Can Cats be Fed Dairy Products?

James Glover
by James Glover
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QuestionIs milk bad for cats? Or is it simply not necessary? Does this apply to all dairy products? (Lindy Protzek - Canada)

Answer

All dairy products contain milk and milk-derivatives, and this includes cream, butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. In nature, most mammals do not have access to milk after weaning (after the mother stops providing her own milk), so it is therefore logical that provision of milk is not necessary for the normal health of an adult mammal. The most abundant sugar in dairy products is lactose, which requires an enzyme called lactase to be able to digest it and avoid symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as bloating, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. All mammals have high levels of lactase when they are young but the ability to digest lactose generally decreases with age. And as in humans, cats have varying levels of tolerance to lactose.

In addition to lactose, milk contains casein, which accounts for about 75% of protein products in milk. A diet consisting of a very high level of casein has been linked to Retinal Degeneration in cats because it interferes with the normal absorption of other nutrients. However, cat owners feeding a well-balanced diet containing small amounts of dairy should not be concerned with this.

If your cat has been fed small amounts of dairy products and not only seems to enjoy it but suffered from no ill effects, then feeding small amounts of dairy products such as cream several times a week will do no harm. However, if your cat has never tasted dairy and since milk is not necessary if your cat is being fed a balanced diet, it is advisable to simply omit this from their diet.

Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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