring that you’re feeding the kitten an appropriate diet to help it not only survive but thrive. Your vet can also advise you on the appropriate amount, preparation, and feeding intervals.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions? Find out more about human breast milk and young animals.

Can Any Mammal Survive on Human Breast Milk?

While some mammals can tolerate small amounts of human breast milk and survive, none will thrive. Human breast milk is intended for human infants and human infants only.

Why Can Kittens Drink Their Mother’s Milk But Not Other Milk?

Like other mammals, kittens have the lactase enzyme to digest the lactose in the mother’s milk, which disappears as they get older. A cat’s milk has a much lower amount of lactose compared to human breast milk or cow’s milk, and it’s too much for a young, fragile kitten.

red cat with newborn kittens
Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

Can an Adult Cat Have Human Breast Milk?

Most adult cats are lactose intolerant and have no need for milk of any kind, let alone breast milk. If you want to give your cat something similar to milk, you can find commercial bone broth specifically formulated for cats.

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Conclusion

Human breast milk may seem like a nutritious choice for an orphaned kitten in a pinch, but it can be a dangerous mistake. Human breast milk doesn’t provide the nutrition kittens need, and the high amount of lactose can even make a developing kitten very sick.


Featured Image Credit: Nor Gal, Shutterstock

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