Skimming the truth—why is milk bad for cats?

Judging by beloved childhood cartoons, few things in the world bring more joy to cats than a bowl of fresh milk! We all have the image of a happy slurping feline ingrained into our minds, but is milk a good ingredient in their diet

Our four-legged companions seem to enjoy it as much as the next mammal, but the real question is—is milk bad for cats, and if so, how harmful is it? It’s time to put the lactose myth to the test and examine the pros and cons of incorporating dairy products in your cat’s meals.

We’ll also list some other food groups our feline friends should steer clear of and offer ideas for alternative tailor-made treats!

The cats and milk myth busted

Drinking milk comes naturally to most mammals, and felines are no different. It’s the first food they taste after coming into the world, so they develop an affinity towards it at an early age. 

The problem arises after the nursing period because they start losing the enzyme necessary for lactose digestion. As kittens grow older, it becomes increasingly difficult for cats to break it down, so milk consumption often upsets the stomach

Why do they like it so much then? While store-bought dairy products are substantially different from their mother’s milk, the flavour itself is pretty familiar. Many cats like the smell and taste of cow's milk because it makes them feel comfortable and safe. 

Another appealing quality is the nutritional contents of dairy products. Cats can sniff out the high levels of protein and fat in milk and are immediately drawn to it. Think of it as their version of chocolate—it’s bad for them, but they can’t resist the sweet aroma!

Can’t help it when it tastes so yummy!

Source: Miron Cristina

Why can’t cats drink milk?

Lactose is a type of sugar present in most dairy products. It is also the main reason why milk is bad for cats. The only way to fully digest it is with the help of an enzyme called lactase produced in the small intestine.

After birth, kittens can maintain a sufficient level of lactase to break down the sugar from the breast milk into simpler particles—galactose and glucose. The two products are easier to absorb and aren’t as harmful to the feline metabolism. 

Adult cats don’t have enough enzymes for processing lactose, so the milk sugar lingers in their digestive system, causing a slew of gastrointestinal issues, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Flatulence
  • Vomiting
  • General discomfort

Does that mean my cat will die if they drink too much milk?

While lactose intolerance is an uncomfortable condition, it’s not lethal per se. If your cat drinks too much milk, they will suffer from mild to severe indigestion. The symptoms typically occur within eight to 12 hours after consumption, so you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for what’s coming. 

If the symptoms don’t disappear after a day, you should schedule a vet appointment since there might be a more severe cause of indigestion (e.g., allergy or food poisoning). 

The concern with cats drinking milk in excessive amounts is the long-term effect it can have on their health. Domesticated or not, cats are carnivorous creatures whose metabolism isn't fit to process high amounts of sugar. 

A high-carb feline diet can lead to the following chronic illnesses:

Lactose intolerance vs. milk allergies—what’s the difference?

Your cat suffering from lactose intolerance is not the same as being allergic to milk. Here are the crucial distinctions:

  • Lactose intolerance—Inability to digest milk sugar or lactose due to a lack of lactase in the adult feline’s body that can develop at any point after the nursing period. The reaction lasts until the lactose passes through their system (usually 24 hours)
  • Milk allergy—A severe reaction to a particular protein (casein) in milk and most dairy products that typically develops between the age of two and six. Allergies occur every time the cat is exposed to an irritable substance (e.g., milk)

Take a look at the most common symptoms in the table below:

Lactose intolerance

Milk allergy

  • Bloated stomach
  • Diarrhoea
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Increased shedding
  • Skin conditions (redness, dryness, and flakiness)
  • Itchy bottom

If you suspect your cat is allergic to milk, the best thing to do is schedule a thorough physical exam. The vet will conduct a series of tests, including bloodwork and urinalysis and create a biochemistry profile to make a diagnosis. In case your suspicions are confirmed, your feline friend will probably be prescribed a hypoallergenic diet, coupled with a life-long ban on dairy.

OK, can a kitten drink cow milk then?

Adult cats drinking milk is bad, but what about the little ones? They seem to produce enough enzymes to digest the cat milk lactose. Can kittens have cow milk, and how often? The answer is a stern no!

In the first eight to ten weeks (i.e., before they’re old enough to eat solid food), nursing kittens get all their nutrients from breast milk. It’s a natural feeding pattern for most mammals and highly beneficial for feline growth. Milk from another species is far too strong for the kitten’s developing digestive systems. 

The casein, lactose, and fat contents in cow’s milk are too high for them to process and can lead to:

  1. Gastrointestinal issues
  2. Food allergy development
  3. Obesity
  4. Diabetes
  5. Heart, kidney, or liver disease

Besides the excessive sugar and fat levels, cow milk is not nearly as nutritious as adult cat milk or specialised kitten formulas. 

