The classic picture of a cat lapping up a bowl of milk is well-known, and I am sure everyone has this picture in their heads.
But can cats really drink milk?
The answer to this question varies in some cases, but the general and short answer is: NO.
Because most adult cats cannot digest lactose, they develop allergies and display allergic reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea and skin pigmentation.
As kitten grow up and switch to solid food after weaning, they begin to lose the enzymes that digest lactose.
Moreover, unlike their mother’s milk, other types of milk do not contain enough proteins, vitamins and minerals that are essential to a cat’s health.
Veterinarians do not recommend giving milk to cats, but cats love drinking milk possibly because of its high fat content!
So, what should we do? What happens if you want to give a little bit of milk to your cat staring at your cereal, meowing and begging with sad eyes in the morning?
Some types of milk are known to be less harmful than others. For example, goat’s milk is one of them.
And this brings up the question: Why can’t we give soy milk to our cat, while we can give goat’s milk?
What about other types of milk?
How do I know if my cat is lactose intolerant or allergic? If my cat is not allergic, how much milk should I give?
In this article, in addition to answering these questions, I will also try to provide information about whether it is safe to give other drinks to cats.
I will try to explain why cats should not drink coffee and why the juice of some fruits (strawberries, blueberries, apples etc.) is harmful to cats, while they can eat the same whole fruits.
Why Cats Can’t Drink Milk?
The main reason is lactose.
Soon after they are born, kittens are entirely dependent on their mother’s milk for about 8 weeks.
The milk of mother cats called queens, also known as the queen’s milk, can provide all the essential nutrients that are required for a kitten’s growth.
When kittens are around 4 or 5 weeks, they consume less and less milk from their mother and start eating solid food. By the time they are 2 months old, they naturally wean off their mother’s milk and switch to solid food.
After they are weaned, the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, begins to decrease and eventually disappear in most cats.
Cats that cannot digest lactose develop allergies to milk and dairy products. Some cats may also be allergic to casein, a protein found in milk.
The allergic reactions include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, skin irritation, and sometimes mild to moderate poisoning signs affecting the gastrointestinal tract, intestines, and liver.
How Do I Know if My Cat is Allergic to Milk or Lactose Intolerant?
If you really want to try, you should give a small amount and monitor your cat’s health.
As some adult cats still have the lactase enzymes, albeit not many, they can drink other types of milk as well.
However, it is still best to consider milk as an occasional treat than a regular part of your cat’s diet.
Even if your cat doesn’t have any tolerance problems, milk may have a negative effect on your cat’s lifespan and bone structure in the long term due to its high sugar and fat content.
The best way to figure out if your cat is allergic to milk or lactose intolerant is to give one tablespoon of milk and monitor them for about 12 hours.
It takes 8-12 hours for milk to enter a cat’s gastrointestinal system and leave the body.
If your cat doesn’t exhibit symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, this means your cat can tolerate milk.
Remember that even if so, you shouldn’t exceed one or two tablespoons of milk a week.
What About Kittens Drinking Milk?
As I mentioned in the beginning, most of us have most likely seen the picture of a kitten drinking a bottle or bowl of milk.
So, if kittens can tolerate lactose, can we give them other kinds of milk as well?
Because only the queen’s milk contains all the nutrients kittens need to grow. These include niacin, vitamin A, vitamin D, and certain amino acids such as taurine and arginine.
A newborn kitten needs only their mother’s milk for the first two months.
If a kitten cannot receive milk from their mother for various reasons, other types of milk are not beneficial for proper development and growth.
In this case, the best options are finding a nursing cat (not that easy) or buying a powder milk replacer from the supermarkets.
What Type of Milk Can Cats Drink?
None of them. But some are less harmful.
Milk can be a healthy option for humans (of course not for everyone, some people are lactose intolerant), but it is still harmful to cats even if your cat is not allergic to milk or lactose intolerant.
High in fat and sugar, milk can negatively affect your cat’s gastrointestinal tract and shorten their lifespan.
But if you think giving a few tablespoons of milk as an occasional treat would make your cat happy, this brings up another question: What type of milk can cat drink?
There are so many types of milk that it is very normal to be confused: almond milk, cow milk, goat milk, soy milk, oat milk…
I should warn you that experts agree giving milk to cats is not a good idea.
However, some types of milk are more harmful.
For instance, since cats do not have the necessary enzymes to break down plant-based proteins, soy milk is very likely to cause diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.
Conversely, compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk is richer in vitamins and minerals and contains less lactose.
So, which type of milk is more toxic and which one should we avoid?
Can Cats Drink Almond Milk?
It does not contain lactose but is very high in fat.
