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Can Cats Drink Buttermilk? What You Need to Know!

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By Nicole Cosgrove

a buttermilk on wooden surface

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.

a buttermilk being poured in a clear glass
Image Credit: Mario Raj, Unsplash

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 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 contain 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 a small amount of this enzyme and are able to 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 nutritionally beneficial for your cat and they don’t need it, so it’s best left off the menu altogether.

kittens drinking their mother's milk
Image Credit: nevillekingston, Pixabay

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.

Lactose-free milk is a good option, and you can even mix in some lemon to make your own lactose-free buttermilk! That said, cats are notoriously bad at staying hydrated, and 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 wet food to give them adequate hydration. Or, make a broth with chicken skin or breast to flavor the water and tempt your cat into drinking it. While giving your cats treats occasionally is certainly fine, the only liquid they should really be drinking is water.

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 several mild 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 lactose-free milk as an occasional treat, but water is really the only liquid your cat should be consuming.


Featured Image Credit: Alp Aksoy, Shutterstock

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