Can Cats Drink Milk? - Cat Info Detective

Can Cats Drink Milk?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome curious cats! Skye Blake here to get the facts about the age-old question “Can cats drink milk?”

While we’re at it, let’s take a look at how we felines view water and other liquids…

paw prints coming in from a distance
The Three Cats by Alfred-Arthur Brunel de Neuville (1852–1941), c. 1880-1900, cat drinking milk

“The Three Cats” by Alfred-Arthur Brunel de Neuville (1852–1941), c. 1880-1900

Who hasn’t seen a picture of an adorable kitten lapping up a saucer of milk?

This is an age-old image that never dies, but is it true? Let’s look closer…

What Is Milk?

pouring glass of milk- cow, goat

Milk is a complex food in liquid form that contains nutrients such as fat, protein, vitamins and minerals like calcium.

Female mammals produce milk after giving birth so their babies can thrive and grow.

In its raw form, milk is rich in all the nutrients their babies need.

Cats & Milk

calf nursing from cow

Cats are attracted to raw milk straight from a cow because it’s high in fat.

Raw milk is different from what’s found in grocery stores, which is homogenized and pasteurized.

“Homogenize” means “to reduce to small particles of uniform size and distribute evenly usually in a liquid”.

2 calico cats drink milk from bucket

In this case, homogenizing milk means to break down fat in the cream into tiny particles that blends easily into the milk.1 Homogenize Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

“Pasteurization” is a process that helps to at least partly sterilize substances, particularly liquids like milk “without major chemical alteration of the substance”.2 Pasteurization Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

Milk contains lactose, a sugar that can cause digestive problems in both people and cats.

milk - cow, goat

Young kittens can tolerate lactose because they have enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose and makes it digestible.

But as they grow into adults, kittens produce less lactase and lose at least some ability to digest lactose.

This leads to symptoms like diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting.

tabby mother cat with calico kittens, milk

Some people claim goat’s milk doesn’t cause problems for cats if given in moderation because it has less lactose than cow’s milk.

Even if your cat tolerates cow’s milk, it should only be a rare treat in small amounts.

What milk is good for cats? | Are kittens lactose intolerant? | VET ADVICE
Vet Nele – Cat Vet

Kittens & Milk

white mother cat with kittens, babies

Kittens still suckling from a healthy mother don’t need extra milk because they get all the nutrition they need from hers.

They shouldn’t be given anything extra unless recommended by a veterinarian.

Once they’re weaned to a complete and balanced kitten food, adding milk daily can cause nutritional imbalances leading to serious health problems.

newborn kitten being bottle fed

Pre-formulated replacement milk is often used when it’s necessary to bottle-feed a young kitten when the mother can’t or won’t.

It’s specifically made to meet a young kitten’s needs and should only be used when advised by a vet.

You can find kitten milk at pet stores, online, or make your own. Recipes are available at “Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes3Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes”, by Franny Syufy, The SprucePets, February 7, 2022

What About Plant-Based Milk?

coconut cut in half - litter, milk

Can cats drink plant-based milks like almond, oat, macadamia nut and coconut?

That’s an interesting question since more people are drinking these milks and naturally wonder if they’d be good for their cats.

Cats aren’t drawn to these types of milks and probably won’t drink them.

walnuts in shells for cat litter, milk

The simple answer to this question, though, is there’s no evidence that plant-based milks have any value for your cat.

In fact, while they’re usually lactose-free, which adult cats might tolerate better, some have other things in them that are toxic to cats (macadamia nuts are an example).

If you’re uncertain about a specific milk, enjoy it yourself, but don’t give it to your cat.

If you feed a complete and balanced diet, there’s no reason to give anything extra.

Cats & Water

Water bottle-glass

The only liquid we kitties need daily is clean, fresh water, which is important for all organ functions, especially good kidney and urinary tract health.

We came from the desert originally, so don’t need as much water as much as dogs or other animals.

But we do need it!

black, white photo of cat drinking water

Dogs can drink enough to hydrate themselves in an hour, but cats can take up to 24 hours.

In the wild, we get 70-75% water from prey.

In your house, giving wet food or extra bowls or fountains of water will meet that need.

The Dry Food & Water Situation

kitten curious about stream of water from faucet

Dry food has only 5-10% while canned has 70-80% water.

The logical assumption is that your cat will get more water from wet food than dry, even with a separate bowl or fountain of water.

Some studies indicate that cats drink less water when eating dry diets, but others have found the opposite.

tabby drinking water from pipe

They show no difference in water intake or the amount of water in the bodies of cats whether fed dry or wet diets. 

“This is probably because there are many factors affecting water intake in cats other than the form of the food, including protein and mineral content, as well as energy density.

tabby cat drinking water out of a pan

Therefore, simply feeding a canned diet is not guaranteed to increase water intake or reduce urine specific gravity.”4Canned or dry food: What’s better for cats?” by Brennen McKenzie, MA, MSc, VMD, cVMA, Veterinary Practice News, August 22, 2019

There are some claims that dry food contributes to dehydration and may increase the risk of kidney and urinary tract diseases.

But is there any evidence this is true?

Find out more about water intake and diseases like diabetes at “Dry Cat Food (Kibble)“.

Provide Extra Water

chihuahua drinking from water bowl

It’s always best to have fresh water available for your cat even if she eats only wet or raw food.

It should be changed daily if in a bowl.

Drinking from toilets, plant dishes, flower vases, etc., should be discouraged since chemicals are usually in them that can be harmful.

Dark tabby drinking water from a pipe

Your cat might prefer running water instead of a bowl, so here are some ideas for either…

  • fountains in her living areas
  • occasional trickle from spigot (could run up your water bill, though)
  • full glass of water (where it won’t hurt anything if knocked over)
  • small stainless steel or ceramic bowls of water in a few different places (some cats are picky about where they’ll drink)

Water Bowls & Fountains

The following picture is a link to Amazon… if you purchase through it, I make a small commission.

Tomxcute Cat Water Fountain

Water bowls and fountains are good options for providing enough water for your cat.

Fountains for cats are a great way to entice a finicky feline or entertain one who loves running water without running up your water bill.

Discover more at “Cat Food & Water Bowls“.


To learn more about feline nutrition and food to make the best decisions, check out these related pages…

Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsHow to Feed a Cat
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Big Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other MythsFood for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
What Vitamins Do Cats Need?What’s the Best Cat Food?
Dry Cat Food (Kibble)Homemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks
The Best Cat Food BrandsThe Best Kitten Food
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

Canned or dry food: What’s better for cats?” by Brennen McKenzie, MA, MSc, VMD, cVMA, Veterinary Practice News, August 22, 2019

Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes“, by Franny Syufy, The SprucePets, February 7, 2022

Milk 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects” By Atli Arnarson BSc, PhD — Medically reviewed by Amy Richter, RD, Nutrition, Healthline.com, Updated on October 21, 2021

Should They Regularly Feed Their Adult Cat Cows Milk?” by Elizabeth, estaff, with contributions by Bruce G. Kornreich, DVM, Ph.D., ACVIM, Associate Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, Catwatch Newsletter, Updated September 24, 2019

Why can’t cats drink milk? Plus 6 other feline myths” John Bradshaw, BBC Science Focus Magazine, May 20, 2019

What milk is good for cats? | Are kittens lactose intolerant?, Vet Advice“, Vet Nele – Cat Vet

Updated January 13, 2023

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