Is it Safe for Cats to Eat Yogurt?

There’s one cat mom out there who has a photo of her cat’ s head stuck inside a yogurt container. He’d poked his head in to reach that last little bit on the bottom. His cat mom rescued him, though, and giggled later. That cat story is just one of many stories about cats who adore yogurt and will do anything to have a taste if they know there’s some nearby. The stories are wonderful! One mom eats her yogurt standing up because her cat tries to steal the yogurt spoon if she is sitting down. Another mom just has to open a yogurt container to have her cat jump on her. And yet another ate yogurt for more than ten years, as long as it was a specific brand. Go figure. All the tales of these yogurt-loving cats also prompted concerns over whether yogurt is really safe for them.

To put worries to rest, advice from veterinarians has settled many common concerns. The biggest reason cat parents have worried about yogurt is that there has been much confusion over giving milk, or dairy in any form, to adult cats. Many beloved films, books, and stories depict cats lapping on bowls of milk for dinner. Many people view yogurt as a kind of milk, and have heard that milk can be bad for cats. The confusion over milk and yogurt is reasonable, but veterinarians who understand this have shared the results of new research about probiotics in yogurt and how they can help cats feel better.

It’s truly an old wives’ tale that cats should have a bowl of milk for dinner. The truth is that many adult cats, like many humans, are lactose intolerant. What this means is that these adults and cats can come down with diarrhea somewhere between eight to twelve hours after drinking milk. It’s not like this for human infants and baby kittens. When very young, our bodies have special enzymes which help us to digest milk sugar. Milk sugar is lactose. Human babies and kittens can digest lactose when they are still young enough to only drink mother’s milk. Once human babies and kittens are weaned away from drinking their mother’s milk, they begin to eat other foods. When kittens are about twelve weeks old, their bodies slowly stop making the enzymes they need to digest milk.

As we grow older, those special enzymes that help us digest milk may be found less and less present in our bodies. Those of us who don’t have those enzymes can feel quite sick after drinking milk or eating other dairy products. Side effects can be diarrhea or even vomiting, over and above an upset stomach. This is also true for some adult cats. It’s completely comforting to learn that cats, like humans, can benefit from fermented milk, though. There are many different kinds of fermented milk foods. For centuries, the milk from cows, and other farm or herd animals such as goats, sheep, camels, and horses, has been preserved naturally. Strains of Lactobacillus or Streptococcus bacteria were added to milk to make cultured dairy foods. This helped to keep the milk products without refrigeration for days or even weeks.

The milk in cultured dairy foods is fermented. During the fermentation process, milk sugar (lactose) is partially converted to lactic acid. Lactic acid is easier to digest. Some favorite cultured dairy foods are buttermilk, sour cream, cheese, kefir, acidophilus milk and yogurt. The great news is that these dairy foods help to maintain beneficial bacteria in your intestines, and very small amounts can also do the same for your cat. If they were allowed to have bowls of milk when they were kittens, they will still want to have some when they grow up. They may find the taste and smell comforting, but it’s not good for them to have it.

Your cat can enjoy some milky comfort food that won’t cause tummy troubles. It is okay to give three to four tablespoons of yogurt spread out each week. Yogurt will help to add beneficial magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, vitamin C, and phosphorus to help your cat to have strong teeth, bones, muscles, and healthy blood pressure. Yogurt can help with hairballs, too. Truth is, cats cannot digest sugar. Cat’s tongues don’t have the sensors which detect sweetness. They’re not attracted to sweet foods at all. It is extremely important to never give a cat any yogurt which is flavored, has sucrose or fructose, natural sugars, or fruit. Avoid any yogurt which has xylitol, chocolate, molasses, honey, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, any kind of syrup, or corn sweetener.

Some cats are allergic to strawberries, just as humans can be. Raisins and grapes are toxic to cats. So are macadamia nuts and hazel nuts. Yogurt with vanilla may use vanilla extract and this can contain ethanol. This is a form of alcohol which is very harmful to cats. Peaches and pineapple can cause diarrhea in cats. Avocados can carry persin toxin in their stems, rind, pits, and leaves. Yogurts which have avocado should not be fed to cats either, just to be on the safe side. The only kind of yogurt that a cat should have as a treat is unflavored Greek yogurt. It has healthy bacteria and live cultures which are beneficial to cats in much the same way as they are too people. The key is to stick to just a few teaspoons a week.

It’s good to know that yogurt can also be used to treat a cat who has diarrhea. Dr. Ruan Du Toit Bester of Macau’s Royal Veterinary Centre recommends treated cats with diarrhea at home using yogurt. The probiotics found naturally in yogurt may be used to help cats at home. This is important because diarrhea is a very common ailment in cats with what Dr. Bester notes could ‘stem from a vast range of causes”. Dr. Bester points toward recent research which indicates that yogurt interacts favorably with the digestive system and this helps cats by “attempting to wipe out potentially harmful bacteria” in the cat’s system. When giving your fur baby that tiny teaspoon of plain Greek yogurt, be sure that the bowl you put it in is clean. Try to limit the treat to three or four teaspoons a week. Watch the ingredient list on that yogurt to avoid things bad for kitty. Be sure to enjoy some yourself. It turns out that sharing a taste of healthy yogurt with your favorite kitty may be very, very good for both of you!

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