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The Truth About Cats and Milk

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A small tabby kitten looking at a glass of milk.

Cats and milk. Many children’s books and artwork depict a sweet cat lapping up milk or cream from a saucer. But are cats and milk actually a good combination?

You’re eating your breakfast cereal, and your cat enters the kitchen. She performs a few friendly body rubs against your leg to signal her request. You are happy to comply by placing the nearly finished bowl of cereal on the floor for her to lap up the remaining milk. You regard this as a wonderful morning bonding moment with your cat.

What’s the harm when it comes to cats and milk? Plenty — with diarrhea topping the list.

Why don’t cats and milk mix?

A gray cat looking away, glass of milk.

A gray cat looking away, glass of milk. Photography ©Sezeryadigar | Getty Images.

Just ask Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, a veterinarian board-certified in feline medicine who operates the Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, California. “Cats lack an enzyme called lactase, and they can’t absorb the nutrients in milk, so they end up feeling poorly or with diarrhea,” says Dr. Colleran, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “The sad truth is that milk does not do a cat’s body good.”

Diarrhea isn’t the only issue when it comes to cats and milk

Dr. Colleran says that when she’s examining a cat who has diarrhea, she runs through a series of questions she asks the client: “‘When did the diarrhea start? Have you fed your cat anything differently from usual?’ Then the light bulb will go on and the client will say, ‘Oh, I started putting my breakfast bowl down for my cat to finish.’ They have no idea they are doing anything harmful.”

That breakfast bowl not only contains milk but often sugar from the cereal, which could trigger hypertension in some cats.

What about almond milk or soy milk for cats?

“They are called milk but not really milk,” Dr. Colleran says. “Almond milk has a lot of fat in it. Both of these milks are sweetened significantly for the human palate. Even so-called unsweetened milk can contain artificial sweeteners that are bad for cats.”

What about cats and milk when it comes to things like ice cream?

My orange tabby, Casey, comes running from the far bedroom when he hears and smells the bowl of ice cream I just scooped. I admit: His steady purrs and sweet chirps shatter my willpower, and I allow him to lick the final spoonful.

“Ice cream, unfortunately, contains a lot of sugar and a lot of dairy,” Dr. Colleran says. “Some cats can tolerate a little bit on occasion, but be prudent about it. You can make your cat feel crummy. Sugar is also bad for their teeth.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©PeopleImages | Getty Images.

About the author

Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, author and master pet first aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Kona. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com, and follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter @ArdenKnowsPets.

ditor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

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