The optimal nutrient ratio for a healthy kitten diet is:

Nutrient

Ideal amount

Protein

35%–50%

Fat

18%–35%

Calcium

0.8%–1.6%

What should I feed my nursing kitten instead of milk?

The best substitute for breast milk is the so-called kitten milk replacer or KMR. It’s widely available in pet stores and typically comes in two forms:

  1. Canned
  2. Powdered

Canned KMR can sometimes cause stomach issues such as kitten diarrhoea, so stick to the powdered formula if you have a more sensitive kitty

Kitten formula has the closest nutritional value to cat’s milk.

Source: Emrah AYVALI

What’s the optimal feline meal plan, then?

The three key ingredients for the ultimate feline power meal are:

  1. Animal-based proteins
  2. Animal fats
  3. Natural vitamins and minerals

A protein-based diet is the cat’s whiskers because it contains numerous amino acids such as taurine, necessary for feline health. Taurine and similar substances strengthen your cat’s:

  • Heart 
  • Immune response
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Eye function
  • Overall development

Animal fats and fatty acids are major energy sources. Chicken and pork fat, in particular, contain the necessary nutrients to keep your cat’s liver in tip-top shape. 

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, here’s a breakdown of what your feline companion’s daily intake should include:

Vitamins

Minerals

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Wet vs. dry food

Besides their innate affinity towards milk, cats are not avid drinkers. Instead of drinking water, our four-legged friends mostly hydrate through meals. That’s why choosing the right cat food is so important.

When looking solely at the nutritional value, canned goods are superior to dry cat food. Wet food typically contains high quantities of:

  1. Moisture (as much as 78%)
  2. Animal-based protein
  3. Natural vitamins and minerals

It’s usually low in sugar and carbohydrates, as opposed to dry cat food, but the actual quality of food depends on the manufacturer.

Does that mean you should never feed your feline biscuits? On the contrary—dry food also has its health perks, mainly in connection to weight management and oral hygiene (not to mention, it’s less pricey than canned food).

Untamed food will make your kitty forget about milk and get hooked on healthy meals instead! 

Whether it’s gravy or jelly, Untamed meals are bound to appeal to your cat’s taste, even if they are a fussy eater! Our first-grade feline cuisine was created on the following principles:

  1. Human-grade ingredients
  2. Vet-approved formulas
  3. Ethically sourced meat
  4. Premium meat cuts (without grain and unnecessary fillers)
  5. Advanced cooking methods

Each portion is filled with the necessary nutrients such as taurine, antioxidants, natural minerals, and vitamins. You won’t find any potentially harmful substances in our top-notch recipes since all the ingredients are hypoallergenic.

We strongly believe our delicious meals will appeal to all cats, even picky seniors or demanding pregnant queens. If you want to give us a try, complete our online questionnaire and check out the suggested meal plans!

What are the health benefits of Untamed food?

When you switch to our food, you can expect to see the first signs of the Untamed effect in a matter of weeks! Take a look at the estimated timeline in the following table:

Timeline

Evident health markers

Within a week

  • Regulated bowel movement
  • Increased energy

After two months

  • Less shedding
  • Shinier and thicker fur
  • Healthier skin

Within four months

  • Fewer hairballs
  • Optimal weight and muscle tone
  • Stable digestive health

Long-term benefits

  • Fewer gastrointestinal problems
  • Stronger immune response
  • Fewer dental issues

How to get Untamed

Your cat can try Untamed products by ordering our tester pack! If you want to treat your cat to some fine dining, complete the following steps:

  1. Fill out our online questionnaire
  2. Choose a customised meal plan
  3. Complete the order if everything is up to standard

Your feline companion will get a taste of our delicious, nutritious meals in no time! After the first delivery, you can get monthly meal shipments of selected dishes. 

The best part is—you don’t have to stick to a particular course. Untamed allows you to make changes to your order as per your feline’s wishes.

But what if my cat really wants milk (and they’re too cute for me to resist)?

When a cat drinks milk as a replacement for a full meal, it can lead to various gastrointestinal problems. Dairy products should be a part of your furry friend's diet only in the form of occasional (but well-deserved) treats. 

