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Cats and Dairy: Get the Facts

WebMD discusses the facts about cats and dairy, and why substituting a saucer of milk for water may not be best for your kitten.
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Cats and Dairy Fact 3: Yogurt and Cheese May Be Easier to Digest

Sometimes a cat that can’t tolerate milk may have no problem with other forms of dairy, like yogurt, cheese, butter, or ice cream. That’s because “different forms of dairy food contain varying amounts of lactose,” Wynn says.

There are two reasons for that. Foods like yogurt and ice cream are often diluted with other things, such as water or added fats. They may also be cultured, meaning microorganisms have digested part of the lactose.

So if you want to give a sensitive feline a bit of dairy, the chances of an intolerance reaction are less with cheeses, yogurts, and other cultured dairy.

Cats and Dairy Fact 4: Kittens Don't Need Cow’s Milk

Despite those charming storybook illustrations, “cow’s milk is completely inadequate for kittens,” Wynn says.

Though kittens have lactase in their system, there’s just not enough of it to tackle the lactose overload found in cow’s milk.

But lactose isn’t the only problem. “The casein to whey proportions are all wrong in cow’s milk too,” Case tells WebMD.

If your kitten is young and still needs mother’s milk, you can try a milk replacer made specifically for kittens.

Sold by vets or found in pet stores, cat milk replacers often contain cow’s milk that’s “been modified to approach as closely as possible the nutrient composition of cat’s milk,” Case says. That means adjusted casein and whey ratios, and a reduction in the amount of lactose. If you’re fostering or raising an orphaned kitten, “milk replacers formulated specifically for kittens are definitely a way to go.”

For adult cats, treat milk replacers like any other dairy product: You can offer small amounts as a treat.

The same goes for dairy substitutes designed for humans, such as soy and lactose-free milk. You can give these as treats, but “in general, there is no reason to use them unless the cat has developed an unusual taste for them," Wynn says.

Cats and Dairy Fact 5: Cats Need Water, First

No matter how well-tolerated cow’s milk is, your cat will always need plenty of fresh, clean water. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine's web site, water helps your cat:

  • Regulate body temperature
  • Digest food
  • Eliminate waste
  • Lubricate tissue
  • And allows salt and other electrolytes to pass through the body

To encourage your cat to drink water, try placing several bowls of different depths around the house. Many cats also like flowing water, Case says. If yours is one, you can find kitty fountains at most pet stores.

 

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Reviewed on May 01, 2010
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