Growing up, we are often exposed to images, stories and films in which cats are given milk. While it might appear a normal thing to do, after all they tend to love it, cats are often unable to digest it properly. Let's look at why in a little more detail.

Should we give cats milk?

The short answer from the RSPCA is 'no'. Their leaflet on how to take care of your cat states that milk "can give kittens diarrhoea and sometimes causes stomach problems in adult cats."

So, why does it cause these problems?

Like many humans, a large proportion of cats are lactose intolerant. This means that they lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down the lactose that are present. This can result in undigested lactose and subsequently an upset stomach and diarrhoea. It can even cause allergies for our fur friends.

If they can’t digest milk, why do they drink it?

Some people report giving milk to their cats with no issue. However, for others, it seems their little feline loves drinking it despite the issues that ensue.

Experts mostly agree that cats are attracted to the fat. They are unlikely to make the connection between the last time they drank milk and bowel problems, so do not realise that they should abstain from drinking the liquid.

Why do humans associate cats with milk?

Firstly, as kittens, cats drink their mother's milk. When they grow up, it is thought that they lose the necessary enzymes for its digestion. This may not happen in all cats, which is why some retain the ability to digest it without the negative consequences.

Secondly, we are accustomed to seeing images of cats with saucers of milk in books, films and pictures, especially historical ones. There are several theories about why this is.

Firstly, some speculate that cats were given ‘old-style’ milk or cream in days of old, that contained more fat and less lactose.

Another theory is that in olden times, cats wandered more freely, without the need for a litter tray. Going to the toilet outside meant that owners would not often see any signs of an upset stomach and therefore have no reason to suspect that milk was bad for them.

Milk or water?

Although some cat owners do not realise it, if their cat can drink milk, it should not be used as a substitute for water. Cats need water to survive and require it to be clean and available at all times.

For those cats who can stomach a little, this should be given in addition to water and not in place of it.

According to the RSPCA, "Without drinking water, your cat could become severely ill within hours."

Does your cat drink milk?

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