Cats love milk. But is it safe and healthy for cats? Can cats drink cow's milk?

For the longest of time, milk was portrayed as the ideal food for cats, and this belief has only grown with popular movies, books and cartoons. For example, the popular  cartoon “Tom and Jerry” was created in 1940, and the titular character, Tom the cat, is shown drinking milk and enjoying it in multiple episodes of the show.

Even today, many cat owners might be led to believe that milk, especially cow’s milk, is a safe meal choice for their pets. However, milk might not be the answer to all cats’ hunger. If you’re planning to feed your feline friend some milk, read on before you do.

Cats can have cow's milk in small quantities if they can tolerate lactose. Most cats turn lactose intolerant after becoming adult cats.
Cats can have cow's milk in small quantities if they can tolerate lactose. Most cats turn lactose intolerant after becoming adult cats.

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Can cats drink milk?

In short, yes, cats can drink milk, but it might do them more harm than good.

Veteran cat owners might already know this but cow’s milk, a staple in most households, might cause “gastrointestinal distress” or tummy troubles to your feline companion, according to Purina.

Why, you ask? The answer is lactose intolerance — yes, cats can have it too. Purina says that the high amount of lactose found in cow’s milk is usually too much for a cat’s digestive system to tolerate and can lead to diarrhea, bloating and flatulence.

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals says that a saucer of milk for your cat is like eating an entire 12-inch pizza by a person in addition to regular, daily meals. And milk is full of fat, leading to weight gain in cats.

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What type of milk can cats drink?

Whether whole, skim or two-percent, Purina says all of them still have unhealthy amounts of fat,  and the necessary nutrients cannot be found in just a milk diet for your cat friends.

According to Senior Cat Wellness, goat’s milk, which has 20% to 30% less lactose content than cow’s milk, might fare better for some cats. Fermented dairy products like sour cream, yogurt, cultured buttermilk and kefir might be easier to digest for cats, although there’s no clinical evidence.

While plant-based milks such as almond, soy and oat are lactose-free, they are unsuitable for cats since they offer few nutritional benefits.

Senior Cat Wellness says the best milk that can be fed to your cat is milk specially made for cats which contains lactase, the enzyme to break down lactose, and added nutrients which help maintain your cat’s health.

Can kittens drink milk?

Kittens drink milk as provided by nature – from their mothers. According to Hastings Veterinary Hospital, kittens are weaned off their mother’s milk as they grow, about four to 10 weeks from birth. As the kittens grow into adult cats and shift their diets to solid food, there is a reduction of lactase production, which is used to digest a mother’s milk in kittens. The adult amount is not enough to digest milk.

So, yes, kittens can drink their cat mother’s milk, a kitten milk replacer or kitten milk formula for their first four to five weeks, according to Purina.

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Why do cats love milk?

Despite all the naysaying, cats seem to love milk. According to, cats are attracted to milk and milk products due to the protein and fat content in them. And since cats are mammals, drinking milk directly at birth may allow them to recognize and seek milk later as adult cats. However, what you love doesn’t equal what’s good for your health. The same applies to cats.

For cats who can tolerate lactose, milk should still be seen as a treat in moderation but not make up the whole diet, says.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can cats drink milk? Cow milk or plant-based, which is safer for cats?