Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Can Cats Drink Buttermilk? Vet-Reviewed Info to Consider

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

A glass of buttermilk on a wooden surface

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

A cat happily lapping up a bowl of milk is a common image, and milk was long thought to be good for cats. While they’ll certainly love it—most cats will lap a bowl of milk with absolute delight—scientific research in recent years has proven to show the opposite, due to the presence of lactose. Buttermilk is often touted as a healthy alternative to milk, as it’s fermented or cultured, but is this good for cats? Can cats drink buttermilk?

Just like milk, buttermilk is not recommended for cats. It still contains high amounts of lactose which can cause digestive issues in felines. In this article, we’ll look deeper into why cats shouldn’t drink buttermilk, and what some better alternatives are.


What Is Buttermilk?

Put simply, buttermilk is fermented milk, although the name is somewhat misleading as it doesn’t contain any butter. The name came from the traditional method of making butter and buttermilk was simply the leftover milk after the production of butter. Buttermilk today is made using a slightly different process. Milk is pasteurized and homogenized, and then lactic acid-producing bacteria cultures are added to induce fermentation. The bacteria ferment the lactose in the milk, giving it a slightly sour taste and slightly lower lactose content.

Buttermilk is thicker than normal milk, as the bacteria cause the milk to curdle when they produce lactic acid. Buttermilk is commonly used in baking and batters for fried foods and is also used as a base for some dressings.

Buttermilk being poured into a clear glass

Why Shouldn’t Cats Drink Buttermilk?

While not all cats are lactose intolerant, most adult cats are. Dairy is not easily digested by most cats, especially in high quantities, and the undigested lactose simply passes through the digestive tract, drawing water with it as it passes. Bacteria in your cat’s colon then ferment the undigested sugars in the milk, causing discomfort, gas, diarrhea, and even vomiting.

Are All Cats Lactose Intolerant?

While the majority of cats are lactose intolerant, not all are. Kittens are generally not lactose intolerant as they are still being fed milk by their mothers, and their bodies still secrete lactase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down the lactose found in milk. The levels of this enzyme begin to wane shortly after weaning and eventually disappear altogether. That said, a small percentage of adult cats still retain their ability to secrete a small amount of this enzyme and can tolerate small amounts of lactose as adults, occasionally, of course.

Try giving your cat a tablespoon or so of buttermilk to see if they’re lactose intolerant. Wait for up to 24 hours to see if there are any gastrointestinal effects, and if they aren’t, they can likely tolerate small amounts of dairy occasionally. Still, dairy products of any kind are not very nutritionally beneficial for your cat, and considering the extra calories they represent and the fact that cats don’t need them, it’s best left off the menu altogether.

Three kittens drinking their mother's milk

Healthy Alternatives to Buttermilk

We all love treating our cats occasionally, and since most cats tend to love milk and buttermilk so much, it’s hard to resist giving it to them as a treat. There are, however, some healthier alternatives to buttermilk that your cat will love too.

Cat milk is a good option, although you still need to keep in mind the extra calories it represents! That said, cats are notoriously bad at staying hydrated, so the best thing for them to drink is fresh water. If they are not drinking enough water, you may want to switch to a diet of predominantly moisture-rich fresh or wet cat food to provide them with adequate hydration possibilities. Or, make a broth with chicken skin or breast to flavor the water and tempt your cat into drinking it.

Just remember, do not use any onion or garlic in this preparation, as they are toxic to cats. While giving your cats treats occasionally is certainly fine, the only liquid they should really be drinking is water.

hepper cat paw divider

Final Thoughts

While most cats certainly love it, they should not drink buttermilk, or any dairy products for that matter including milk, butter, yogurt, or cheese. The vast majority of adult cats are lactose intolerant, and dairy can cause transitory but uncomfortable digestive issues for them. Some cats may be able to tolerate a small amount of dairy occasionally, and you can give your cat some cat milk as an occasional treat, but water is really the only liquid your cat should be consuming.

Featured Photo Credit: Alp Aksoy, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!