Cats are often depicted licking milk from saucers. But can they drink milk safely?
The popular image of cats drinking milk may have emerged in the 19th century, when cats and dogs have become popular subjects for artists. As the Industrial Revolution progressed and more and more people migrated to cities, the number of cat and dog owners increased and artists were increasingly called upon to paint charming works of animals. of company. As such, French artist Alfred-Arthur Brunel de Neuville often drew cats drinking from bowls of milk, and his work proved very popular during his lifetime, according to Rehs Galleries (opens in a new tab) At New York.
However, giving milk to adult cats could actually do them more harm than good, according to Britain’s leading veterinary charity, the People’s clinic for sick animals (opens in a new tab). Cats often lose their tolerance to lactose, the sugar found in milk, as they age. like most humans do.
“For most cats, the ability to digest lactose declines after weaning,” Nathalie Dowgray, head of the International Society of Feline Medicine in the UK, told Live Science. “As a result, milk can cause digestive problems in cats and lead to symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting.”
Related: Is it safe to give cats and dogs a vegetarian diet?
Some cats may retain the ability to digest lactose into adulthood, as can some people, Dowgray noted. Still, “there is no additional nutritional benefit to giving your cat cow’s milk if they are fed a high-quality, complete and balanced cat food,” she said.
In addition, cow’s milk is high in fat. A saucer of milk for a cat “is like eating a whole 12-inch pizza,” noted the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. As such, cow’s milk can cause a cat to become obese, Dowgray said.
Additionally, “cow’s milk contains high levels of phosphate,” Dowgray said. That means it’s best for cats to avoid it if they’ve been diagnosed with kidney disease, she noted. Phosphorus may impair kidney health in cats with chronic kidney disease, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (opens in a new tab).
Cats can still crave milk despite the problems it causes because they can link it to positive memories of their kitten days, according to Hastings Veterinary Hospital (opens in a new tab) in Burnaby, British Columbia. They may also simply like the taste of the fat in it, noted the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals.
Kittens normally drink their mother’s milk until they are fully weaned, when they are a few months old. Kittens that must be hand-reared, in situations such as illness or loss of their mother, “should be fed a carefully formulated kitten milk replacer that meets their nutritional needs,” Dowgray said.
Other types of milk, such as cow’s or goat’s milk, are not a substitute for cat’s milk because they don’t contain enough protein or fat to meet a kitten’s growth and development needs, Dowgray said. Veterinarians can recommend high-quality, safe, and properly formulated kitten milk substitutes for kittens, she noted.
“Weaning onto solid food should begin at three to four weeks of age and should occur gradually until kittens are able to accept a full diet of solid food,” Dowgray says.
Special milks for cats are sometimes marketed in supermarkets and pet stores. “Instead of buying dairy products for cats, which provide no additional nutritional value, we recommend that owners ensure their cats have access to plenty of fresh, clean water every day,” Dowgray said.