Almond milk does not contain lactose.
However, almond milk is not a good option for cats because it is very high in fat.
It may lead to vomiting and diarrhea. You shouldn’t make it a part of your cat’s diet due to the high fat content.
Can Cats Drink Cow Milk?
It contains high levels of lactose and fat.
Cow’s milk is very high in fat and sugar content.
When consumed in large amounts, it may cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, liver and pancreas.
If you still want to offer your cat a small amount, I recommend giving raw or low-fat cow’s milk.
Lactose in unpasteurized (raw) milk causes less harm to the gastrointestinal tract than pasteurized milk.
Can Cats Drink Coconut Milk?
It does not contain lactose, but it is very high in fat.
Coconut milk does not contain lactose, but the high fat content is harmful to your cat.
High fat content negatively affects the liver and pancreas in cats.
It may also lead to health problems such as diarrhea, constipation and vomiting.
Can Cats Drink Soy Milk?
It is difficult for cats to digest plant-based milk.
I recommend you avoid giving especially nuts-based or plant-based milk to your cat.
Most of them do not contain lactose, but they are high in fat. Moreover, since cats cannot digest proteins in plant-based milk, it leads to health problems such as vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Can Cats Drink Goat Milk?
If your cat is not lactose intolerant, you can give a small amount.
Goat’s milk contains less fat than cow’s milk. It is also richer in vitamins and minerals.
Furthermore, goat’s milk contains a small amount of taurine, which is a vital amino acid for a cat’s eyes, digestive system and heart.
If you want to offer a tablespoon of milk to your cat as an occasional treat, you can give raw goat’s milk.
It is important to note that you shouldn’t give it more than once a week. If you notice any symptoms of allergies or lactose intolerance, consult your veterinarian immediately and avoid milk and dairy products in your cat’s diet.
Can Cats Drink Oat Milk?
Only in small amounts.
Made by blending whole oats with water, oat milk is one of cats’ favorite tastes.
It does not contain the nutrients your cat needs, but it is okay to give a few tablespoons as an occasional treat.
Free in lactose and low in fat, oat milk is less harmful than animal-based milk.
Can Cats Drink Lactose-free Milk?
There is no type of milk that is healthy for cats.
This applies to lactose-free milk as well.
Lactose-free milk may eliminate the risk of allergies, but the high fat content can cause harm in your cat’s organs if consumed often.
Does Cheese and Ice Cream Also Bad for Cats?
None of milk and dairy products is recommended for cats since they contain lactose.
Lactose-intolerant cats may develop symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea if they eat cheese or ice cream.
What About Other Liquids for Cats?
Milk is a dangerous option for cats, but what about other liquids?
What happens if I let my cat drink my tea, coffee or lactose-free energy drink?
All kinds of coffee and coffee beans are toxic to cats.
Coffee contains caffeine, a life-threatening chemical for your cat.
Even half of a tablespoon of coffee can cause rapid breathing, heart palpitations and spasms.
Since there are no clear studies on whether decaffeinated coffee is safe for cats, my advice is not to give your cat any kind of caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.
None of black and herbal teas is safe for cats, as they contain a certain amount of caffeine, though not as much as coffee. Caffeine may lead to serious respiratory and heart problems.
The warmth of tea does not reduce the risk of poisoning. Furthermore, canned coffee beverages may actually cause more harm to your cat’s health, as they are high in sugar content.
Chamomile and mint tea can be good for your cat’s stomach and help calm hyperactive cats, provided that you serve it warm, decaf and sugar-free. Make sure not to exceed two tablespoons.
As I explained in my article human foods that cats can and can’t eat, you can give certain fruits to your cat after washing them very well and removing rinds, seeds, and pits.
They shouldn’t be a part of your cat’s regular diet, but if given in small amounts (occasionally), these fruits (apples, bananas, strawberries etc.) can be a perfect snack for your cat.
There is a significant difference between juicing and eating fresh fruits. Because when you juice the fruit, almost all the healthy fiber, minerals and vitamins remain in its pulp, while the fruit sugar (fructose) passes into the juice.
Here is the sugar content in one glass (12 Oz, 355 ml) of some fresh fruit juices:
- Orange juice 35.38 g sugar
- Apple juice 35.76 g sugar
- Strawberry juice 26.2 g sugar
- Cranberry juice 41 g sugar
Apart from the sugar content, certain fruits contain chemicals such as cyanide which lead to poisoning as they pass into the juice.
Can Cats Drink Apple Juice?
Peeled apples – without seeds or core.
Cats can occasionally drink apple juice made from peeled apples without seeds if it is necessary.
However, remember that it is highly concentrated in sugar.
