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Cat drinking milk in bowl

The essentials

  • Milk often makes cats sick — Milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive problems 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.

Cats are drawn to dairy products because of their high fat content, but most are actually lactose intolerant. Giving your cat milk often leads to stomach upset, diarrhea, and a host of other digestive health issues — so it’s best to skip it altogether. 

👉As long as they’re eating a high-quality, balanced diet, your cat shouldn’t need any of the nutrients found in dairy products.

Is milk good for cats?

There’s a good chance your kitty would thoroughly enjoy drinking a bowl of milk — but it may not do them much good. As kittens grow into adulthood, their bodies produce less lactase,   the enzyme responsible for breaking down the sugars in milk and making it digestible. 

When lactase levels are low, cats lose the ability to digest milk properly. Just like humans, they can be lactose intolerant.   

Negative effects associated with drinking too much milk include: 

  • Upset stomach. Many cats stop eating when they have a stomachache, and they won’t continue until they’ve fully recovered. Some cats might also experience nausea and vomiting. 
  • Diarrhea. This symptom can occur as a result of undigested lactose drawing excess water into the intestinal tract.  Poop in this category is watery and may be foul-smelling or mucus-laced. 
  • Gas. Cats fart a lot less frequently than people. If you notice your cat passing smelly gas, there’s likely something causing it. If you give your cat milk, it’s likely due to the fermentation of undigested sugars in the digestive tract. 
  • Bloating. Gasses released from the fermentation process can cause a cat’s abdomen to distend, resulting in a bloated appearance. If too much gas gets trapped, it can also lead to a dangerous condition called bloat
  • Obesity. When consumed regularly, calorie-dense foods like milk can lead to long-term repercussions of obesity—such as joint pain, chronic inflammation, and diabetes. Since 58% of cats in the U.S. are already overweight or obese, it’s safe to say most kitties don’t need milk in their diet. 

👉Some cats may not display obvious symptoms of intolerance after drinking milk, or they may ask you for more. It’s best not to give it to them (no matter how nicely they beg).

Are all cats lactose intolerant?

Most cats become lactose intolerant as they get older, though some adult cats are technically capable of consuming milk. 

Even if your cat is one of the chosen few that can drink milk without getting sick, it’s not advisable to give them any. Some cats may fill up so much milk that they stop eating their regular cat food, resulting in unwanted weight gain and nutritional deficiencies.  

 🚨Cow’s milk (including whole, 2%, and skim milk) contains high amounts of fat that can lead to health complications like obesity, diabetes, and pancreatitis

Can kittens drink milk?

Yes! Young kittens have enough lactase in their systems to digest their mother’s milk properly. They’re naturally designed to survive off cat milk until they start weaning and transition to solid foods. Their bodies naturally stop producing lactase enzymes at around 8 weeks old. 

Kittens who are orphaned or who require dietary supplementation can be given products designed to mimic cat’s milk — such as PetAg KMR liquid and powder milk supplements. These milk products are safe for cats to consume, but should only be introduced after consulting a veterinarian. 

🚨 Keep in mind that cow’s milk will still wreak havoc on a kitten’s digestive system — as will goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and any other type of milk that doesn’t come from a cat.

Can cats drink almond milk (or other non-dairy alternatives)?

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. 

Soy milk, coconut milk, and other plant-based milk products 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. If you think your cat might be thirsting for a change, we recommend switching up their daily routine by upgrading their water bowl to an engaging water fountain. Cats are naturally drawn to running water, and owners everywhere swear that these fountains help them stay hydrated.

You can also set up multiple water bowls throughout your home or purchase a ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowl,  which some cats prefer over the taste of a plastic bowl. 

👉Make sure your cat always has access to fresh water.

Enticing flavors and positive memories can make a cat think they like milk — but no matter how hard they try, their body likely won’t agree with it. It’s up to us cat owners to fend off the tummy aches and keep our feline friends as healthy as they can be.

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. Additionally, 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 as animal milk, they might still have ingredients that could upset your pet’s tummy. Plus, dairy-free milk doesn’t provide any health benefits or essential nutrients for cats — making the risk likely not worth any perceived “rewards.” 

What can cats drink besides water?

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

What can I give my cat as a treat?

There are all kinds of things you can give your cat as a treat. Commercial cat treats are often the best option, as they’re formulated by professionals and guaranteed to offer nutritional benefits. On special occasions, you can also treat your cat to small amounts of  “people food” like cooked meat (liver or fish) and fruit (blueberries, bananas, strawberries). Always ask a vet before introducing anything new to your cat, and take care to keep treats to 10% of their total diet. 

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 as kittens tend to have more sensitive stomachs. 

Can cats drink lactose-free milk? 

Because lactose-free milk is less rich than dairy milk, cats are technically capable of drinking it. However, we advise against giving your cat lactose-free milk to drink, as added ingredients like sugars, oils, thickeners, and preservatives can still cause gastrointestinal issues. 

Commercial plant milk may also contain added salts that can be dangerous for cats suffering from hypertension or kidney disease.