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Can Cats Drink Lactose-Free Milk?

Updated July 18, 2022
Can Cats Drink Lactose-Free Milk?

Any veterinarian can confirm that cow’s milk isn’t the best treat for cats. However, cats can drink lactose-free milk.

Despite the famous cliché of cats licking milk from a saucer, lactose contained in dairy products can be dangerous for felines.

Since lactose-free milk lacks the primary offender of dairy products for cats, it’s generally considered safe – but only generally.

Any food not intended for feline consumption can have adverse effects, regardless of the lactose content or the lack of it.

Therefore, owners considering giving lactose-free milk to their cats should be aware of the risks and the serving size.

Is Lactose-Free Milk Safe For Cats?

Lactose-free milk is generally safe for cats, but it isn’t risk-free. Lactose-free milk is indeed significantly better for cats with lactose intolerance than regular cow’s milk, but the lack of lactose doesn’t make it healthy.

Dairy products often cause stomach upset in cats, even if they are low in lactose. The primary reason for this is high potassium content. Potassium is responsible for regulating a cat’s digestion but can cause diarrhea in large amounts.

Furthermore, each cat’s body is unique, and a cat as an individual can be allergic to any element contained in lactose-free milk.

Another potential danger of giving a cat lactose-free milk is the high fat and carbohydrate content. Humans typically perceive milk as a source of protein, but it’s actually higher in carbs and fats.

The nutrient ratio is perfect for us but not our four-legged friends. Excessive carb and fat consumption can lead to diabetes, heart diseases, and obesity in cats. Senior and neutered cats are especially prone to such adverse effects.

Many feline owners believe that calcium contained in milk can’t harm a cat, but that’s a dangerous mistake. Too much calcium may cause weakness, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and anorexia in cats.

In the long term, hypercalcemia can lead to the formation of bladder and kidney stones. The condition can also impede the normal development of kittens in pregnant felines.

Sodium and sugars are other risks of lactose-free milk for cats. Neither is harmful to cats in moderate amounts, but if a cat drinks too much store-bought milk, it may become hyperactive or experience excessive thirst and muscle spasms.

Flavored lactose-free milk isn’t good for cats because some flavoring agents may be toxic to felines. As a rule of thumb, only plain milk is suitable for pets.

Lastly, lactose-free milk is only safe for cats without underlying medical conditions. The high calcium, potassium, carb, fat, and sodium content can worsen some health conditions, including diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome.

Symptoms of Lactose-Free Milk Intolerance & Allergy

Lactose-free milk poses fewer risks to cats than regular milk, but feline owners should watch out for intolerance or allergy symptoms regardless.

Apart from lactose content, the difference between regular milk and lactose-free milk for cats is minimal, and both can affect the feline gastroenteric tract.

The symptoms of milk intolerance in cats include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, bloating, burping, and abdominal pain. The milk allergy symptoms are similar but may also include respiratory and topical reactions because allergy triggers an immune system’s response.

If your cat sneezes, wheezes, has difficulty breathing or excessively scratches irritated skin, it likely has an allergy to one of the lactose-free milk components.

Food intolerances and allergies in cats can’t be cured. If your cat experiences any of the symptoms, refrain from giving it any type of milk again.

Is Lactose-Free Milk Better Than Regular Milk For Cats?

The short answer to “is lactose-free milk better for cats than regular milk?” is – yes.

Like human babies, kittens produce the enzyme lactase necessary to break down lactose from the mother’s milk. For this reason, kittens never have lactose intolerance.

However, the production of lactase in kittens stops at the age of six to eight months. Although some adult cats can continue to drink cow’s milk without adverse effects, most become lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance in cats primarily manifests with gastroenteric symptoms, which occur within 12 hours of ingesting milk. A cat may also experience excessive thirst, have dry gums, and have an increased heart rate.

Lactose intolerance can’t be cured, but it can be managed by removing any dairy products from the cat’s diet. Intravenous fluids may be administered to cats with severe dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting.

Since lactose-free milk doesn’t contain lactose, it is generally safer for cats, and most adult felines can drink it without adverse effects.

