Last updated: February 7, 2017
Everybody knows that cats love milk, right? When you see cartoons of cats they are always lapping milk and eating fish, and dogs are always eating bones. But why do cats love milk so much? They can’t even taste sweet things! It’s a mystery! The truth is that some cats just like it while others won’t touch it with a bargepole. Just like people, they are individuals and prefer to do their own thing – and cats do their own thing far more often that we’d like, cheeky sods! So should I give my cats milk? Hmmm… yes and no! Mostly no.
How Humans Can Drink Other Animals’ Milk
Homo Sapiens is unique among mammal species in that we can digest the milk of other animals after weaning with no ill effects. A certain number of us will always be unable to digest milk and this varies from region to region in the world. A genetic mutation among some nomads in Central Europe caused this tolerance to other mammals’ milk around 7,500 years ago. These people may have begun to drink cows’ or goats’ milk to supplement a poor diet. Those who drank it and digested it probably survived and passed it on to the next generation, while those who could not died. Thus the mutation was passed on. That’s why so many people in Western Europe can tolerate milk and so many from Eastern Asia cannot. But what has this got to do with cats, I hear you scream?
Milk is a fabulous food for kittens, puppies, lambs, tiger cubs and even whale calves! It was specially formulated by Mother Nature herself to be perfect for babies. She even made a special place for it to be manufactured and stored in the bodies of Mommies everywhere called mammary glands. This means that no matter which species we are, our milk is convenient to carry around and comes out ready mixed at just the right temperature. (She is SUCH a clever lady!) The thing about milk is that it has all the right balance of nutrients for babies. Milk is high in lactose, or milk sugar, and this needs a special enzyme, lactase, to break it down so that the body can use it. After weaning, babies have no more need for a milk-digesting chemical, so it’s not produced anymore. But humans have evolved in such a way that we’ve kept on producing lactase and can, therefore, digest cow’s or goat’s milk. Cats don’t have this mutation so the milk of any other species is indigestible to them.
When they drink cows’ milk they cannot break it down into a usable form, so it just hangs about causing trouble! When a cat who is lactose intolerant is given cows’ milk, its tummy can’t handle it properly so it hustles its way through the intestines undigested, slurping up a lot of water along the way. The resulting slurry is what you and I call diarrhea – delightful stuff! This will probably start between eight to twelve hours later. As if that wasn’t enough, gut bacteria ferments the stuff, forming noxious fatty acids. Poor kitty!
What Are the Alternatives?
Bear in mind that what we’re discussing are treats, which means that strictly speaking Kitty doesn’t need them at all as long as he’s having a well-balanced diet (which I’m sure he is!) so let’s face it, the treats aren’t just for the cats! They make us feel good too when we see them getting so excited. If we give too many of them, though, kitties can end up with an unbalanced diet, become overweight, and develop other health problems like diabetes.
Soya Milk (Definite No-No Number 1)
There is no lactose in soy milk so we should be OK, right? Wrong, unfortunately. There are anti-nutritional factors which mitigate against it. As with every carbohydrate, soy has its own sugars called Stachyose and Raffinose which cannot be digested in the cat’s digestive system. Cats who drink soy milk are liable to upset tummies and gas – and that’s not pleasant for anyone!If you give cats too much of any kind of milk, including soy milk you run the risk of unbalancing his diet. Cats absolutely MUST have meat in their diets – they can’t survive without it – so giving your cat something that will give him too many calories and not enough nutrition is not a good idea.
Almond Milk (Definite No-No Number 2)
Since most cats are lactose intolerant, you’d think that giving them a nut-based product with no dairy in it would be safe enough, right? Wrong. Just as many people are sensitive and even allergic to nuts, so are many cats. They aren’t necessarily dangerous, but they can cause tummy ache and vomiting.
Yogurt, Cheese and Cottage Cheese
Yes, cats can eat yogurt and cheese, and most of them love it. Plain yogurt can help with the effects of antibiotics, which wipe out all bacteria, good and bad, while fighting those nasty germs! It replaces all the good stuff and stops your kitty from getting diarrhea. It’s also possible to give it to a lactose intolerant cat, but try a bit out on him first!
Not in huge amounts, please, but a teaspoon two or three times a week can help with evacuate those yukky hairballs.
Ah, now we’re getting there! While no other animal’s milk is ideal for that of another species, goat’s milk seems to be a good substitute for practically anything that ails you! It has 89% less casein (a milk protein to which many cats are allergic) and fewer fat globules, making it easier for kitty to digest. It can be given to cats in small doses and even to tiny kittens in an emergency, but while it’s better than a lot of other things, it’s not the best.
If you absolutely MUST give him a treat then you can buy perfectly formulated cat’s milk which is made from cows’ milk minus the lactose. There are several commercial brands that will do the job just fine. While this is (almost) ideal for cats, you should really think of it in the way that we humans think of a beer or a glass of wine. Very enjoyable, not really necessary but all right in small doses! Cats don’t need milk when they’re big and all grown up. It’s we silly humans who need to give it to them!
We all want our little moggies to have the very best things in life, and if that includes the odd treat – no problem! But you know, all they really need is the right food – and lots of love – absolutely tons of it!!!