Cats and Dairy Information (cont.)

Cats and Dairy Fact 4: Kittens Do Not Need Cow's Milk

Despite those charming storybook illustrations, “cow's milk is completely inadequate for kittens,” Wynn says.

Though kittens have lactase in their system, there's just not enough of it to tackle the lactose overload found in cow's milk. But lactose isn't the only problem. “The casein to whey proportions are all wrong in cow's milk too,” Case tells WebMD.

But what if your kitten is young and still needs mother's milk? You can try a milk replacer made specifically for kittens.

Sold by vets or found in pet stores, cat milk replacers often contain cow's milk that's “been modified to approach as closely as possible the nutrient composition of cat's milk,” Case says. That means adjusted casein and whey ratios, and a reduction in the amount of lactose. If you're fostering or raising an orphaned kitten, “milk replacers formulated specifically for kittens are definitely a way to go.”

But should you feed your adult cat a milk replacer?

As with regular cow's milk, milk replacers should be treated like any other dairy: You can offer small amounts as a treat.

The same goes for dairy substitutes designed for humans, such as soy and lactose-free milk. You can give these as treats, Wynn, says but “in general, there is no reason to use them unless the cat has developed an unusual taste for them.”

Cats and Dairy Fact 5: Cats Need Water, First

No matter how well-tolerated cow's milk is, your cat will always need plenty of fresh, clean water. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, water helps your cat:

  • Regulate body temperature
  • Digest food
  • Eliminate waste
  • Lubricate tissue
  • And allows salt and other electrolytes to pass through the body

To encourage your cat to drink water, try placing several bowls of different depths around the house. Many cats also like flowing water, Case says. If yours is one, you can find all kinds of kitty fountains at most pet stores.

We all love foods that don't always love us back -- for humans that may be fatty dips, salty chips, or sugary drinks. Your cat isn't all that different. Although kitty may enjoy a bowl of milk or a big dollop of ice cream, it's up to you to help your feline friend maintain a healthy, balanced diet -- garnished with a few delectable treats now and again.


Susan G. Wynn, DVM, CVA, clinical resident in small animal nutrition, University of Tennessee; Co-author, “Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine,” and “Veterinary Herbal Medicine.”

Linda P. Case, MS, adjunct assistant professor, University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine; Author "The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition, and Health,” co-author of "Canine and Feline Nutrition.”

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Feeding Your Cat,” “Ask Elizabeth: Is Giving Cats Milk Harmful to Them?”

ASPCA, “Can Cats Drink Soy Milk?”

Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, Portland, Ore.