Can I feed my cat milk?
Kittens usually drink their mother’s milk until the mother gradually weans them at around 4 to 6 weeks of age. Most kittens are eating solid food by the time they are 8 to 10 weeks of age. Once this happens they often lose the ability to process milk. This is because most adult cats have low levels of the enzyme lactase in their intestine, which is required to digest the major carbohydrate in milk, called lactose. For this reason, consumption of cow’s milk, and especially in high quantities, can often lead to diarrhoea in cats. There are always exceptions to any rule and some cats can drink milk throughout their life with no concerns.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat meat to obtain important nutrients. Therefore, compared to omnivores, such as humans and dogs, they have a slightly reduced ability to digest and utilise carbohydrates in their diet. Cats tend to get most of their energy (blood sugars) from protein. A cat’s diet has to be carefully formulated so that they receive adequate protein and carbohydrates.
Cats often still like milk, especially the smell of it, as it can have positive associations. There are specific cat milks available but these also need to be given in moderation, as they can contribute to weight gain. Cat foods that contain milk as an ingredient can also be fed. There is still a small risk of diarrhoea and if this happens then you need to stop feeding it.
Cats have unique and special dietary requirements, which makes it very hard to provide a good balanced diet with home-prepared foods. Specialist nutritionist vets can help with formulating a diet for cats if required. Your vet, or one of the FirstVet vets, can discuss referral to one of these specialists with you, if needed. Usually feeding a good quality commercial cat food (tins, sachets or dry food) is preferable. It should be a ‘complete’ food (this will be stated on the packaging), which means that it meets the EU requirements to provide ALL of your cat’s nutritional needs. In addition, cats should never be fed dog food.
If you are concerned that your cat is not drinking sufficient water, discuss this with your vet. You can also try to increase their water intake by:
- Using large, shallow water bowls: cats like to be able to see around them when they are eating and drinking, and often do not like their whiskers touching the sides of the bowl. A saucer is perfect as it allows them to access it from any angle. It is also good for water but easier for us to spill water when filling the dish!
- Do not use food bowls with two attached compartments because cats prefer separate bowls. We recommend placing multiple bowls around the house.
- Use glass or ceramic bowls: plastic bowls can have an unpleasant smell and taste to cats. Cats that wear a tag on their collar often dislike metal bowls due to the noise.
- Try a water fountain or a dripping tap as cats often prefer running water.
- Cats have sensitive taste buds and might not like the chemicals in our tap water. They often prefer rain water or bottled spring water instead.
- You can try flavouring their water: drain a tin of tuna in spring water, poach a chicken breast, or make the water into ice cubes and add that to their water.
- Ensure that you wash their food and water bowls and change their water each day.
In cats that have kidney (renal) disease, a diet with restricted levels of phosphate has been shown to be very beneficial in protecting the kidneys from further damage. This specialised diet has been reported to prolong the life of cats with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Milk (even cat milk) and cheese are high in phosphate and should always be avoided in cats with renal disease.
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