Cats eagerly lapping up milk is a picture etched in most of our minds from old movies and children’s books. Milk used to be considered healthy for cats until we gained better knowledge and understanding of our beloved companions’ dietary needs.
Buttermilk is a common staple in households, especially those that do a lot of home cooking. You might wonder whether cats can drink buttermilk. After all, it has fewer calories and is lower in fat. Like with regular milk though, buttermilk is also not recommended for cats. Let’s take a closer look into the reason behind this.
What Is Buttermilk, Exactly?
Unlike the name suggests, buttermilk does not contain butter. Traditional buttermilk is what is left over once whole milk has been churned into butter. This is not the type of buttermilk we use in the Western world, but it is common in countries such as India, Pakistan, and Nepal. The buttermilk we know and use is fermented milk that consists primarily of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein.
The fermentation of buttermilk leaves a tangy taste, making it a great addition to bread, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, and other baked goods. Buttermilk can be a drink, but most often, people don’t drink it due to the bitter taste.
Why Can’t Cats Have Milk or Buttermilk?
The only type of milk a cat needs is their mother’s milk during kittenhood or a milk replacement if a kitten has yet to be weaned and there is no mother cat available to nurse. It is not recommended to serve cats any type of milk, including buttermilk.
As kittens, their systems produce high levels of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose sugars in their mother’s milk. As they grow and age, they produce less of the enzyme, making the digestion of milk and other dairy products much more difficult. It is not uncommon for cats to be lactose intolerant, just like humans.
Potential Side Effects of Dairy Consumption
Some cats may tolerate small amounts of milk or other dairy products without issues. That doesn’t mean it should be offered, as you can expect your veterinarian to advise against it regardless. Consuming too much milk or dairy products can cause digestive issues. Some common signs your cat may experience after consuming dairy products include:
- Upset stomach
- Increased thirst
- Increased heart rate
- Dry gums
What Can Cats Drink Besides Water?
Now that you know cats should not be offered buttermilk, it may leave you wondering if there are any other drinks your cat can lap up safely, except for water. The truth is, your cat is an obligate carnivore, which means they get all their nutritional needs through meat sources.
Wild cats get most of their water and hydration directly from their prey. Since that isn’t reasonable in the home, you have to provide fresh, clean water.
This may be the most obvious, but kittens must nurse from their mothers until they are fully weaned. A mother cat’s milk is only needed during the first stages of life, and kittens will quickly outgrow the need.
Milk replacement is an option for those who have kittens who are either unable to nurse their mother or do not have a mother available for nursing. This should only be offered to kittens that are not yet of weaning age, as there is no reason to provide a milk replacement to weaned or adult cats unless you were advised to by a veterinarian.
Bone broth is a nice little treat that can be served to your kitty. You need to make sure you use unsalted, pure bone broth that is free of seasonings. Not only is it easy to make at home, but it’s also a great, nutritious drink you can offer on occasion.
While it is still not recommended since it is a dairy product, goat’s milk is much easier for cats to digest. It contains more small- and medium-chain fatty acids rather than long-chain fatty acids. If offered sparingly, goats’ milk is a much safer alternative to regular cow’s milk or buttermilk in very small amounts, though it is unnecessary.
Even though milk was touted as a great drink for cats, most veterinarians advise against offering your cat any dairy products, including buttermilk, since cats cannot digest lactose properly. If you have been giving your cat buttermilk, consider something much healthier like plain bone broth, or just stick to plain old fresh water. As always, ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure which treats and beverages to offer your cat.
Featured Image Credit: Mehmet Cetin, Shutterstock