Vet 101: Hey Cats, Got Milk?

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We’d love a “like” on Facebook at Yes, that’s a milk mustache on Domino. It was warm enough to enjoy my cereal on the porch the other day and read the paper. Before you could say latte, Gris Gris joined in for some Cheerios and milk. If you feel like filling in the caption, you’ll get another chance to win our Sunday giveaway of a custom made healing stone collar and vet a consultation valued at $ caption cartoon contest-cat wisdom 101-got milk
Was it it a good idea for the kitties to taste my breakfast? I’ll let Dr. G. answer this week’s question about feeding your cat milk and other dairy products.


I’ve heard it’s no good giving cats milk but mine like it (organic low fat) and have no digestive problems. Is it ok? What about other dairy like butter, yogurt, cheese? or other milk like coconut milk or almond milk?

One of the first commandments that veterinarians learn in vet school is “above all else, do no harm.” So, in the big scheme, is it doing your cats harm to give them milk? Short answer: if it’s not causing any digestive problems, then you’re probably not doing any harm. But let’s take a look at why milk might not be a good idea for some cats.

The digestive system is an ever-changing environment, subject to adapting to the whims of our brains deciding what we’d like to eat. The enzymes found in the digestive tract will change, depending on the protein, fat, and carbohydrate content of our food. But those changes take time. During the nursing period, animals have a lot of lactase enzymes to digest the lactose sugar found in milk. Once animals are weaned, those lactase enzymes go away because they’re not needed. If you then give that animal milk, they may develop diarrhea because there are no enzymes there to digest it – hence, they become lactose-intolerant. Eventually, the body may respond by producing some more lactase. In the case of your cats, since you’re regularly giving milk, their bodies are maintaining some lactase enzymes, and not experiencing any GI problems.

This same principle is important when considering diet changes in cats. Do it gradually, in order to give those digestive enzymes a chance to catch up with the new nutrients on the block. Even changing brands, or from dry to canned food, can be enough to cause vomiting or diarrhea if done too rapidly.

As for feeding dairy products to cats, it all comes down to the principles of nutrition: cats are carnivores. Just like you’ve never seen a cat jump into the lake to catch a fish for lunch, you won’t see them milking a cow for something to drink. It’s like McDonald’s: we know we shouldn’t eat it, but we do! Dairy products, while having protein and fat (which are good for cats), also have a lot of carbohydrates and sugars (which are not good for cats). Dairy can also be high in calcium – too much of which can also cause problems.

So why do cats like milk? Theoretically, cats do not possess the taste buds that detect “sweets.” Is there something else in milk that attracts them? Do the “sweets” stimulate another sense in cats? My cat won’t say. I suppose it’s yet another aspect of our feline friends that just keeps up their mysterious allure!

Have a question for our Vet, Dr. Rich Goldstein (Dr. G.)? Kindly sent it to Thanks and take good care of your cat this week.

Editors note: Re: Feeding cats almond or coconut milk. Since cats carnivores, I wouldn’t feed any of the nut milks. Some cats are sensitive to nuts and the oils in coconut milk can have laxative effect. Gris Gris likes unsweetened coconut milk as an occasional treat, and he loves unsweetened Greek yogurt but again just a teaspoon.

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