Are Cats Lactose Intolerant? The Truth About Cats And Milk

Cats and milk. In my mind they go hand in hand. Put out a saucer of milk and if your cat is anything like mine, she’ll come running. She knows when I’m eating cereal and waits patiently while I eat. She knows it’s milk. She’s banking on her slim chances of me letting her lick the bowl. But, is this safe? Are cats lactose intolerant and should cats and milk really be associated together anymore?

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Before we learn whether or not cats are lactose intolerant, we need to know what it is. Simply put, lactose intolerance in cats (and humans for that matter) is the inability to digest the sugar in milk which is called lactose. To successfully break down the lactose, cats require an enzyme in their digestive system called lactase. Insufficient amounts of lactase in their systems means your cat is lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance in cats is more common the older your cat gets. At birth, cats will have plenty of lactase to digest and benefit from their mother’s milk. As they age, the production of lactase slows naturally, ultimately resulting in lactose intolerance.

Is My Cat Lactose Intolerant?

Are Cats Lactose IntolerantNow that we know what it is, how do we know if our cats are lactose intolerant? Lactose intolerance in cats is not uncommon but it would be inaccurate to say that all cats are lactose intolerant, that’s for sure. The easiest way to determine your cat’s ability to digest milk is trial and error.

If you’re anything like me, you will not need to subject your cat to the lactose intolerance test of feeding them a tablespoon or less of milk and waiting for a reaction. More commonly, a cereal bowl or glass of milk will be left unattended and your cat will just help themselves.

To me, this is better than intentionally giving your cat milk and causing possible painful symptoms, but to each their own.

The Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance In Cats

Are Cats Lactose IntolerantI must warn you: the symptoms of lactose intolerance in cats are not pretty. The main one is diarrhea. Yep. You’ll need to poke through the litter box at least a few times. Other glamorous symptoms of lactose intolerance in cats are vomiting, constipation, excessive gas and bloating.

Other, more serious symptoms can also occur such as increased heart rate, dehydration and abdominal pain. If the symptoms persist for more than a few days, you should take your cat to the vet. These symptoms can also be indicators of other, more serious problems. Always tell your vet if your cat has ingested dairy products so they are informed.

Cats And Milk

The simple truth is that cats and milk are not a good combination anymore. We need to work on disassociating these two words.  Cats simply don’t have any use for milk after they are weaned from their mothers. The one problem is that many cats are seemingly attracted to milk. The question is why are some cats (like mine) so obsessed with milk?

Cats are attracted to foods high in fat and protein. It’s really that simple why your cat wants some of your milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream. Your cat does not need the protein or fat from dairy products as long as they are eating a balanced diet, already high in both those things.

The Verdict

Whether or not your cat is lactose intolerant shouldn’t concern you too much. A small amount or milk given intentionally or accidentally should not cause prolonged symptoms. If your cat does show symptoms of lactose intolerance, you will need to cut it completely from their diet so as not cause them unnecessary discomfort.

If you just can’t ignore your cat’s penchant for milk, there are many alternatives available made especially for cats. Check your local pet store for cat-specific milk. They will often be made from low-fat milk and have lactase added to aid in digestion. Remember, cats are naturally 100% carnivores so milk and dairy of any kind are not necessary or natural components of their diet. The only thing they ever NEED to drink is water.


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