Milk for Cats? Myth Busted! The Truth About Lactose Intolerance 2024

Milk for Cats? Myth Busted! The Truth About Lactose Intolerance 2024

Last Updated on April 2, 2024 by themubbi63

We’re so used to the idea of cats drinking milk because of popular media that we might not be aware of one little thing – most cats are lactose intolerant so they shouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk. Yes, that’s the truth. If you don’t want an upset tummy, vomiting and diarrhea, you’re better off avoiding milk when it comes to your feline companion.

What Can Cats Drink?

Did you know that cats are prone to dehydration? So they do need one type of liquid regularly – water. And lots of it. Alas, milk doesn’t make the cut. Most pussycat simply cannot digest cow’s milk or the milk of any other livestock like sheep or goats.

Kittens drink their mother’s milk, not dairy. There are some kinds of cat milk available on the market which have reduced lactose. But even these should be given to your cat in moderation. Otherwise, it will result in diarrhea and vomiting.

Cats should be drinking lots of water so make sure to keep their water bowls filled at all times. You can also change up the water (since they also enjoy variety, just like us) by adding ice to their bowl or making a soupy version of cat food for their mealtimes.

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Symptoms After Drinking Milk

Just like humans who are lactose intolerant, cats can have a variety of side effects to drinking milk. If you think that your cat has gotten into the milk, there are some symptoms of an upset stomach that you should be looking out for.

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Loose stool or diarrhea
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Abdominal pain

Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and severely affect your cat’s health. Thus, it’s best to keep an eye on your pets and make sure they aren’t drinking any milk even by accident.

Why Do Cats Want Milk?

Cats aren’t capable of understanding what is good for them and what isn’t. They don’t understand that the unpleasant symptoms they’re having is becasue of the milk they drank. There’s no cause and effect in an animal’s brain the way that there is in ours.

Cats like milk because it contains a variety of fats that make milk delicious to them. Milk is usually cold and creamy and tastes better than water. Since cats need to drink a lot of liquids, they might prefer milk. Plus, cats might associate the taste of milk with the warm and comfortable times when they were kittens and stayed with their mothers. 

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What About Kittens?

If cats have such severe reactions to milk, what about kittens, you might ask. Kittens do drink milk, right? Yes, kittens are perfectly capable of digesting their mother’s milk (but never cow or sheep or goat milk). 

Kittens aren’t lactose intolerant. They have an enzyme in their stomachs which allows them to break down the lactose in their mother’s milk and make it more digestible. This enzyme is called lactase and it’s something that adult cats don’t have. Thus, adult cats aren’t capable of digesting milk sugars. If an adult cat has lactose, the undigested milk sugars pass into the intestines and pull water into them. This leads to diarrhea and bloating.

If you are hand-rearing a kitten and have to give it milk, please don’t opt for simple cow’s milk. Just like you wouldn’t feed human babies cow’s milk, you can’t feed kittens that either. There are a few brands of kitten formula that you can feed a kitten from a bottle. 

Kittens are usually weaned off milk by the time they’re eight weeks old. At the maximum, stop giving them formula milk at the age of nine weeks.

Can Cats Drink Non-Dairy Milk?

Alright, so if cats can’t drink regular milk, what about non-dairy options? From soy milk to nut-based milk like almond milk, oat milk and coconut milk, there’s no lack of options in the market. Unfortunately, it’s not ideal to give your cat any of these either.

Most alternative kinds of milk are extremely fatty and they can make your cat overweight. They also have a variety of oils, thickeners and sweeteners that aren’t easy for the delicate stomachs of your pets to digest. Not to mention, most of them have salt which can be very bad for your kitty. Finally, they’ve got added preservatives that aren’t good for your cats.

It’s best to stick with water when giving cats something to drink.

Can Cats Have Milk Supplements?

However, milk does have some components that are absolutely essential for cats, such as calcium. You should definitely look into getting calcium supplements or other kinds of milk supplements for your cats. There’s a variety of options out there and you should consult your vet about addressing any possible deficiencies.

Are There Cats That Can Tolerate Lactose?

Some cats can tolerate lactose and don’t have adverse reactions to an occasional bowl of milk. If your kitty is one of these lucky few, you can at times give her milk as a treat. But you should first talk to your vet and see if they approve.

If your vet does approve, then you might give your cat milk once a week. Or at most, twice a week. Give them a tablespoon of milk. You can increase this amount bit by bit but it’s best to dilute the milk with water. Don’t give your cat cow’s milk too often. It’s just a treat for them, not an essential food item. It also causes obesity, which can be a huge problem with most domestic cats.

Most cats, even the lactose intolerant ones, can digest small amounts of dairy products like cheese, yogurt or sour cream. You can give them some occasionally, but again only as a rare treat.


Forget the saucer of milk! While the image is ingrained in popular culture, most adult cats are lactose intolerant and shouldn’t drink cow’s milk. It can lead to an upset stomach, bloating, and even weight gain. Fresh, clean water is the best way to keep your feline friend hydrated. If you’re looking for a treat, consult your vet about occasional, small portions of lactose-free milk or a lick of yogurt or cheese. Remember, water is always the safest and healthiest choice for your cat!


My cat accidentally drank milk. Should I be worried?

Monitor for symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. Small amounts might be okay for some cats, but consult your vet if concerned. Stick to water for regular hydration

My cat seems to love milk! Why do they crave it?

Cats enjoy the taste and texture of milk. It’s fatty, creamy, and might remind them of kittenhood. However, they lack the enzyme to digest it properly.

Can cats drink any milk at all?

Not ideally! Most non-dairy milk options have added sugars, fats, and thickeners that can upset a cat’s stomach. Water is always the safest choice.

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