If you’ve drunk lactose-free milk, you may have noticed the mild difference in flavor with cow’s milk.

Lactose-free milk is typically sweeter because lactase added to cow’s milk during its production breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose.

Glucose and galactose are simple sugars, and sugar isn’t healthy for cats. However, the difference in sugar content between lactose-free and regular milk is negligible and shouldn’t affect a cat’s health.

Health Benefits of Lactose-Free Milk For Cats

Lactose-free milk lacks the risks of regular milk while sharing all its health benefits. However, the health benefits of lactose-free milk for cats with a well-balanced diet containing all the necessary nutrients are minimal.

Everyone knows that milk contains calcium, and lactose-free milk is no exception, packed with 305 milligrams of mineral per cup. Cats should consume about 180 milligrams of calcium a day for healthy bones and teeth.

Milk is rich in protein and healthy fats, which should make up 50% and 30% of the feline diet, respectively. Cats can’t synthesize fatty amino acids and vitamin K like dogs do, so milk is also an excellent source of these elements.

Riboflavin, known as vitamin B2, assists in breaking down carbohydrates in the cat’s body and supplying oxygen to vital organs. Vitamin B12 is essential for a cat’s immune system, nervous system, and digestive tract.

Vitamin D is necessary for cats to absorb calcium – that’s why milk is one of the best calcium sources for cats and humans. Phosphorus is another element found in milk, working hand in hand with calcium to maintain teeth and bone health.

Potassium contained in lactose-free milk ensures the proper function of the feline gastroenteric tract. Lastly, selenium is vital for a cat’s immune system.

Is Lactose-Free Milk The Same as Cat Milk?

You may have come across cat milk in pet stores and wondered about the difference between lactose-free milk and cat milk. Milk drinks formulated for felines aren’t much different from lactose-free milk intended for human consumption.

Like lactose-free milk, cat milk doesn’t contain lactose to prevent gastroenteric upset, but it’s additionally packed with nutrients and microelements healthy for felines.

For example, regular lactose-free milk doesn’t contain taurine, biotin, and fiber, while cat milk does. Regular lactose-free milk and cat milk are equally safe for cats, but the latter is healthier.

Still, lactose-free milk is an excellent substitute for cat milk if you can’t find it in local pet stores.

How Much Milk To Give Your Cat

Any food not intended for feline consumption is only safe for cats in moderation, so you should know how much lactose-free milk a cat can drink. If you’ve never given your cat lactose-free milk before, start with a tablespoon.

A small serving is unlikely to have severe adverse effects but will let you spot an allergy or intolerance to specific ingredients. Monitor your cat’s behavior throughout the day.

If you notice no adverse effects, you can assume that lactose-free milk is safe for your pet and increase the serving size.

An average ten-pound cat should consume 220-300 calories daily, depending on the activity level. Treats should account for 10% of the total calorie intake at most, so the milk serving shouldn’t exceed 30 calories.

A cup of lactose-free whole milk contains approximately 160 calories, so a cat can drink about one-fifth of a cup or 50 milliliters without adverse effects. However, the serving can be slightly larger if the milk has a low fat content.

Why Does My Cat Want Milk?

One would expect cats to avoid any milk if it causes stomach upset, but felines aren’t always reasonable about their food choices. The “cats love milk” myth isn’t really a myth – many felines are indeed attracted to dairy.

One of the plausible explanations for why a cat wants milk is that dairy makes it feel safe and comfortable. Perhaps, the taste of cow’s milk reminds adult cats of their kittenhood.

On a side note, kittenhood memories are also a reason why some cats knead soft surfaces – kittens use kneading to stimulate their mother’s lactation.

Another potential reason why a cat loves milk is the high fat content. Cats find fatty foods delicious, and fats are an integral element of the feline diet.

Some feline owners mistakenly assume that their cats love sweet foods, such as sweetened lactose-free milk or whipped cream, but cats can’t sense sugars.

To conclude, a cat’s obsession with lactose-free milk or any other dairy is perfectly normal, but milk shouldn’t become an integral element of your pet’s diet.

Image credit: Unsplash

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