Should you feed your cat milk or milk alternatives?

Updated July 2023

Many cat owners continue to give their cats milk well into adulthood as they believe that it is critical to them living long, healthy lives but should cats drink milk?

However, giving milk to your feline companion may not be beneficial for them. Many pet parents might be surprised to know that milk isn’t the bet drink for cats, no drinking water is.

However, many might be surprised to know that milk isn’t the best drink for cats, water is.

So should you give your cat over-the-counter milk? No, cats should not have full-fat cow’s milk as most cats are lactose intolerant.

Keep reading to find out why you shouldn’t give your cat cows milk, what type of milk is best for cats, and when they should be weaned.

Should I give my adult cat milk or water?

Adult cats should have water. While milk does have a water content, adult cats should have water at all times as consuming milk alone won’t supply them with all the essential nutrients they need.

What is the best milk to choose for weaning kittens?

Cats will usually start slowly weaning their kittens as early as 4 weeks, ideally, they will be eating solid food by 8-10 weeks.  If you have a kitten younger than 6 weeks you can feed a milk replacement, kitten milk replacer, like the ones listed below.  If they are 6 weeks or older you can begin weaning them and giving them either soft food with some milk replacement (until 8 weeks) or dry food.  If the dry food is too hard for them to eat, you can add a little water. 

Kittens drink milk but it is their mother’s milk. After kittens no longer needs their mother’s milk you can begin feeding them milk replacers.

Refrain from feeding a cat cow’s dairy milk or any other milk besides kitten replacement which is specially formulated for kittens, it includes the right amount of crude protein, fat, and colostrum. This helps decrease the chances of giving your kitten an upset stomach.

Typical weaning times are as follows

  • 4-5 weeks: give wet or moistened dry food, mixed with formula to form a slush. 
  • 5-6 weeks:  the kittens should be able to eat kibble mixed with a little water
  • 6-7 weeks: kittens should be almost weaned and eating small, bite-sized kibble
  • 8 weeks: kittens should be fully weaned and do not need milk

Can cats drink milk? Is milk bad for my cat? Do cats need milk? Is milk healthy for cats?

Milk is not bad for some cats per se, but they do not need it post-weaning. It can be bad for cats that have diseases like IBS or those that are lactose intolerant

Whole milk can add unnecessary unhealthy fat to your cat’s diet.  There are over-the-counter diets that have milk in them and won’t cause stomach upset.

Cats like many other animals can have irritable bowel and giving them milk can exacerbate the issue greatly

Why does my cat like milk so much?

Why do cats love milk so much if they shouldn’t have it? It seems that some cats crave milk after they get a taste but cats really enjoy milk because it has a high fat content. 

If you want to give some to your cat as a treat, feel free to give them a small amount, but they should still always have access to fresh, clean water.  You can also add a small amount of milk to their food as it is easy to mix into wet food.  Refrain from simply pouring milk over their dry food as it is not easily blended and your cat will most likely lap up the milk and leave the kibble.  

Can cats be lactose intolerant?

Yes, cats can be lactose intolerant.  Many cats, like most mammals, no longer have the enzyme to break down or digest lactose into digestible single sugars after weaning and can no longer drink milk without some stomach upset.  Sore stomach, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and in severe cases vomiting.

What is the best milk to give my cat as a treat?

If you must give your cat milk as a treat first research the lactose concentration of the milk as the higher the concentration the more likely it is to upset your kitty’s stomach.

For example, human milk contains 7% lactose, cow milk contains about 5% lactose, and goat milk contains approximately 4%. If you are going to add milk to your cat’s meals, try a small amount of goat’s milk or lactose-free milk from the pet store specifically made for cats.

Why is there a myth that cats should be given milk?

Most people think they should only give their cats milk and not water because of older cartoons and the fact that cats really do enjoy milk.

Giving your cat a small saucer of milk every now and then probably won’t cause them to much harm but it should not be a regular practice.

Can cats drink other types of milk like plant-based milks?

  • A couple of sips of plain almond, oat, or soy milk, preferably made at home, will not be bad for your kitten. However, there are some things to keep in mind:
  • Cats can have allergies to almond and soy so if you find that your cat begins to scratch or show signs of a food allergy after giving them either milk refrain from doing so in the future
  • Almond, soy, and oat milk usually come with empty and unnecessary calories. If you decide to feed your cats either milk do so in moderation, a couple of licks is fine. A cup of soy or almond milk contains around 100 calories and an average ten-pound cat only needs about 200 calories a day (Pets Best)
  • Some nut milk and oat milk are sweetened with added sugars or worse xylitol which can be toxic
  • Cats should also not have coconut milk
  • Cats can have goat’s milk in small quantities but not regularly, a small taste will not hurt them

Can cats drink chocolate milk?

No cats should never drink chocolate milk because not only is it highly likely to cause some stomach upset which could lead to abdominal pain and digestive problems as it can also be life-threatening due to the theobromine content. In fact, cats should never get chocolate, to read more about cats and chocolate read our article here.

What could happen if I give my cat too much milk?

Most likely your cat will suffer from some gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or maybe even vomiting. They may also have a sore stomach.

If you give them too much over a long period of time this can also cause some weight gain as dairy milk has a high fat content.

If you were to feed your cat chocolate milk that can be life-threatening and result in seizures and maybe even death depending on how much they drank. Read about cats and chocolate here.

Should I give my kitten baby formula?

No, you should not give your kitten baby formula. If you have a kitten that is younger than 8 weeks and needs supplemental nursing formula use a kitten formula made for their digestive systems. If you have an adult cat you should refrain from feeding baby formula as they are probably lactose intolerant and it can cause gi upset and diarrhea.

Human baby formula is not constituted to be nutritiously fit for kittens so you are better off using an actual kitten formula.

What is the best kitten formula?

KMR is by far one of the leading makers of kitten formulas. Although, many of the supplemental milk formulas or milk alternatives for kittens have the same ingredients.

If you decide to give your cat any type of milk, cow, oat, or almond, moderation is key!

Know someone with a new kitten? Consider sharing this article with them!