Sometimes, in spite of having had a wondrous and personally-challenging veterinary education, I discover that every once in a while that I just don’t seem to have all of the answers to all of the questions my treasured clients ask me. And when it happens, I find it quite frustrating. “Doc, why did my cat urinate on my boyfriend’s brand new cowboy boots?” I don’t know, maybe your cat has better tastes in men than you do! “Doc, why does my dog pass wind when my son feeds him Coco Puffs?” I don’t know, but you shouldn’t let him give your dog Coco Puffs (and you probably shouldn’t be feeding your kid Coco Puffs either!)
In today’s article, I’m going to jump into the abyss of controversy—AGAIN!!!—and try to answer a question that I’m asked nearly every day. And what it is that boggles my mind the most when I’m asked this question is that nearly all of the people who ask the question already know what the right answer is. They know the answer already because nearly all of them are already doing it. What these loving cat owners are looking for is just for my permission to do it.
The question on everyone’s lips is: “Doc, is it OK to feed my cat milk?”
I’ll begin by answering this question with another question: How many of you gentle readers out there have ever heard of a cat actually dropping dead from drinking milk? Hum? In my short and sweet eighteen years here in this business of saving cats and dogs—as well as the occasional rabbit or cow—I’ve never ever seen or have heard of a cat dying from drinking milk.
I then tell the story of how, way back in the olden days when I still tended to sick dairy cows, nearly every farm I went to had a bunch of old car hub-caps or cereal bowls lying around in the center of their barn floors. During milking time, when the farmer pulled the milking machine off of her first cow, the first thing she would do is fill these hubcaps and bowls up to the brim with fresh, warm, milk. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, would come billions and billions of barn cats to slurp up this milk. And I don’t recall seeing a single one of these cats dropping dead.
Likewise, in my pre-veterinarian days when my wife and I were dairy farmers, we, also, were guilty of giving our barn cats milk; we just went on and on in ignorant bliss, and innocently filled those hub-caps to over-flowing at every milking. In humble first book, Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart, I tell the story of how I gave our cat Suzie (who lived nineteen wonderful years) milk every morning. Likewise, on this very morning as I’m writing this story, when I poured my first cup of coffee, I also gave a big dollop of milk to our cats, Bugsy and Screwball.
With regards to an actual medical reason for not drinking milk, I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from any of my colleagues in the world of academia. It seems to be one of those urban myths that have been passed on from generation to generation of veterinary students. If I had to make a guess, the most likely answer to the mystery would probably go something like this: About fifty years ago, some poor old professor’s cat got run over by a milk truck, just as the driver of this milk truck was running off with the professor’s wife. Then, after the telling and retelling of the story, only the keywords, milk and cat and death, got forwarded on.
In all fairness to these great veterinary minds, however, I have gotten some answers. They tell of possible lactose intolerance in some cats, possible bladder stone formation, and even the possibility of causing malnutrition. But these reasons are all kind of wimpy and none have been objectively documented, at least in my researches. One beloved professor frankly told me that the only reason she said no to feeding milk, was because she worried that some cat owners would then feed only milk—and nothing else but milk—to their cats. In short, the advice to not feed cats milk seems to be one of those folk wisdom tales whose logic seems to defy people’s real world experiences, as well as all common sense.
My final thoughts are as follows: If you’re not comfortable about the concept of feeding your kittycats milk, don’t do it!!! No real rocket science there. However, keep in mind that milk is one of nature’s most perfect foods. It contains lots of nutrition, calcium, and proteins. It’s a good laxative, which is an important thing as well for older cats. If you’re already feeding your cat a treat of milk, and everything is OK, then I know of no logical reason to stop. But please keep in mind that moderation is the key. Don’t over do it, and don’t feed only milk; make sure he/she eats cat food as well.
If you want to start giving a treat of milk to your cat, try giving him or her a small amount at first. If they don’t vomit or get diarrhea, then it’ll probably do no harm. If they get the screammy-meemie poops, then they’re likely to be lactose intolerant and you should then stop.