The recommended calorie intake for an average-sized house cat is roughly 200 calories per day. Treats of any kind should not exceed 10% of the daily requirement. When translated to dairy products, that means:

  1. One tablespoon of milk—9 calories (roughly 5%)
  2. Two tablespoons of milk—18 calories (around 10%)

You can also dip your finger in the milk and have your kitty lick it off or spray a small amount directly into their mouth using a syringe. Under no circumstance should you pour milk into your cat’s meal! If you start “seasoning” your kitty’s lunch with a splash of milk, you risk:

  • Messing with their appetite
  • Teaching them to avoid solid food
  • Getting them hooked on dairy

Alternative (healthy) snacks for your cat

Who said healthy treats couldn’t also be delicious? Here’s a list of protein-based snacks that are guaranteed to smitten your kitten while keeping them in top form:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Ham
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Shrimps
  • Prawns
  • Cooked fish (salmon and sardines)

When it comes to premium meat cuts, Untamed is the golden standard! Our delicious recipes are meticulously prepared to keep the nutritional value of the ingredients. Take a look at some of our protein-packed products:

  • Tuck-in Tuna with Shrimp in Gravy—58% tuna whole meat, 33% fish broth, 5% shrimp, 16.5% crude protein
  • Chocka Chicken in Jelly—58% chicken breast, 33% chicken broth, 5% chicken liver, 16.5% crude protein
  • Chocka Chicken with Ham in Gravy—55% chicken breast, 33% chicken broth, 5% ham, 14.5% crude protein
  • Full-on Fishy in Gravy—45% tuna whole meat, 33% fish broth, 13% sardine, 5% mackerel, 16.5% crude protein

High protein treats for your feline companion!

Image (c) Untamed

Is ANY milk safe for cats?

If cow milk is so bad for cats—what about some vegan or nonfat alternatives? Let’s explore the potential substitutes for cow milk:

  1. Nut milk—Soya, almond, cashew, and other nut products are not entirely safe for feline consumption. Soya, in particular, contains high amounts of anti-nutritional sugar compounds, such as stachyose and raffinose that are hard to digest
  2. Goat milk—Some vets claim fermented goat milk has a beneficial effect on the feline digestive tract since it’s rich in probiotics, fatty acids, antioxidants, and antihistamines. A small amount of goat milk (fed sparingly) can help with indigestion, arthritis and joint pain, allergies, and asthma
  3. Skimmed milkCan cats drink semi-skimmed milk or nonfat milk? Perhaps, in tiny quantities. Skimmed milk is a better option than fresh milk in terms of unhealthy fat levels, but it still has a high lactose content
  4. Lactose-free milk—Nowadays, you can find lactose-free products in pet stores around the country. If your feline companion enjoys the occasional taste of pretend milk, you can give it to them as a special treat
  5. Raw unpasteurised milk—While raw food seems close to what your cat should eat, fresh milk is a no-no in their diet. Besides having the same lactose content as fermented milk, unpasteurised milk is also rich in bacteria
  6. Other dairy products—Like goat milk, yoghurt is a natural probiotic and can work well as a dietary supplement. Other dairy products, such as cheese, should be avoided (unless it’s a type of Fromage de Chat)

An occasional sip can’t hurt, but don’t make it a habit!

Source: cottonbro

Other harmful food you should banish from your cat’s diet

Dairy is not the only food group that can cause a ruckus in the feline digestive system. Here’s a list of ingredients that should never find their way to your cat’s feeding bowl:

  1. Onions, garlic, and chives—Allium vegetables can cause several chronic kidney diseases. While tiny amounts of powdered onion can be found in some cat food, excessive consumption is quite harmful. Chives and garlic are a considerable health risk and should be avoided at all costs
  2. Alcohol—As little as two teaspoons of hard liquor could have a devastating effect on your cat’s liver. Beer, wine, or any food containing alcohol pose a threat to your feline’s health
  3. Grapes and raisins—While some cat parents use grapes and raisins as treats, it’s not the healthiest of practices. Even a small amount can lead to vomiting and hyperactivity, and long-term consumption is known to cause kidney failure
  4. Citrus fruit—Citric acid can have a damaging effect on your cat’s kidney function. It can also cause digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhoea
  5. Caffeine—Coffee, cocoa, chocolate, and caffeine-based products can lead to several feline health issues. Excessive consumption can result in caffeine poisoning, which manifests in heart palpitations, restlessness, tremors, and breathing difficulties
  6. Raw food—Raw beef, chicken, fish, or eggs often find their way to homemade cat meals. Try to avoid them because they are filled with dangerous bacteria that can cause food poisoning in felines
  7. Dough and raw yeast—Cats have a hard time digesting yeast, meaning most of it is left to ferment in their digestive system. The yeast build-up can lead to abdominal bloating and pain. In some cases, the fermentation can even produce alcohol