Vet Q&A: Can cats drink milk?

by PDSA Vets | 17 November 2020 #Cats

It’s a popular myth that our cats need to drink milk. Our vets are de-bunking this and looking at what you should be giving your cat instead.

For years we’ve seen cats enjoying a saucer of milk all over the TV and other media. A lot of owners often think that cats need milk to be healthy. This just isn’t the case, and we can tell you now your cat definitely doesn’t need milk (especially cows’ milk) to keep them healthy!

In fact, milk might actually do more harm than good to your feline friend. They may seem to like the taste but we’d always advise steering clear of giving milk to your cat.

There are actually no benefits to your cat having milk – as long as they are being given a balanced, age-appropriate complete diet then they will be perfectly happy and healthy. Of course, kittens need to drink their mum’s milk, but by the time they’re just a few months old they should be fully weaned, eating cat food and drinking water.

The only time a cat may need you to give them milk is if you need to hand-rear a kitten (and then you should only give them specific kitten milk, as other types of milk won’t have the right balance of nutrients). Just like any kitten, they’ll also need weaning off this and as an adult will be perfectly healthy on a complete food and water.


Why can’t cats have cows’ milk? Is it bad for them?

In a word, yes, cows’ milk is bad for cats. Most cats are actually ‘lactose intolerant’ as they don’t have the enzyme (lactase) in their intestines to digest the sugar in milk (lactose), meaning that milk which contains lactose can make them poorly. They can get vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain from drinking it (just like lactose intolerance in humans). While not all cats will get poorly, it’s really better not to risk it!

Another reason not to give your cat cows’ milk is because it’s full of fat, which is why they like the taste so much! A saucer of milk for your cat is like you eating an entire 12 inch pizza. That might not sound too bad on its own, but imagine eating that on top of all your usual daily food and meals. Suddenly that pizza seems like a lot more!

Giving your cat milk can seriously unbalance their diet and lead to them gaining weight. For more advice on preventing obesity in cats, visit our Hub.


Can I give my cat milk made for them?

You might have seen in supermarkets and pet shops that you can get special milk made for cats. Usually these have a lot less lactose in them or are lactose free. While they’re less likely to make your cat poorly, their fat content is often just as high as any other milk so it’s still bad for their waistline!

While you could give this to your cat as an occasional treat, you need to keep in mind the extra calories when you give them their daily food allowance. As cat milk will often not be a complete meal, your cat could be getting less of their vital vitamins and nutrients if you choose to give them this and reduce their daily allowance of complete food.


What can I give my cat instead of milk? What do cats drink?

Your cat only needs to drink water. Having access to clean water will keep them hydrated and happy. If you don’t think your cat is drinking enough, try putting several water bowls scattered around the house and refresh and clean them regularly. Remember many cats don’t like their food and water bowls to be in the same place. You might also want to try a cat water fountain as many cats will prefer to drink running water.

You should feed your cat a high quality complete, commercial balanced diet that’s appropriate for their age. This will help them to stay healthy and (as long as they’re active) prevent them from gaining extra weight. If you want to find out more, take a look at our free guide on what to feed your cat.

We know that sometimes you’ll want to give your cat a bit of an extra treat. Before you go breaking into the food treats or cat milk, think about whether your cat would like a different type of treat. You could get them a new toy or schedule in a bit of extra playtime with them. You could even play a fun game, like hiding their toys in some of their favourite places to find.

For more inspiration, check out our free guides:

Want to get your cat a special new toy? Take a look at our vet-approved range of cat toys.

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