No Milk Today

January 5, 2012
By

It’s true that cats love milk. Most cats will drink it if you let them. And who hasn’t shared a little milk with their feline friend now and then? So, what’s the problem?

Cow’s milk is not a natural food for any cat. Even kittens, who naturally drink nothing but milk for the first few weeks of their lives, specifically need milk that is higher in protein, certain fats, and other nutrients, than the stuff we get from dairy cows. In other words, the only milk they need is the milk that their mothers provide.

Once kittens are weaned (at 8-12 weeks of age), they often lose their ability to digest milk. Many adult cats are lactose intolerant, and can develop an upset tummy and diarrhea from drinking cow’s milk.

There are other problems with cow’s milk, as well. Much of the milk we can buy at the store comes from cows that have been injected with a growth hormone, called rBGH. This hormone causes changes in the milk itself, including elevated levels of another hormone, IGF-1, which is known to promote cancerous tumors. Milk from rBGH-treated cows is also different in the types and amounts of fatty acids and proteins it contains.

rBGH also causes higher rates of painful mastitis (inflammation of the udder) that must be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. This increases the chances of chemical residues in the milk that could harm your cat. While there are laws preventing dairies from selling milk with illegal levels of certain drugs, inspections are often inadequate. Other drugs are not even tested for. Chemically contaminated milk can still end up in your refrigerator.

Even without rBGH, cow’s milk is full of hormones, including estrogens, which are linked to many health problems. Milking cows are kept pregnant 11 months of the year; and all those pregnancy hormones flow right into the milk. Milk may also contain traces of pesticides and other contaminants of the food the cows are fed.

Unlike the milk produced by nursing queens (mother cats), which kittens drink in its natural raw state, store-bought milk is pasteurized. Pasteurization is necessary to kill harmful bacteria that are rampant in high-production dairy facilities. But it also destroys much of milk’s natural vitamins A, C and some B vitamins; it makes calcium less absorbable; and it deforms (denatures) proteins and enzymes. Such altered proteins may cause allergies. Additionally, casein, the major protein in milk, may itself cause allergies. Dairy products are one of the top allergens in cats (the other most common allergens are chicken, beef, fish, wheat, and corn).

So, even though she may love it (don’t we all love to eat things that aren’t very good for us?), cow’s milk is definitely not a good choice for your cat.

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2 Responses to No Milk Today

  1. DCkat on December 22, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I’ve had cats of my own for about 45 years. Right now, we have a few dozen – no, NOT deliberately acquired – and have never run across one that got diarrhea (or vomiting or anything bad) from consuming dairy products. They either seem to love dairy, or ignore it. We figured the ones who are likely to get diarrhea from dairy products are the ones who don’t care for it, like maybe their bodies are smart enough to dictate their taste preferences.

    Here, we give half-and-half (organic and rGBH-free, from pastured cows at family farms) to the cats who like it. (It’s sometimes difficult to keep fresh water available for a few of our charges – who NEVER get dry food – so if we’re running low, they get served first.)

    Since cats are famous for being dairy lovers, and since the “cats shouldn’t have dairy” adage arrived about the same time that expensive feline dairy products hit the shelves, we’re wondering about the science behind it all, especially as we have never, ever experienced this phenomenon ourselves (full disclosure: we’ve never had long-haired cats). At first, we were hearing, “Some cats are lactose intolerant, usually Persian or other long-haired cats.” These days, every third person wants to educate me about milk/cream being bad for cats in general, even if the closest they’ve ever been to one is the stuffed tiger on their kid’s bed.

    Do you know if any independent studies have ever tackled this question? Presumably some cat, somewhere gets diarrhea from dairy, or this whole thing wouldn’t have gotten started.

    When I was growing up, I loved staying with my relatives who farmed, mostly because of their cats. I’d get up early to “help” my uncle milk, and the cats would follow him with their stiff tails pointing the way ahead. Once he’d cleared the teats (or whatever you call it), he’d jet some squirts out to the impatient throng. To my unending delight, these guys would sit on their hind legs and open their mouths, expertly positioning themselves to receive this fresh, warm treat (yes, just like that famous old photograph).

    On the farm, I saw plenty of cat (and for that matter, other animal) poop, but the cats’ doings – distinguished by their efforts at concealment – were formed, never loose. And you can bet I noticed! Running around barefoot, the last thing I wanted to feel was warm chicken excreta squishing up between my toes.

    So, what’s up?

    • Jean Hofve DVM on December 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

      A few things…

      That adage pre-dates kitty milk products by many decades.

      When I was in practice, I had many patients who did not react well to milk. Most (but not all) adult cats lack the lactase enzyme needed to digest milk. Cats who have consistently been fed dairy products all their lives are more likely to tolerate them.

      Also, most commercially available dairy is not nearly as good as what you’re using (unhealthy cows eating unhealthy feed), and that undoubtedly makes a big difference in cats’ tolerance of the products. Raw dairy is, of course, entirely different from pasteurized, and is an excellent food for cats, as shown by the famous Pottenger’s Cats study.

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