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We’ve all seen depictions of cats lapping up milk from saucers, but it’s actually a myth that cats love drinking milk. In fact, it’s not very healthy for them at all. Most adult cats are actually lactose intolerant. Kittens need their mother’s milk, of course, but should be weaned by the time they're two months old.
Cats lack the digestive enzyme lactase that helps break down the sugar (lactose) in milk. Similar to people who are lactose intolerant, giving milk to a cat could induce stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. To make matters worse, cow’s milk is also high in fat, so giving milk to your cat could lead to significant weight gain and an unbalanced diet. It's like eating a 12-inch pizza by yourself.
So where did the idea that cats love drinking milk come from? A likely explanation is that cats and dogs became increasingly popular subjects for artists during the Industrial Revolution. The 19th-century French artist Alfred-Arthur Brunel de Neuville became especially well-known for his charming paintings of cats drinking out of bowls of milk.
Here, kitty kitty:
- Special lactose-free milk for cats is available, but the fat content is just as bad as regular cow’s milk. In fact, milk gives cats no real nutritional value and should only be offered as an occasional high-calorie treat. Instead, giving your cat fresh, clean water along with their regular food will keep them hydrated and healthy.
- During the first four weeks of their lives, kittens drink their mother’s milk, which is full of fat and other nutrients necessary for growing up healthy and strong.
- Cats with kidney disease should especially avoid cow's milk, as it contains high levels of phosphates that can cause kidney failure.