Therefore, I recommend giving it occasionally and offering not more than two tablespoons at a time.
It is important to note once more that that apple seeds contain cyanide that is toxic to your cat.
Can Cats Drink Orange Juice?
Just like other fruits in the citrus family including lime, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, orange contains citric acid which can cause serious damage to your cat’s stomach.
Moreover, citrus fruits also contain compounds such as psoralens, linalool and limonene that are toxic to cats.
By the way, cats usually do not like orange and other citrus fruits because of their strong flavors.
Whenever my cat smells lemon, she makes a wry face and runs away.
Can Cats Drink Cranberry Juice?
You can give fresh cranberries but avoid cranberry juice.
Raw, dried or cooked cranberries are safe for your cat.
Besides, some experts recommend giving cranberries in small quantities in order to prevent and treat urinary tract infections in cats and dogs.
However, as cranberry juice has very high sugar content and increases stomach acid, it is not recommended.
Even though there are some studies which suggest that cranberries increase the acidity of urine and thus inhibit urinary bacterial growth, there are no clear studies on this subject.
You should ask your vet for advice. Personally, I don’t give them to my cat.
No. They are extremely dangerous for your cat.
Most energy drinks contain caffeine. I mentioned the negative effects of coffee above. Caffeine is extremely dangerous for your cat.
Almost all sugar-free foods and beverages contain an artificial sweetener called Xylitol.
Although there is no clear data, Xylitol is not recommended for cats either, as it causes low blood sugar and leads to severe liver damage in dogs.
Besides, fizzy drinks cause an upset stomach in cats.
Alcohol is extremely toxic to your cat.
A tablespoon of alcohol can cause a heart attack, and even death in cats.
Ethanol in an alcoholic beverage negatively affects a cat’s entire body, especially the central nervous system, brain and liver.
A cat that has ingested alcohol may exhibit loss of coordination, disorientation and behavioral changes within 30 minutes after ingestion. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
Can Cats Drink Saltwater?
In very small amounts.
You don’t need to worry if you see your cat occasionally drinking water from a salt-water pool or the sea.
A cat’s kidneys can filter out high levels of salt. However, this does not mean that they can drink plenty of salt water. While it is safe for your cat to drink a few tablespoons of salt water, high salt consumption can cause excessive thirst and urination, and most importantly lead to sodium ion poisoning.
Water: A Vital Source of Hydration for Cats
By the time your kitten reaches 2 months of age, water becomes the only and primary source of hydration.
Water contains all the minerals that are essential to your cat’s health, keeps the moisture content of their skin and body at a certain level to maintain the proper function of all the organs, and promotes blood circulation.
Especially cats eating only dry food need more water because dry food has very low water content.
However, regardless of the type of food consumed, if your cat has a lower intake than certain requirements, several health problems seem inevitable.
So, how much water should a cat drink per day? How do you know if your cat is getting enough water?
Let’s find answers to these questions and learn some tips on how to encourage your cat to drink more water.
How Much Water Should a Cat Drink Per Day?
Generally speaking, a cat’s daily water requirement is calculated as 60 ml/2.02 Oz per kilogram of body weight.
A healthy adult cat typically weighs 9-11 Lbs (around 4-5 kg).
Based on these calculations, a cat requires approximately 240 ml/8.2 Oz (about 1-1.5 cups) of water per day.
The daily water requirement is also determined by the type of food consumed.
If a cat weighing 9-11 Lbs. (4-5 kg):
- Consumes only dry food, the minimum daily water requirement is 240 ml.
- Consumes only wet food, the minimum daily water requirement is 30 ml.
How Do You Know if Your Cat is Getting Enough Water?
It is difficult to constantly monitor your cat’s water intake. You can check the water level when refilling your cat’s water bowl each day.
However, the easiest way to check for dehydration at home is the skin tent test.
Gently pull up a pinch of skin between your cat’s shoulders and then release. A healthy and hydrated cat’s skin should quickly return to normal once released.
But if your cat is dehydrated, the skin will go back in place more slowly, as it is one of the tissues where the first signs appear.
There are also other visible signs of dehydration.
Some Signs of Dehydration in Cats
- Decreased skin elasticity
- Sunken eyes
- Decreased appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Decrease in urination
- Dry, tacky gums
What Does Long-term Dehydration Cause in Cats?
- Heart problems
- Kidney diseases
- Heart strokes
How Can I Encourage My Cat to Drink More Water? 6 Ways
1. Change Your Cat’s Diet
Feeding your cat solely on dry food may not be a good idea.
Because dry food is low in water content, it may have a negative effect on your cat’s overall health and also cause urinary stones if your cat already has a low water intake.
