Do Cats Have Water Or Milk?

Cats Need Water, Not Milk

Many people assume that cats should drink milk, just like kittens do. However, the truth is that most adult cats are actually lactose intolerant and cannot properly digest the lactose in milk. Milk may give cats an upset stomach or diarrhea. So while kittens depend on their mother’s milk, adult cats thrive best on a diet of meat-based proteins and plenty of water.

Milk vs. Water for Kittens

Very young kittens rely on their mother’s milk for nourishment and do not need additional water. Mother’s milk contains vital nutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates as well as protective antibodies that help develop the kitten’s immune system. Kittens will nurse frequently, stimulating milk production. As they grow, around 4-6 weeks old, kittens will begin weaning and transitioning from nursing to consuming solid food.

During this stage, kittens still gain health benefits from nursing but start becoming interested in other sources of hydration and nutrition. Around 5-6 weeks is when most kittens will begin experimenting with drinking water for the first time. Their mother will demonstrate drinking behaviors to encourage water consumption. Provide a shallow, clean water bowl that is easily accessible to kittens at this age.

Milk as Cats Age

As kittens, cats produce an enzyme called lactase that allows them to digest the lactose in their mother’s milk. However, as cats grow into adulthood, most cats lose the ability to produce lactase and become lactose intolerant (source:

Lactose intolerance means that cats lack the enzymes needed to properly digest lactose. Undigested lactose in the digestive tract can cause gas, abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea in cats. While some adult cats retain some ability to digest lactose, the majority are unable to consume milk without experiencing adverse gastrointestinal effects (source:

For this reason, it’s generally not recommended to give milk to adult cats. While small amounts may be tolerated by some cats, milk and dairy products should not be a regular part of an adult cat’s diet. Sticking to water and wet food designed for adult cats is healthier and prevents digestive upset.

Water Requirements

Cats need access to fresh, clean water every day to avoid dehydration. According to the ASPCA, cats should drink approximately 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day[1]. For example, a 10-pound cat needs around 10 ounces, or just over 1 cup of water daily. However, this is just a general guideline, as water needs can vary based on age, health, activity level, diet, and environmental factors like temperature.

Cats that eat mostly dry food require more water than cats fed canned food, which has a higher moisture content. Nursing mother cats also need extra hydration to support milk production. Overall, it’s important to provide fresh, clean water bowls that are refilled daily so cats can drink as needed.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration can be serious if left untreated, so it’s important to watch for signs in your cat. According to WebMD, some of the most common symptoms of dehydration in cats include:

Dry mouth – One of the first signs of dehydration is a dry mouth or gums. Check your cat’s gums and mouth to see if they appear sticky, dry, or tacky.

Sunken eyes – Dehydration causes the eyes to appear more sunken in and the skin around them to be tighter. If your cat’s eyes look more sunk in than usual, it could signal dehydration.

Lethargy – Cats who are dehydrated tend to become lethargic and have less energy. They may move around less and sleep more. Lethargy from dehydration can progress to more severe symptoms.

Paying attention to these early warning signs can help catch dehydration before it becomes an emergency. Be sure to monitor your cat closely and contact your vet if you notice any of these symptoms.

Encouraging Water Intake

There are several tips and tricks you can use to encourage your cat to drink more water:

Water fountains – Cats prefer running water, so investing in a cat fountain can entice them to drink more. The flowing motion keeps the water oxygenated and appealing. Make sure to clean and replace filters regularly.

Flavorings – Adding a small amount of low-sodium broth, juice from canned tuna, or even catnip to the water can make it more enticing. Just be sure not to make it too strong.

Multiple water bowls – Having bowls in several locations around the house increases access. Place bowls away from food to prevent food particles from getting in the water.

Try showing your cat the water, tapping the surface, or running a faucet to get their attention. Placing bowls in high traffic areas can help remind them to drink. Offer a variety of bowls, as some cats prefer wide, shallow bowls while others like narrower, deeper ones. With patience and creativity, you can find ways to get your cat drinking more.

Risks of Milk

While kittens need milk from their mother for nutrition, milk poses several risks for adult cats. Cow’s milk and dairy products contain lactose, which most cats struggle to properly digest due to lactose intolerance (1). Consuming milk and other dairy can lead to digestive upset in cats.

The lactose and casein proteins found in cow’s milk are difficult for cats to break down and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, gas, and abdominal pain (2). The high fat content of whole milk can also result in pancreatitis in some cats. Additionally, the nutrients in cow’s milk aren’t well suited to meet the needs of cats, so it should not be viewed as a substitute for balanced cat food.

Milk also poses risks beyond digestive issues. The high calcium content of cow’s milk can contribute to urinary tract problems in cats when consumed regularly. Any signs of illness after milk intake, like vomiting or diarrhea, warrant contacting your veterinarian.

Benefits of Water

Water provides many health benefits for cats. Most importantly, it helps maintain proper kidney function. Cats’ kidneys require sufficient hydration to flush out toxins and function properly. Dehydration can lead to kidney disease in cats. Drinking adequate water helps dilute the urine and prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Increases the moisture content of stools and aids in digestion. It also helps regulate body temperature, lubricate joints, and transport nutrients throughout the body. By ensuring cats have access to fresh, clean water at all times, owners can support kidney health, prevent UTIs, and keep cats hydrated. As the Korat Cat Blog notes, “Water is an essential element for maintaining a cat’s health. Cats require adequate water intake to regulate their body temperature, lubricate joints, and transport nutrients throughout the body.”

When to See a Vet

If signs of dehydration persist for more than 24 hours, it’s important to take your cat to see a veterinarian. The vet will run tests to determine if there is an underlying illness causing the dehydration. They may check bloodwork to look at red blood cell, potassium, and sodium levels which can indicate dehydration. The vet may also do a skin elasticity test by tenting the skin and checking how quickly it bounces back.

Severe dehydration can cause critical problems like heart arrhythmias, seizures, and kidney failure. It’s crucial to seek veterinary care if symptoms don’t improve with increased fluid intake at home. An extended period of dehydration requires immediate IV fluid therapy to restore hydration and electrolyte balance. The vet may give subcutaneous fluids under the skin or place an IV catheter for more intensive fluid administration. They’ll also provide supportive care to treat any underlying condition.

Don’t wait if your cat isn’t getting better. Dehydration can quickly become an emergency, so contact your vet right away if your cat has persistent signs like lethargy, weakness, sunken eyes, dry gums, or lack of elasticity in the skin. Prompt veterinary treatment is essential for restoring hydration and preventing complications from prolonged dehydration.


In conclusion, water is an essential part of a cat’s diet. Milk is not typically recommended for cats, except for kittens. As cats age, most of them lose the ability to digest milk properly. Drinking milk can cause digestive upset in adult cats.

Milk also does not provide all the nutrients a cat needs. Water helps cats stay hydrated and supports all bodily functions. Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Monitor their water intake and watch for signs of dehydration. Seek veterinary advice if you have any concerns about your cat’s hydration needs. The bottom line is that water is vital for cats, while milk is not necessary and can be problematic. Focus on providing plenty of water to support your cat’s health.

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