Cats, milk & lactose intolerance, the answer to this question.

Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad
6 min readMay 22, 2021
Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash.


You own a cat; you want to give milk to those street cats who are hungry because you are a wonderful human being, or you’re just here researching because you're procrastinating on something else you should be doing. ;)

Cats & milk have become synonymous with each other for a long time because of exposure to films & the general media. This has invoked the concept that cats love, need milk & it is good for them.

Why do cats love milk? Do they need milk once they get older? Is milk bad for cats? If milk is bad for them, is there any alternative if we still want to give it to our cat? Are cats lactose intolerant? Here are all the answers.

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What the research & science says:

Linda P. Case, MS, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine & author of the Cat: Its Behaviour, Nutrition, Health states:

Just like people, cats can be lactose intolerant & although we tend to think that’s a problem, It's actually completely normal.

The only time animals are exposed to lactose is when they’re babies, in their mothers' milk.

To digest lactose, a milk sugar, the human & feline digestive systems must contain the enzyme lactase. We have plenty of this enzyme in our systems birth, & it helps us thrive on our mother’s milk.

But as we grow up, it’s normal for people & cats to begin producing less lactase. Less lactase means less ability to digest lactose. The result may be eventually be lactose intolerance.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s website further evaluates this issue & states:

When a lactose intolerant cat drinks milk the undigested lactose passes through the intestinal tract, drawing water with it. Bacteria in the colon also ferment the undigested sugars, producing volatile fatty acids.

Susan G. Wynn, DVM, CVA, CVCH, an animal nutritionist in Atlanta and co-author of the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine says:

All that activity might lead to an upset tummy and induce vomiting. But the most common symptom of lactose intolerance in cats is diarrhea, usually within eight to 12 hours.

Cats get a sick stomach because of this. Gastrointestinal problems occur. The dangers of lactose intolerance can range from:

  • Vomit.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Feeling sick & lousy.

To extreme cases like dehydration.

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If lactose is bad for them, then why do cats love dairy products?

Cats not only love milk but also cheese, yoghurt & ice cream but why?

Dairy products contain fats & proteins, which cats can smell & sense hence despite that it is not good for them (the dairy) they still consume it.

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Many cats tolerate milk just fine:

Susan. G Wynn, DVM, CVA, CVCH, an animal nutritionist in Atlanta & co-author of the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine states:

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.

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 only 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.

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What if you are raising an orphaned kitten? Or your cat might like milk or dairy a lot. Here are your alternatives:

There are milk alternatives that you can get easily by pet stores or by veterinarians. KMR is recognized as the best brand of milk alternatives, anecdotally speaking. It is in powder form that you mix with water. Linda. P Case states:

Cow's milk that has been modified to approach as closely as possible the nutrient composition of cat’s milk, 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”.

In the case of adult cats milk replacers should be treated as small treats once in a while.

Susan further states:

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”, 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.

If you want to give your dear cat some dairy, then cheese, yoghurt & ice cream are healthy alternatives.

The importance of water for a cat's well being:

One thing that gets over the head of many people is the importance of clean water for a cat's health. Like people, 2–3rds of a cat's body consists of water. In the wild cats get water from killing their prey. Sand cats are an example.

Domesticated cats however get their hydration from wet food or a bowl of water. Cats can survive on small quantities of water because they concentrate their piss. You may not notice your cat is dehydrated until it actually develops a problem. These include:

  • Kidney disease.
  • Tumors.
  • Stones.
  • Urinary diseases.

Some of these can be fatal.

Encourage your cat to drink 5–10 fluid ounces per day. Some cats like cold, others like warm water.

In my personal experience, I have seen that particularly street cats prefer rain or tap water that is on the ground. I have tried many times to get them to drink water from a bowl but they don’t accept it. Customize the diet according to your cat's preferences.

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s website states the benefits of regular drinking of water, these include:

  • Regulate body temperature.
  • Eliminate waste.
  • Lubricate tissue.
  • Allow salt and other electrolytes to pass through the body.
  • Digest food.
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You have made it to the end, to make everything more clear & vivid for you. Everything discussed will be given a concise summary.

  • Regular cow’s milk is dangerous for cats. According to doctors.
  • Lactose-free, soy, KMR milk are healthy options as “Treats” for cats once in a while.
  • KMR milk specifically for orphaned kittens you’re trying to raise.
  • Many cats tolerate milk just fine because they can digest the lactose inside of it.
  • Even then, normal cat food should be given daily as the primary source in the diet model.
  • Cats love dairy because of the fats & protein inside of it.
  • Ice cream, cheese, yoghurt are all healthy snacks to be given once in a while for cats. They are healthy because of the industrial processes breaks down the lactose & makes it ineffective to harm the stomach of a cat.
  • Water is essential for a cat's well-being & is underrated in this department.

I hope this article has helped you out. Thank you for reading. :)



Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad

is an enthusiast of Bodybuilding, Financial Education & an aspiring F1 racing driver.