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Optimeal® Blog

Optimeal® Blog

Can My Cat Have Milk? Why it's Best to Steer Clear of Lactose

By Bridget Reed


From children’s books to television shows, we’re all familiar with the image of a cat eagerly lapping up a bowl of milk. Milk is a feline staple, at least according to fictional stories. However, most cats don’t drink milk daily — or at all.

Maybe you’ve given your cat a taste of milk in the past, or you’re just considering pouring them a little as a treat. After all, there’s nothing better than sharing a snack or two with your kitty. As a responsible pet parent though, you might want to read on before letting your cat raid the fridge.

Can cats drink milk, or are they lactose intolerant? If you’re wondering whether cow’s milk is actually safe for cats, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to discover whether milk is a tasty drink or a nightmare to your cat’s digestive system and how the myth of cats drinking milk came to be.

Is My Cat Lactose Intolerant?

The odds are pretty high that your cat is lactose intolerant. In fact, most adult cats can’t properly digest milk. Just like some humans, they don’t possess enough of the enzyme lactase.

Lactase is an enzyme used to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. While some people produce enough lactase to enjoy a cold glass of milk anytime, most cats don’t have this luxury.

As kittens, their stomach produces lots of lactase, which helps them digest their mother’s milk. However, as they age, their bodies create less and less lactase. Like most mammals, they’re technically lactose intolerant by adulthood.

While most cats still enjoy the taste of milk or even ice cream, they won’t like the aftereffects. Without lactase, the undigested lactose sugars might cause all kinds of intestinal issues. As this sugar passes through your cat’s stomach, it draws large amounts of water, potentially causing stomach cramps in your kitty.

The end result is fermented sugar in your cat’s digestive system, creating fatty acids which can be volatile enough to cause an adverse reaction in your cat.

Some of the potential problems caused by lactose include vomiting, diarrhea, pain, and gas. More frequently, your cat will have an upset stomach several hours after drinking too much dairy.

All of these symptoms are unpleasant for both you and your kitty. While lactose is unlikely to cause permanent damage to your cat, it’s still not good for their digestive tract or their immune system. 

For this reason, we recommend steering clear of milk. Our nutritious Lamb & Veggies In Aspic Recipe, which contains all the ingredients needed to support your cat’s digestion. Your kitty will be much better off, and so will you.

Why Are Cats Associated With Milk?

Cats drink milk from infancy to sustain their growth and development like all mammals. For the first 12 weeks after their birth, kittens rely on milk exclusively. Their bodies create lots of lactose to help them process the nutrient-rich milk.

Humans might have seen young cats drinking milk and assumed they could digest cow’s milk even after growing up. However, young cats stop drinking milk and begin eating solid food when their teeth grow in. From this point forward, milk is potentially harmful to their digestive tract and can easily cause stomach problems.

The origin of the cat-and-milk image is murky but probably based on historical truth. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most cats weren’t house pets. They worked as mousers or pest control, keeping an eye out for rodents, insects, or other nuisances. 

One of the most common roles was the barnyard cat, who could keep a farm safe from potential pest infestations. Farmers might have given them a bucket of cow’s milk in the barn to reward their cats for a job well done. 

However, this old story doesn’t apply to the present day. For one thing, fresh cow’s milk is extremely fatty and rich in cream. It’s also unprocessed and relatively low in lactose. Most barn cats wouldn’t have as much trouble digesting it.

Currently, most grocery store milk is much higher in lactose and lower in rich, fatty cream. Your cat is much more likely to have stomach problems like bloating if they lap up some of your cereal dregs. In a world where most cats don’t live on a farm, their old connection with cow’s milk no longer applies.

Can My Cat Still Drink Milk?

While all of the above is generally accurate, there’s a small chance that your cat can digest milk just fine. They might have unusually high lactase levels, making them more lactose-tolerant than most.

Like humans, there’s a lot of variety from cat to cat, and you can never guarantee how your particular feline will react to a sip of milk. 

You might have given your cat a bit of milk before and noticed no ill effects afterward. While this doesn’t mean you should feed them a saucer of milk daily, you could still let them have a taste every once in a while (especially if you use lactose-free milk or goat’s milk).

