Whether it's the endless Tom and Jerry episodes we grew up watching or the common sight of someone welcoming a feline house guest with a bowl of milk, these depictions have led many of us to believe that cats have an insatiable love for milk. However, the truth about cats and milk is far more nuanced than all these charming stories would have us believe.
Cats do in fact love milk but it really isn't the best for them, and on the contrary can be pretty bad for their health. Their affinity for milk likely originates from their natural instincts and the positive association they create between maternal care & nurture, and milk from a young age. Adding to this is the appeal rooted in the protein and fat content of milk. The creamy texture and aroma of dairy products make it highly enticing to our cats.
Lactose Intolerance in Cats:
The debate about whether cats are lactose intolerant is ongoing, with some claiming it's true while others dismiss it as a hoax. The truth is quite straightforward: adult cats, for the most part, are lactose intolerant, while kittens on the other hand can tolerate milk.
- Lack of Enzymes: Most adult cats lack lactase, which is the enzyme needed to digest lactose, and so consuming milk can lead to gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and gas. Additionally milk's diuretic effect can also increase the risk of dehydration in cats.
- Kittens on the other hand can handle milk primarily because they produce the enzyme lactase, which enables efficient breakdown and digestion of lactose. However, by 6 months of age, their lactase production gradually decreases, making a switch in their diet essential.
That being said, each of our cats do have different preferences, and some may tolerate dairy better than others, so it's essential to observe how your cat reacts. Several cat owners do offer small amounts of milk to kittens through their growing years which seems to build up their tolerance for milk as they grow older. However, this is subjective to each cat and only your vet can offer the best advice based on your pet’s gut health.
If you still want to pamper your cat with an occasional creamy indulgence, you can simply google “lactose-free milk alternatives” that can make the cut. At the end of the day it’s about being responsible pet owners, who understand and prioritize the health and happiness of our beloved feline babies.