Cats and milk just seem to go together. Pop culture is filled with sayings like “the cat that got the cream” and cats in children’s cartoons lapping at a bowl of milk. If you have ever put a dish of milk down for your cat, she probably went right for it, indicating that your cat enjoyed it.
But all these popular depictions of milk drinking cats are a little off. Although cats do tend to like milk, many cats are lactose intolerant. Knowing the signs of lactose intolerance in cats can help you determine if your cat is one of those who should avoid milk.
Milk is not unsafe for cats necessarily, but cats who cannot digest it will have some gastrointestinal problems. These look a lot like they do for lactose intolerant people and include:
The one danger here is if diarrhea or vomiting leads to dehydration, which can have significant health consequences. This is why many vets will recommend avoiding dairy altogether and sticking to treats made for cats.
A notable exception is nursing kittens. Any milk besides their mother’s milk or kitten formula is unsafe for nursing kittens.
If you give your cat milk and she does not show any signs of discomfort, you are likely alright to continue offering milk, cottage cheese, or yogurt in small amounts as a treat. You should keep the treats rare and not give any more than a tablespoon. Even if your cat can digest the milk, it is still high in fat.
Of the available milks, goat milk is often easier to digest and healthy. Many milk based treats made by pet food companies will actually use goat milk as a base.
Non-dairy milks such as soy milk or almond milk are never safe for cats because they use thickeners and additives that can be harmful.
When deciding what kinds of treats to give your cat, it is often safer to forgo milk completely and opt for other treats. But if you are already in the habit of giving your furry friend a small saucer of milk and haven’t noticed any problems, there is no reason to stop.