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…
“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?
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
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”.
“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.
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.
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.
Kittens & Milk
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.
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 Recipes“3 “Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes”, by Franny Syufy, The SprucePets, February 7, 2022
What About Plant-Based 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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
Therefore, simply feeding a canned diet is not guaranteed to increase water intake or reduce urine specific gravity.”4 “Canned 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
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.
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.
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…
Related Pages of Interest
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