Even now, there is media that shows cats being enamored of milk and milk-based products. There is some truth to this, though such preferences are from from being universal for the feline population. However, it is important to note that focusing on whether cats like milk and milk-based products or not is missing the point because cats aren’t good at digesting them.
Should You Be Feeding Milk and Milk-Based Products to Your Cat?
The issue is simple in nature. Kittens can digest milk because they have enzymes called lactase, which is important because lactase is what enables them to break down the sugars called lactose that can be found in milk. However, when kittens grow up into adult cats, they lose that lactase, thus rendering them incapable of digesting anything containing lactose.
In fact, it should be mentioned that something similar happens in humans. In short, about 60 percent of human adults are incapable of digesting lactose versus about 40 percent of human adults who have managed to hang on to this ability into their adult years. This is thanks to a beneficial mutation that sprung up about 7,500 years ago in a region situated between the Central Balkans and Central Europe before proceeding to spread throughout much of Eurasia. Not coincidentally, the ability to digest lactose as an adult is very much linked to populations with a long history of raising dairy cattle, which explains when the lack of said ability can come as such a surprise to a lot of people living in North America.
Anyways, cats have no such mutation. As a result, adult cats are not capable of digesting the lactose that can be found in milk, meaning that both milk and milk-based products are a potential problem for their digestive systems. Even worse, cow milk has more lactose than a lot of the other kinds of milk that can be found out there, thus making it even worse. On top of this, it should be mentioned that a lot of milk-based products have had sugars and other sweeteners added into them, which makes them an even poorer choice of food for cats.
As for the effects, cat owners can expect their cats to experience various issues related to an upset stomach, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever interacted with a human who has consumed milk and milk-based products without the ability to digest the lactose. However, what is worst about the scenario is that it comes with a high chance of the cat suffering diarrhea, which can be a huge problem for the cat owner to say the least. Luckily, diarrhea tends to be the worst of it, though it should be mentioned that feeding sugar and other sweeteners to cats can cause obesity in the long run as well.
Having said this, it might be fine to feed cats very small amounts of milk and milk-based products from time to time. Overdoing it will result in the aforementioned symptoms, but smaller amounts can be manageable for the cat’s digestive systems. However, while cat owners might be tempted to do this because of their cat’s pleading, they might want to check in with their veterinarian beforehand to make sure that it is actually alright. After all, while diarrhea tends to be the worst consequence for cats that have eaten too much lactose, it isn’t impossible for them to experience something worse, meaning that it makes sense to be safe rather than sorry.
Summed up, media images of cats loving milk and milk-based products aren’t 100 percent baseless because there are indeed cats that possess said preferences. However, feeding milk and milk-based products to cats tends to be a bad idea because they don’t have the enzymes needed to digest them. Never mind the other ingredients that can be found in these foods, which can cause their own problems for cats as well. On the whole, milk and milk-based products aren’t so bad for cats that they can be called poison, but they are nonetheless not something that should be fed to our feline companions on a regular basis, particularly if cat owners are already shuddering at the idea of having to clean up after their cats following a session of diarrhea.