Can you or should you give kittens milk?
There is an evergreen myth that kittens and cats love and should be given cow’s milk. This image most probably comes from the cartoons showing cats enjoying a bowl of milk. Despite these cute illustrations, the truth is that nutritionally cats do not require milk and can live their whole life happily without drinking even one drop of it. Apart from the fact that they do not need milk, it can also cause problems and make them sick.
After all, kittens should only drink their mother’s milk and after weaning they should not be fed with cow’s milk.
The only nourishment your kitten receives in the first four weeks is from the milk of her mother which is the best milk for her needs as it contains the right mix of protein, fat, and nutrients. So no additional type of food, drink or even milk is required at this stage.
Soon after that, she starts eating soft solid food, however, she is still mostly dependent on the mother’s milk. During the next one month, the amount of mother milk’s intake gradually decreases, while the solid food given to her increases. The beloved furry friend will continue weaning until she is two months old and by the time she is ready to leave her mother she will eat only solid food.
Feeding her with different types of food this time will help her having an excellent eating habit throughout her life. After twelve weeks kittens will have all their nutritional needs fulfilled using only wet and dry food. I have already written about what to feed kittens and types of food to avoid to keep them happy and healthy. You will find more relevant and detailed information in that post.
The reason why you should not give kittens milk is because most of them (if not all) lack sufficient amount of the enzyme lactase, which would help them break down milk and digest it. This is actually not a problem, in fact, it is completely normal.
Although in their first weeks (while having mother’s milk) young kittens’ bodies produce plenty of the enzyme lactose, but as they grow up less amount of this enzyme is produced. Since this enzyme is necessary to digest lactose (which is the sugar found in milk), producing less amount of enzyme lactase means less ability to digest lactose, therefore, kittens’ intolerance to lactose increases over time as producing this enzyme decreases. By the time they are twelve weeks old, the nutrients in their mothers’ milk are no longer sufficient for the growing bodies and with this time they are no longer able to produce the sufficient amount of the enzyme lactose, and so they eventually become lactose intolerant.
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If you present your kitten with a bowl of milk, she may happily consume it but after a while, she might get sick and start suffering from the result. When a lactose intolerant cat is having milk, she is not able to digest the lactose in it properly (because of the lack of enzyme lactase), so it will remain in her digestive system. Sooner or later this will upset her stomach and lead to vomiting or diarrhea. Diarrhea then may have other serious side effects such as dehydration which could be fatal to a little kitten.
If you still wish to give milk…
Despite all this, not all the cats are lactose intolerant. The only way to truly know whether your furry little friend is the same or not is to feed her some milk and wait for the result (I hope you do not try this). If it seems she can tolerate cow’s milk, and you do not experience any symptoms within a day, you can give her in moderation but only as a treat.
Specially processed lactose-free cat milk is available from many supermarkets or pet food stores, but I would still suggest you to ask your veterinarian about the right kind of milk for your kitten before you purchase it.