Mythconception: Do cats like milk?

Is a cat really happy when it's 'got the cream'?
16 May 2017

Interview with 

Katie Haylor


In this purr-fect mythconeption, Katie Haylor has been probing one old adage about cats…

Katie - If you’re a cat owner you’ll know just how much they like milk - they are known to love the stuff. Hence “looking like the cat that’s got the cream” when you’re pleased about something. My childhood moggy adored milk. And, after all, what’s nicer as a cat owner than seeing your feline friend in such a happy mood when that saucer is lowered to the floor. Let’s start at the adorable fuzzy beginning…

Kittens drink their mother’s milk from birth until they’re weaned at about four weeks of age. From then on, contrary to what you see in cartoons and movies, milk should be pretty much off the menu. Some cats may be OK with milk - we’re talking cows milk here - but for others it can cause bloating, gassiness and a lot of diarrhea. So, what’s going on?

Beyond infancy, most cats start producing less and less of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the sugar in milk. Without adequate lactase the lactose just sits around in the digestive system where it ferments. This is what causes the nasty symptoms. This is actually quite common in adult mammals, they don’t drink milk beyond infancy so they don’t have much need for the lactase enzyme.

In fact, humans are actually the weird ones in this whole thing as many of us drink milk throughout our adult lives. So, just like humans who are lactose intolerant, giving an adult cat milk can lead to stomach upsets. Not all cats are lactose intolerant though. Some keep making lactase into adulthood, particularly if they’ve been fed milk continuously since weaning and so their bodies have continued to produce lactase, and they can tolerate milk.

But, as milk has a high fat content, even cats who can tolerate lactose should only be treated to it occasionally as it can lead to weight gain. Now this is all very well, but will it stop your moggy predating the milk bottle. Well, in my experience, no! But if milk actually makes most cats ill, why do they love it so much?

The saying “the cat that’s got the cream” may, in fact, hold the clue. If we think about cat ancestry the ideal diet would have been one that’s high in fat. In fact, fat makes food more palatable for cats. So, it might not be clever, but they’ll probably chance it in terms of having some milk if it’s on offer.

So, the message for cat owners is - take milk off the menu. Or, if you can’t bear the feline fallout there plenty of lactose-free cat milks out there on the market. Just remember that these shouldn’t be given too frequently and however fussy your darling kitty is - there’s nothing wrong with a saucer of water.


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