Most mammals drink milk directly after birth, so drinking milk is natural for most. But eating cheese or yoghurt is not. Cats have the same principles. Unfortunately to them, cats are lactose intolerant and should not have any dairy products after their breastfeeding period has ended, but why do cats love all dairy products nonetheless? Cats are attracted to yoghurt and milk because of the fats and protein that they can sense and smell within the dairy products.
Mammals and Lactose Intolerance
Cats are mammals. Just like us humans, cats drink (and need) milk after birth from the breasts of the mother. At birth any mammal will have the enzyme to break down lactose into single sugars that are easier to digest.
When that breastfeeding period is done with, they can no longer accept milk. Cats, like any other mammal (so also us humans), are lactose intolerant. After the breastfeeding period, we slowly lose the enzyme to break down lactose, some faster than others.
Lactose, in adequate amounts within milk, is a sugar or carbohydrate that needs to be broken down in smaller single sugars for digestion. Lactose intolerant people and cats will therefore get a bad stomach, resulting in gastrointestinal problems.
Other Diary Products
Okay, so a cat has had some mother milk and so does our cow milk product give some resemblance of that same type of milk. But what about cheese or yoghurt or ice cream? They love it too! Yes, correct, even our cats (or at least some of them, not all) do love to get a lick of any diary product they smell in the air.
Sometimes it is as bad that, as soon as I open the fridge for a package of milk, cheese or yoghurt or open it at the dinner table, I got 2-3 cats around me, wondering if there is something to get. It’s like they are saying “Donations to the happy cat foundation please”.
What Do Cats Love In Diary Products?
So cats love diary products, period. The strange thing is, these cats have never had cheese before, or yoghurt, or ice cream. So I really wondered why it is that cats get attracted by something they never had in their lifetime. And secondary, why should they eat something that they are allergic towards? I found the answer to these questions.
First of all, cats are not allergic to dairy products. They are lactose intolerant. If you are allergic to something, you will get a reaction from being in touch with the allergen. When the allergen is removed, you might still have this reaction. And when you are exposed to it again, you might get a worse reaction to it. The body’s immune system will fight it.
Lactose intolerance means that you have reactions to the lactose in your body that disappear when the lactose has been digested.
Being lactose intolerant, means that you have reactions to the lactose, while the lactose is in your body. As soon as the lactose disappears from your body (through digestion, urine and feces), your body will restore normality. In humans lactose intolerance means that we will have stomach issues, ranging from stinky farts to diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance in cats means that they might vomit or have diarrhea. They will feel lousy and feel sick the rest of the day. Extreme cases of diarrhea can cause dehydration.
Dairy Product Component Attraction
The parts of the diary product that your cat has interest for are fat and protein. They can smell the fat and protein in dairy products and will be attracted by it. There can be a lot of both fat and protein in milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Perhaps there isn’t as much fat in milk as we nowadays offer also skimmed versions of all, but cats will still sense or smell the protein and fat that are in there.
Liking something to eat isn’t exactly the same as not supposed to eat the food. We humans can be lactose intolerant too or have a liking for specific types of food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthy for us. I’ve seen plenty of people that shouldn’t eat any sugar or milk, taking it anyway from time to time.
Kittens on the other hand do need milk to build up their healthy body. When a kitten doesn’t have a mother anymore, there is the option to feed a kitten with powder based milk that you blend with water. We have been on the milk duty for quite a lot of kittens through the past years, both bottle-fed as well as bowl-fed.
When we feed kittens milk, we use milk from KMR. KMR has a special formula that doesn’t contain the lactose. KMR milk is basically laboratory made mothermilk with all the nutrients for a growing cat. KMR also makes milk that you can give to your adult cats, for the cats that really have a liking for milk. That way you can safely give your cat milk, without them getting dangerous de-hydrating diarrhea and vomitting fits.
Cats do not need the extra fat and protein if they have a well-balanced diet of kibble or wet food, so offering them small bits of cheese, portions of milk, butter or yoghurt are strictly seen treats to cats.
Small amounts shouldn’t effect every cat as badly, so you can use the dairy products sometimes as treats, but take that with moderation. Treats that are added to a well-balanced diet, can lead to obesity if not taken with moderation. There is a big difference between feeding your cat a tiny amount of cheese occasional versus feeding your cat a slice of cheese every day.
I would still advice against treating them with human food, because it will quite fast become a bad habit of cats around the dinner table whenever you are serving food. Not all that bad when it is just you, but when you have visitors, this behaviour can get easily very annoying to your guests.
An alternative to giving human dairy products is using special designed cat treats that usually have the harmful components removed or reduced and often also are enriched with some vital nutrients. But even those treats should be given in moderation. A healthy happy thriving kitty is one that has a well-balanced diet and adequate amounts of water.
As such, the KMR milk is definitely a good alternative. Other great treats for cats are the raw cat treats from RawPawPetFood as cats prefer a high meat-protein diet and raw meat treats just fit in this profile nicely.
Want to know how to take optimally care of your cat? Read my guide on creating the best cat environment for your (new) cat.