Cats and milk have been paired together in depictions throughout history. But is milk bad for cats? Let’s explore why most kinds of milk are actually likely to upset your cat’s stomach.
The (imprudent) history of cats and milk
When you stop and think about it, you’ll probably realize that you’ve seen a disproportionate amount of visuals illustrating cats’ love for milk—be it in pop culture, advertisements, art, books, and more. (See a few of these examples below.)
Such portrayals have been around for centuries, likely stemming from observations made in nature: Take farmers, for instance, who were widely responsible for domesticating cats thousands of years ago. Farmers observed barn cats drinking the dregs of cow’s milk and helped perpetrate the myth that milk is a necessary part of the feline diet.
So, can cats drink milk?
When people ask if cats can drink milk, they’re most likely wondering if cats can drink cow’s milk. Like most mammals, kittens begin life with the nourishment of their mother’s milk. But as they are weaned, the enzyme that enables them to digest lactose begins to disappear from the gut.
“Just like many people, cats are typically lactose intolerant. Not only does drinking milk lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea—it also contributes to obesity, which is on the rise among household cats.” - Laria Herod, DVM
Is milk bad for cats? While most cats are lactose intolerant, some can tolerate a small amount of low-lactose dairy. Therefore, a tiny treat here and there might be okay. Try plain, low-fat yogurt.
Can cats drink lactose-free milk?
If lactose is the problem, doesn’t it stand to reason that cats might be able to enjoy lactose-free milk? That depends—there is specially formulated cat milk for purchase at some pet stores and grocery stores, but we recommend checking with your veterinarian first. Keep in mind that even lactose-free milk will have calories that your cat probably doesn’t need. Your feline is much better served getting his or her calories from animal meat.
Can cats drink almond milk?
Despite the lactose-free properties, most vets don’t recommend giving your cat almond milk in place of regular milk. Almonds aren’t known to be toxic to cats, but the other ingredients in almond milk—such as sugar and some additives—can lead to an upset stomach. If you’d like to try to give your cat almond milk, be sure to do so in small moderation.
Can cats drink soy milk?
Other plant-based milk isn’t recommended for cats, either. Soy milk is not necessarily toxic to cats, but its nutritional value isn’t appropriate for the feline diet. Because cats are obligate carnivores, they can’t digest plant material very well.
Can cats drink coconut milk?
Plant-based milk, including coconut milk, tends to be high in fats and oils. For cats, such ingredients will most likely lead to an upset stomach and, down the road, obesity issues.
Can cats drink chocolate milk?
This one is a definite no-no. Like dogs, cats should not be allowed to consume chocolate. Chocolate contains the chemical compounds caffeine and theobromine, which if ingested by cats can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, seizures, and even cardiac failure or coma. No chocolate milk for your kitty!
Is milk bad for cats? Now you have your answers: Milk is unnecessary for cats and likely to cause dietary upset. Learn more about which human foods are safe for cats.