Are cats lactose intolerant? Media often depicted felines enjoying a saucer of milk throughout the years.
It has created a big misconception that cats, in general, can tolerate milk. However, this is far from the truth. A large number of cats are lactose intolerant.
We will bust the prominent cats and milk myth to keep you from making the mistake of feeding your feline friend dairy.
The Dairy Dilemma
Is milk bad for cats? Milk is not necessarily bad for cats, especially in their kittenhood. Young cats need their mother’s milk for their bodies to properly develop during the early stages of their lives.
It is rich in nutrients, including vitamins C and D, as well as calcium, iron, and zinc. A queen’s milk also contains colostrum, which is a protein that provides antibodies to kittens, thereby boosting their immune system.
Another important component in milk for young cats is lactose, a sugar that provides them with energy.
To properly digest lactose, kittens’ bodies produce the enzyme lactase. It breaks down the sugar into glucose and galactose, making it easier to absorb.
However, as young cats gradually mature, the lactase production in their bodies begins to slow down. Once they begin weaning at around 4–6 weeks of age, the creation of lactase enzymes starts to stop and never restarts.
This leads us to the question: “Are adult cats lactose intolerant?” Yes, most adult cats are lactose intolerant. They do not have enough lactase in their system; hence digesting lactose becomes difficult.
Consuming milk or other dairy products, which tend to contain varying levels of lactose, may wreck their digestive system.
Majority but Not All
Many cat owners ask: “Are all cats lactose intolerant?” No, not every cat suffers from lactose intolerance. Some cats have no trouble digesting it.
So, is it OK for cats to drink milk if they are not lactose intolerant? Not really. Just because non-lactose intolerant cats can drink milk does not mean they have to. Milk offers no nutritional value to them.
Moreover, it is packed with calories, which can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and obesity. This health issue gives bigger opportunities for more serious feline ailments to develop, including:
Remember that cats are obligate carnivores. Thus, it is ideal that their meals replicate what they eat in the wild. Feed your cat with protein-rich food such as meat.
If she loves milk, you can give it to her in tiny amounts as an occasional treat. It should not comprise a large portion of her diet, or else a nutrient imbalance may arise.
The Dangers Milk Poses to Cats
Due to the insufficient amount of lactase in their system, cats’ stomachs cannot effectively break down lactose. The sugar remains undigested in the intestinal tract.
As a result, lactose collects water, causing bacteria fermentation. Then, it leads gasses to form in the digestive system, which triggers stomach upset in cats.
How to Know If Your Cat Is Lactose Intolerant
There is no easy way for cat owners to know if their feline friends cannot handle dairy. They will need to give their cats small amounts of milk, around 1–2 tablespoons, and observe for any occurrence of adverse reactions within 24 hours.
The presence of the following symptoms means a cat is lactose intolerant:
These common clinical signs of lactose intolerance tend to appear around 8–12 hours after ingesting milk or any form of dairy.
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The Possible Reason Why Cats Find Milk Appealing
Many cats love milk despite being lactose intolerant. Experts are yet to find out the true reason behind this phenomenon, but they have some speculations to share.
They believe that the fat content of milk draws cats in to get a taste. Generally, felines lack taste receptors, but scientists theorise that they can taste fats. In addition, the sharp sense of smell cats possess is also thought to entice them into drinking milk.
Today, regular milk tends to contain high lactose content and lower levels of fat. It is brought on by the demand for dairy products with less fat. This increases the risk of cats suffering from adverse reactions after ingesting milk.
Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy
Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are often caused by dairy intake. Thus, it is easy to mistake them for similar health conditions. However, the two are different from each other.
Lactose intolerance mainly involves the digestive system. The lack of lactase in the body causes the gut to have trouble properly breaking down the sugar in milk. It causes gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhoea and bloating.
In comparison, milk allergy is an immune-mediated reaction to the proteins in milk. The immune system sees them as dangerous invaders. It will produce antibodies that will attack the proteins, resulting in an allergic reaction.
The most common symptoms would be itchiness, laboured breathing, and eye or nose discharge.
Lactose intolerance and milk allergy can be life-threatening without immediate medical care. The former may induce extreme dehydration, while the latter can induce anaphylaxis.
How to Treat Lactose Intolerance in Cats
Long-term treatment for lactose intolerant cats primarily entails the restriction of consuming dairy products. Opt for lactose-free milk if your pet really wants some dairy.
Plain, cultured yoghurt and low-lactose cheeses such as Parmesan and cheddar can be added to her cat food once in a while.
However, do not go overboard, as feeding your cat too much increases the danger of triggering her lactose intolerance and other health issues like obesity.
On the other hand, young kittens will require cat milk. But if they are abandoned or lose their mom, use a kitten’s milk replacement formula instead.
It is specifically formulated to mimic lactose found in cat milk for easier digestion. With that in mind, never serve cow’s milk to kittens since it carries high levels of lactose.
A Better Alternative to Milk
As simple as it sounds, all cats need to keep themselves well-hydrated is water. Pairing it with a nutritious and balanced diet will ensure that their bodies remain healthy and strong. No need for milk.
Encourage your cat to up her water intake by adding a low-sodium broth to her water. Feeding her wet cat food is also a good idea because it contains around 70–80% water content.
If your feline friend is not really a fan of drinking water, consider investing in a water fountain. It has a mechanism that lets water flow constantly and keeps it tasting fresh.
Moreover, the water fountain comes with filters that remove bad taste and odour, improving the water’s palatability to your cat.