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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 2: Many Cats Can Drink Milk

Most of us have probably given our cats a bit of milk and never noticed a problem. That’s because some cats tolerate milk just fine, Wynn tells WebMD.

How can you tell? Try offering your cat a tablespoon or two of milk. If you don’t see symptoms within a day, chances are good your cat will do fine with milk as an occasional treat.

Still, most veterinarians don't recommend it. Cats don’t need milk, and the potential problems outweigh the potential benefits.

Remember that treats of all sorts -- such as tuna, meat, cheese, or other “people foods” -- should make up no more than 5% to 10% of your cat’s diet. The rest of your cat's calories should come from a high-quality, nutritionally complete cat food.

If you’re not sure what that means for your cat, talk to your veterinarian. Also, remember that offering table food to a cat often teaches a cat to be finicky.

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.

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