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Cat drinking milk in bowl

The essentials

  • Milk often makes cats sick — Milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI issues in cats.
  • It’s best not to give your cat milk — Between the calorie count and the potential for an upset tummy, milk just isn’t worth it. There are better treats out there for your cat.
  • Give your cat cooked meat or store-bought cat treats instead — Non-food options, like a new toy, can also be a lot of fun.

Should cats have milk?

We’ve all seen the cartoons of an animated cat happily lapping from a saucer of milk. But do cats even like milk? Chances are, your cat would thoroughly enjoy drinking a bowl of milk. Cats love dairy products because of the fat content. But whether or not milk is good for cats is a different question entirely.

By and large, most cats are lactose intolerant. Kittens can break down the lactose in their mother’s milk thanks to an enzyme in their stomach. When they grow up, however, adult cats no longer have this enzyme, meaning they lose the ability to digest milk. Since drinking it can cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain in cats, most experts say that giving milk to your feline isn’t a good idea.

Milk is also very calorie-dense. Since 58% of cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, most kitties simply don’t need this high-calorie drink.

What about non-dairy milk?

Non-dairy milk or lactose-free milk isn’t as rich as milk that contains dairy. Theoretically, then, cats could have non-dairy milk. But according to vets, this still isn’t recommended. Non-dairy milk could contain ingredients that cats are sensitive to and cause GI upset. In addition, non-dairy milk doesn’t provide any nutritional value to cats. Bottom line: Whether cow’s milk or not, milk isn’t great for your cat.

What should my cat drink?

Water is the most important nutrient in your cat’s body. Good hydration helps with digestion, electrolyte levels, oxygen delivery, and much more. If your cat gets dehydrated, they may end up with health problems that can affect vital organs like their kidneys, heart, and brain.

Cats need to drink approximately four ounces of water for every five pounds they weigh per day. To ensure your cat gets the water they need, you can always purchase a cat water fountain. You can also set up multiple water bowls throughout your home or purchase a ceramic bowl, which some cats prefer over the taste of a plastic bowl. But the most important thing you can do is make sure your cat always has access to fresh water.

Unsafe foods for cats

Want to give your cat a treat? Stay away from these foods, which simply aren’t safe for cats:

  • Dairy (such as ice cream, cheese, or any milk products)
  • Onion and garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Raw meat or raw eggs
  • Grapes
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Caffeine
  • Citrus
  • Anything with xylitol (an artificial sweetener)

👉 For more, read our comprehensive guide on human foods that are toxic to pets, as well as our vet-approved recommendations for feeding your cat

Cat-safe treats

The good news? There are plenty of treats your cat can eat. Small amounts of cooked meats, like liver or fish, will be an instant hit. Strawberries are also a safe occasional snack. While other fruits might be OK, avoid anything with a pit — this is a choking hazard and could cause a bowel obstruction. And remember: Just don’t overdo it. Your cat shouldn’t consume more than 20 to 30 calories of “people food” per day.

When in doubt, a vet-approved treat like this one from Greenies is also a good choice. Non-food “treats” like a fun new toy or cat tunnel might also be great options, especially for overweight cats. Your cat will have a blast while getting the exercise they need. You can also try rotating your cat’s toys to keep things interesting.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe for cats to drink milk?

It’s not a good idea to give your cat milk. Cats are lactose intolerant, so milk might cause vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Not to mention that milk is high in calories and can contribute to unhealthy weight gain.

What kind of milk can cats drink?

It’s best to skip the milk entirely for your cat. While non-dairy options such as almond milk aren’t as rich, they might still have ingredients that could upset your pet’s tummy. And for cats, dairy-free milk doesn’t provide any health benefits or essential nutrients whatsoever.

What can cats drink besides water?

Water is the healthiest and best choice for cats to drink. Place multiple bowls of fresh water around your house for easy access, or purchase a fun cat fountain.

What can I give my cat as a treat?

Your cat will be happy with the occasional treat of cooked meat, like liver or fish, strawberries, or commercial treats. Just keep the treats to a minimum so your cat stays healthy.

Can I give milk to my kitten?

Kittens can technically drink their mother’s milk, and most cats don’t develop lactose intolerance until they’re adults. However, experts generally advise not to give kittens milk — kittens tend to have a more sensitive stomach, so drinking milk is likely to cause digestive upset.