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Can Cats Drink Milk? Vet-Reviewed Facts, Risks & Precautions

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By Nicole Cosgrove

bowl with milk

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

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

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Is it safe for cats to drink milk? Will it have detrimental effects on their health? Can it be good for their diet to have some extra nutrients? While this is a popular sight in movies and paintings, these questions often go unanswered before someone pours a small bowl of cow’s milk and puts it out on the back porch for a stray cat. While the hospitality may be appreciated by the cat, will their digestive system thank you? The short answer is some cats can drink milk, but it depends on the cat. Generally, cats shouldn’t drink cow’s milk and they certainly shouldn’t be drinking milk on a regular basis.

Let’s take a closer look to see how drinking cow’s milk can affect your feline friend.

Why Do Cats Love Milk?

Cats love milk because it is high in fat content. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they need meat and animal protein to survive. Since milk is packed with animal protein and fat, cats naturally gravitate toward it. But for most cats, it can result in digestive distress. You’ll be able to tell if they get fussy. The issue is the primary sugar in cow’s milk, lactose.

Is It Okay to Give Milk to Cats?

Consumption of milk by cats can lead to digestive issues. You may then wonder why kittens can drink milk. The reason is that kittens that still nurse produce an enzyme called lactase that helps them break down lactose in order to digest milk properly. However, when kittens are weaned from their mom’s milk, many of them stop producing this enzyme. As a result, they can no longer digest any kind of milk properly. But a few cats still continue to produce lactase. This is similar to what happens in humans. Most develop lactose intolerance but some can handle milk just fine. So, it mainly depends on the cat, though most cats end up developing this lactose intolerance. You will have to try giving milk to them in tiny quantities to see if they can handle it.

pouring milk in a glass
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

What Kind of Milk Can Cats Drink?

The answer is that cats can drink a small amount of cow’s milk or goat’s milk without any severe consequences. But you should keep an eye on them to see how they are doing. Most cats are lactose intolerant. We don’t recommend giving cats any milk, as this can cause indigestion. There is no real nutritional reason to give a cat milk even if it is high in animal protein and fats. Cats can be fully nourished from standard cat food that you can buy in a pet store. Try finding other tasty treats that will be more agreeable to their stomach.

There is a commercial product named “cat milk” that can safely be offered to adult cats as a treat. Also, keep in mind that while kittens can digest cow’s milk, it does not contain all the necessary nutrients that kittens need to survive. If you need to hand-raise kittens, you need to find a specially formulated kitten milk replacement formula, which you can purchase online or at a veterinary clinic.

What Happens If You Give a Cat Milk?

If you give a cow’s milk to a cat, they will likely get an upset stomach. Since they lack the proper enzyme to digest the milk, it will sit in their stomach and ferment. They may act out and cry due to the discomfort. Sometimes, cats can end up with diarrhea. Other possible side effects include vomiting, loss of appetite, discomfort, gas, and possibly excessive scratching. So, stick to water or other species-appropriate treats instead!

sick cat
Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

What Can Cats Drink Besides Water?

If your original intention was to make sure that your cat stays hydrated, you’ve learned by now that milk is not a good choice. But what if your cat won’t drink water? There are other things that you can do. First of all, ensure that you are giving your cat fresh water at least every couple of days. The water can stagnate and not taste as good to your cat. But if they still aren’t drinking water, try this: Boil lean chicken breast or white fish without onion, garlic, added oils, or salt. Then, take the liquid from the pot, let it cool, and give it to your cat to drink. Cats love the taste of chicken and fish, so this may be more attractive to them.


Aside from getting a cute picture of your little furball with messy whiskers, there is nothing to be gained from giving a cat milk besides a stomachache. Any nutritional value in milk can be gained from other sources that are safer for your cat.

Milk isn’t the only thing your cat might snag from the counter! They may also grab some bread to go with it, but should you be worried?

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Featured Image Credit: Viktor1, Shutterstock

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