Can Cats Consume Dairy Products?


Hi Dr Barchas,

Milo loves milk. Since I am lactose intolerant this is what I give him. It is also skim milk cause we both need to watch our waist:) Also he loves yogurt. Is it OK to give him? If it is how much and how often?

Thanks in advance

Montreal, QC, Canada

Nobody knows how many Norman Rockwell paintings feature cats lapping milk from a saucer. The cat-and-saucer-of-milk clich is almost as famous as the dog-and-bone clich.

Some dogs do well with bones while others suffer a host of problems. The same is true of cats and milk.

As a child I engaged in a morning ritual. I would eat my breakfast cereal, offer the leftover milk to my cat, watch him enjoy it, and then walk to elementary school. He loved the milk and it never caused any problems. Sadly, I made the mistake of allowing that cat outdoors. Predictably (in hindsight), he met a premature end underneath the tire of a car. It was an event that left me scarred for years (it also helped inspire me to become a veterinarian).

Later I adopted another cat, and I attempted to repeat my morning ritual with her. She loved the milk every bit as much as my first cat. However, the milk did not love her. Any time she drank milk she suffered a day of explosive diarrhea. My father, the litter box cleaner, abolished the ritual.

My second cat most likely was lactose intolerant. She probably would have had no problem with lactose-free milk, but such products weren’t around when I was a kid. She also probably would have done well with yogurt since it does not contain much lactose.

Eva, if Milo’s milk habit is not causing any digestive upset it almost certainly isn’t hurting him. However, like all things (except for moderation itself, which should be enjoyed in excess), milk should be enjoyed in moderation. A diet that is too heavy in milk or dairy products could lead to nutritional or mineral imbalances.

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