Is Milk Bad For Cats?
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Is Milk Bad For Cats?

Est. read time: 4 min.

If you’re looking for a quirky holiday to celebrate, look no further than today’s Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day—a time to celebrate optimism and a glass-half-full attitude. It also got us thinking about cats and milk. Is milk bad for cats? And if it is, why are cats and milk always paired together? 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 depictions 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.

Gottfried Mind illustration of mother cat and kitten drinking milk from a saucer
“Domestic cat and kitten drinking milk from a saucer” by artist Gottfried Mind (1768-1814)

Illustration of two girls with five grey kittens drinking milk out of a saucer
“The Cat,” a children’s book by author Violet Hunt (1905)

advertising of machine separating cream from milk with adult woman and little girl holding a cat
Advertisement for product separating cream from milk (early 1900s) 

One orange tabby and one calico cat drinking milk out of a bucket in straw
Barn cats drinking milk © davidmaitland / CC-BY-SA-2.0

So, can cats drink milk?

When people ask can cats 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.

This means that, just like many people, cats are typically lactose intolerant. Not only does drinking milk lead to upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea—it also contributes to obesity, which is on the rise among household cats.

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 low-lactose cottage cheese or 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 moderations.

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 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. Learn more about which human foods are safe for cats.

grey Russian Blue cat standing on white carpet sniffing bowl of milk - is milk bad for cats?

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