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Cats, Milk and Cat Milk: A Complex Topic

A cat happily licking milk from a bowl is a favorite image that many people have in their minds. The belief that milk is food cats love and need has been established over generations. It is also true: a bowl of seductively scented milk will hardly leave a cat unnoticed. And despite all this: Cow’s milk is not suitable food for your cats and is generally not well tolerated by our cuddly tigers.

Can cats drink milk?

Many cats cannot tolerate the milk sugar contained in cow’s milk, the so-called lactose. Comparable to human lactose intolerance, the consumption of milk causes digestive problems in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. There are physiological reasons for all of this: Every newborn mammal is dependent on the energy supply in the form of mother’s milk.

The nutrient values ​​of all milk are tailored to the needs of the respective animal species: the faster a baby animal develops, the more nutritious the milk produced by the mother is. In order to be able to metabolize these, the young animal’s stomach forms an enzyme, lactase. With their help, lactose is broken down and can be supplied to the organism. In the course of weaning, the organism reduces the production of lactase and finally stops it altogether. From then on, milk is no longer easy to digest. For this reason, adult mammals do not drink milk even if given the opportunity.

For many, cats and milk simply belong together – but that’s a myth that’s not true at all. As for all mammals, drinking milk for adult cats is even unnatural. In this video, you can find out why cats shouldn’t drink milk, why the misconception is so persistent and what you can do if your cat still likes milk.

Lactose intolerance in animals and humans – a historical connection

Humans are different: Were our ancestors started keeping cattle and small ruminants such as sheep and goats in the distant past, milk was soon recognized as a high-quality, energy-supplying foodstuff. Over many thousands of years, the human organism developed the hereditary ability to digest milk as a result of getting used to it. Only a certain percentage of modern humans are genetically lactose intolerant. In East Asia, where dairy farming has historically played little role, it is far more widespread. A clear indication that the ability to digest milk in adulthood stems from an interaction of cultural development and heredity.

But back to the cats…

… and her culinary fondness for milk. Here, too, people play a role. Domesticated cats were indispensable housemates as mouse catchers, especially in rural areas. Cows were usually kept on farms and naturally milked. The product available, knowledge of milk as a healthy food source, and the presence of cats meant that well-meaning people occasionally offered milk to the animals. And indeed: in so-called “farm cats”, which have been used to milk from an early age, a certain lactose tolerance developed, similar to that in humans, which can be passed on.

Cats lapping up milk as a remembered, everyday image are therefore plausible. But: Our house tigers today are usually no longer raised on a dairy farm and lactose tolerance is not widespread across the species. For you as a cat owner, this means: even if your cat were lactose tolerant, you should not dare to experiment in the interests of the animal. Assume that milk is not compatible with your kitty and can cause other problems in addition to stomach pains.

How about lactose-free milk for cats?

First of all, the bigger problem is lactose. An obvious way out is supposed to simply give the house tiger lactose-free milk. But even that is not ideal, and for this, it is necessary to take a look at the mother’s milk, i.e. the species’ own type of milk. A calf, for which the cow’s milk is intended, stands on its own two feet shortly after birth and must be able to run away from predators in case of doubt. This requires a lot of energy from the high-fat milk. Cats, on the other hand, are initially nest stools with a much more economical energy consumption after birth. The cat’s mother’s milk is correspondingly leaner. Lactose-free milk would be digestible for the cat, but a veritable calorie bomb that is harmful to the animal’s health and figure.

Why is milk taboo but not cheese?

Processed dairy products are just as high in calories, but established in cat snacks and are very popular with house tigers. They are a good source of protein that can be given in moderation, i.e. as a treat. When it comes to cheese, the lactose almost completely disappears from the product as hard cheese matures. Parmesan and similar varieties no longer pose a risk in this regard. The chemical composition of milk products that are fermented by bacteria also changes. Cottage cheese has even proven itself as a first-aid remedy for diarrhea. However, the talk is consistent with small portions of such dairy products, such as a fingernail-sized piece of hard cheese or a spoonful of cottage cheese. The amount of lactose consumed with such small portions is so small that it usually does not cause the cat any problems.

By the way: Since dairy products have a high salt and phosphate content, your tiger should not be given cheese if it suffers from kidney disease.

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