If you’re unsure whether your cat can tolerate milk, there’s a simple test to find out. Try giving your cat just one or two tablespoons of milk, and monitor them closely over the next day. Keep tabs on their litter box. If they start having stomach problems, you should avoid giving them milk in the future.

However, if your cat has no noticeable reaction, they might have a high enough milk tolerance to enjoy the drink without any issues. In this case, feel free to give your cat a bit of milk as an occasional treat.

Keep in mind that milk still isn’t very healthy for cats. It doesn’t provide most of the nutrients or vitamins they need, and their digestive system isn’t built for large quantities of dairy. Even if your cat isn’t lactose intolerant, keep the milk products to a minimum.

Like all treats, milk should never be more than 5-10% of your cat’s diet to avoid obesity. They should still eat cat food as a primary energy source, with a few treats added at your discretion. If you keep these guidelines in mind, your lactose-tolerant cat will be happy to share a bit of milk with you in moderate quantities — just save the lion’s share for yourself.

Can My Cat Eat Dairy Products?

We recommend sticking to nutritious cat food for your kitty’s daily diet, but variety is the spice of life. Just remember to keep human foods as treats small and spare. This is the best way to look out for your cat’s health and wellness while still treating them to a tasty snack every once in a while.


Believe it or not, small quantities of cheese make for a pretty good cat treat. Some cats love the taste. Cheese usually contains less lactose than milk and is less likely to cause any digestive issues, as long as you keep portions small.

If you’re looking for specific recommendations, swiss and cheddar tend to have lower lactose levels than soft cheeses like mozzarella or brie. Never give your cat a moldy cheese, such as blue cheese. The mold colonies are often toxic to any pet.

Your cat can develop a dairy allergy so don’t give them any more cheese if they have a negative reaction.


Yogurt is often more diluted than milk, meaning it contains less lactose than a jug of two percent. This makes it a much better option for treating your cat.

Here’s our advice: stick to plain yogurt without flavoring or other additives. Try giving your cat a small spoonful and seeing how they react. If they love the taste and don’t experience any unpleasant effects afterward, feel free to keep giving them yogurt as a treat every once in a while.


Like other dairy products, a small amount of butter is usually safe for your cat to eat. They’ll enjoy the high fat content and the low levels of lactose. 

Butter is unlikely to cause your cat any stomach problems when fed in moderation, but keep an eye out anyway. There’s a chance your cat just doesn’t tolerate any dairy well.

Can Kittens Drink Milk?

If you’re wondering if your kitten can have cow’s milk, the answer is a firm no.

In theory, it seems as if the answer could be yes because kittens possess the high levels of lactase required to digest lactose. The lactose in cow’s milk isn’t likely to cause them any specific stomach problems because they’re equipped to handle it with the right stomach enzymes.

However, cow’s milk is not very nutritious, and kittens require a precise formula to thrive. Their mother’s milk contains everything they need to grow into strong, playful cats. 

Cow’s milk, on the other hand, will leave them nutrient-deficient and poses a risk to their health in high quantities. For this reason, we advise sticking to foods and milk replacer made for kittens.

For example, we designed our Chicken & Rice Recipe specifically for kittens and their development. The first ingredient is fresh chicken, which will support their growth and energy as they grow from little balls of fur into smart, elegant cats.

There's no contest when comparing cow’s milk with nutritious cat food. Pick cat food with ingredients that support your pet's health in every stage of life.

Cats and Milk: The Perfect Match? Not Quite. 

As it turns out, cats might love milk, but many types of milk don’t love them back. For a lactose intolerant cat, milk can cause various painful and unpleasant stomach issues. 

Even if your cat has no problems digesting milk, it’s a fatty treat best saved for special occasions.

However, your feline can enjoy several other dairy products with less risk. By choosing healthy and tasty treats, you’re taking care of your cat’s health while providing them with delicious foods they’d love to try.

Nothing is better for your cat than clean water and hearty, nutritious cat food. That’s why we recommend choosing a food such as our Turkey & Veggies Recipe for your cat’s day-to-day life. The fresh ingredients, berries, and herbs will help give your cat the energy they need to run, play, and purr by your side for many years to come.


Is Milk Good for Cats? | CatHealth

Can Cats Drink Milk? The Truth Behind the Popular Myth | Reader's Digest

Cats and Dairy: Get the Facts | PetMD

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