Try giving wet food. Wet food provides a much higher concentration of water as well as a variety of tastes for your cat.
I recommend including a combination of wet and dry food in your cat’s daily diet.
2. Put Ice Cubes in Your Cat’s Water Bowl
Some cats enjoy the floating ice cubes.
Adding a few ice cubes is a great way to keep the water cool and make it more appealing for your playful friend.
3. Add Flavors
Cats love the flavors of fish, beef and chicken.
You can add a few tablespoons of homemade beef or chicken broth to your cat’s water.
However, avoid including onions and garlic in the broth that are toxic to cats.
Alternatively, you can pour a few drops of the broth into each cube of an ice cube tray, add water and freeze it.
Toss one or two into your cat’s water bowl when changing the water.
Don’t forget to label this ice cube tray to avoid adding it to your own drinks by accident.
4. Water Fountain
Some cats prefer drinking water from a running source.
For example, my cat simply loves running faucets! You can try a water fountain specially designed for animals.
A water fountain can be both an exciting activity for your curious friend and an alternative way to encourage more water consumption.
5. Keep the Water Bowl Clean
Cats have a very strong sense of smell.
If the water stays in the bowl too long, it will taste stale and have an unpleasant odor, and therefore your cat won’t touch it.
Make sure to refill your cat’s water bowl once or twice a day.
Here is another suggestion for the water bowl: use a glass, ceramic or metal bowl instead of a plastic one. They are more hygienic and long-lasting.
If you have multiple cats in your house, use a separate water bowl for each cat. Cats usually do not prefer foods and beverages that has the scent of another cat.
6. Change the Water Source
You know how picky and finicky some cats can be.
Maybe your cat doesn’t like the tap water. Try filtering it. If it doesn’t work, consider giving bottled water.
If your cat drinks almost no water and is becoming more and more depressed and lethargic, take your cat to the vet immediately. In some emergency situations, veterinarians inject fluids and electrolytes under the skin or directly into the vein to treat dehydration.
What Can Cats Drink Besides Water?
My answer is… nothing!
After weaning, a kitten does not need any fluids other than the appropriate food and fresh water.
Sometimes, it is okay to pour a few drops of beef, chicken or fish broth into your cat’s water in order to trigger your cat’s playful side, increase the appetite of your sick or recovered friend, or encourage them to drink more water. In fact, this can even help!
However, if your cat is not allergic to milk, you can occasionally give one tablespoon of goat’s milk or some of the abovementioned fruit juices that are safe for your cat.
Honestly, I was surprised when I first found out that the milk bottle, which is an outstanding part in most of the cat pictures that make us happy, is no more than just a decor.
Yes, cats do like milk, but they shouldn’t be allowed to drink it.
Well, as I know the pictures of healthy cats lapping up a bowl of milk don’t reflect the truth, and that kittens shouldn’t drink any other milk than their mother’s milk, urged me to do more research on the subject.
And I learned that as cats grow up, the lactase enzyme, which enables them to digest lactose, begins to disappear. That is why we should also avoid giving other dairy products to cats.
Most cats are allergic to milk or dairy products, or lactose intolerant. Even in those that aren’t allergic or lactose intolerant, these products lead to serious health conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart and liver diseases in the long term.
Some types of milk appear to be less harmful than others at first.
For instance, goat’s milk contains less sugar and fat content compared to cow’s milk.
Almond milk or coconut milk does not contain lactose, but they have enough fat content to cause pancreatitis. Those are just a few examples.
Going through all these milk products, I can say that the healthiest option is to avoid offering milk.
As for other drinks, no matter how long the list is, when we have a look at hot or cold (coffee, tea etc.), or fresh drink options (fruit juices), it is also best to keep our cat away from these options.
Moreover, even though sugar-free products sound appealing at first, they pose a fatal threat to our cats because of Xylitol.
In short, milk or any other liquid other than water is not a necessary part of a healthy cat’s nutrition.
On the other hand, water plays a crucial and vital role in cats’ life. Dehydration can lead to serious health conditions including diarrhea, depression, diabetes and heat-stroke.
I would greatly appreciate your comments and reviews.
I have two pregnant cats which seem keen for me to put milk in their bowl and it would make sense that they would benefit from the extra calcium. The third cat he loves milk also. I do feed raw meat on occasion to make sure they have enzymes in their diet and not just cooked food and biscuits. It probably would be better for me to try them on kefir instead of milk or even yogurt because of the lower lactose content. Kefir is also supposed to be good for allergies.
However I was wondering about the fat content seeing as milk is about two percent fat which is about the same as meat.? Although i suppose it is the type of fat that is an issue also. Cows milk is not really good for any animal except the cow.