Milk is Not a Good Food for Cats

Many People Do Not Know That Milk is Not a Good Food for Cats

Picture by Gracey of MorgurFile –


We all need food and water to survive, and so do cats. We only need milk when we are babies – or kittens – and our mother’s milk is best. Yet people continue to drink milk and feed it to their cats and kittens, along with whatever solid cat food they choose to feed.

In this context, commercial cow’s milk is particularly controversial because it is processed and treated in various ways to make it last longer. As if pasteurizing (which involves heating to sterilize it) and homogenizing (evenly distributing the fat globules of milk and the cream in the milk) is not enough, certain companies in America are now adding genetically modified hormones to milk to increase its shelf-life.

While there is evidence that unprocessed (un-messed with) cow’s milk does contain beneficial bacteria and calcium, current research shows that bovine growth hormones (which is becoming the new approach of choice) stimulate the growth of cancer. There’s isn’t proof that these hormones actually cause cancer, but then there isn’t proof that they don’t.

When it comes to cats and kittens, it isn’t so much the processing that is the problem; it’s more that a cat’s stomach lacks the enzymes needed to properly digest cow’s milk. While some cats will tolerate milk, they are inherently lactose intolerant, and so some end up with diarrhea and other internal and tummy problems. And this has nothing to do with liking or disliking milk.

So why do we continue to drink processed cow’s milk, and why do we feed it to our feline friends?

For years and years people have been taught to drink lots of milk to strengthen their teeth and bones (that’s because of the calcium content). So many adults around today simply grew up believing that cow’s milk was good for their health. Many of us grew up believing we were dependent on cow’s milk for our calcium intake.

If you do some serious reading, you’ll discover that processed cow’s milk isn’t healthy for humans at all. In fact it’s undoubtedly responsible for all kinds of problems including allergies, diarrhea, skin rashes, arthritis, diabetes, and it may even contribute towards lung cancer, multiple sclerosis and some other really horrendous diseases.

Calf drinking milk

Picture by ana_c_golpe – MorgueFile


Apart from cow’s milk that has been messed with, and its structure changed, cow’s milk simply isn’t suitable for humans and cats, or even dogs. You see, the milk of mammals is species-specific. This means that cow’s milk is meant for calves – not people or cats or dogs. In nature, the milk of every single species is designed to protect the young of that particular species.

Taking this another step further, some people believe it is fine to feed their cats lactose-free milk (usually labeled ‘cat’s milk’), because enzymes have been added to help the cat digest the milk more easily. But it’s not okay at all. In fact these special ‘cat’s milk’ products are really just another form of milk that has been messed with!

Generally cats should also not be fed human food, unless it is pure fish or meat, because the additives we put into our food – like garlic and onions – are toxic to cats. Cat food that is prepared specifically for cats should be your first choice. And this should be served alongside water – not milk.

This milk-cat thing probably has a lot to do with what we have been taught as well, although we may not even realize it. For instance just about every story book about cats that was written in the 19th or 20th century refers to milk as a source of cat food. Even Dick Whittington (in Dick and his Cat and Other Tales that was first published in the UK in 1895) fed his stray cat milk and bread. Alice’s cat called Kitty (from Alice in Wonderland), a kitty-character created in the late 19th century, also drank milk. Rudyard Kipling’s turn of the 20th century ‘cat that walked alone’ (from his Just So Stories) wanted to ‘drink the warm white milk three times a day for always and always and always’.

These are three arbitrary examples. There are many, many … many more.

Related to milk as a cat food, cream is another favorite. Again, this idea is propounded in literature. For example, in Tales for Catland, for Little Kittens, written by somebody who called herself Tabitha Grimalkin, and published in 1852, the princess’s privileged cats met some alley cats who were very poor and had ‘never heard of cream’! The idea is rather quaint.

But funnily enough, the more fat that there is in milk, the less lactose there is, so it’s actually preferable to feed a cat cream rather than milk – whether you’re a princess or a lowly peasant.

I suppose another reason so many of us drink milk and feed it to our cats is because we actually like it – as do some cats.

I personally only like a little milk in coffee, hot chocolate or in white sauces, although in my childhood I drank copious amounts of chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. I don’t much like the taste of plain milk, pasteurized or not. In fact I prefer pasteurized milk to the stuff they get straight out of a cow! Living on a farm I could drink fresh, unpasteurized milk every day if I wanted to, but I don’t.

Of my three current cats, only one really favors milk of any kind – and if he doesn’t get it, he will make a scene. This varies from intermittent yowling, to following me around and staring to catch my eye, until I realize what he wants. While the other two might lap at the milk bowl now and then, they’ll never guzzle to the bottom of the bowl like Gus does. On the other hand, Gus is not at all partial to water. If he was a human he’d probably drink wine!



Janek Szymanowski is a talented professional photographer and designer who has had more than 30 printed books published, and has contributed to many more. Born in the United Kingdom, he has lived in South Africa for most of his life, and has a wealth of experience that spans a wide range of different media types and styles. Janek illustrates books and designs client media, but also builds websites, including several of his own. He is passionate about inspiring people to be creative and to assist them in learning new crafts.