How Much Milk Should You Give Your Cat?

This article aims to inform cat owners about how much and what type of milk they can safely give their cats. Cats are commonly associated with drinking milk, but the truth is that most adult cats are lactose intolerant and cannot properly digest the lactose in regular cow’s milk. While giving a small amount of milk as an occasional treat is usually fine, milk should never make up a significant part of a cat’s diet. Kittens do require milk for proper nutrition, but pet-specific milk replacement formulas are better than regular cow’s milk. For adult cats, small amounts of lactose-free milk or treats made for cats can satisfy their cravings for milk without upsetting their stomachs. This article provides guidelines on safe amounts of different types of milk so cat owners can make informed decisions.


Kittens Need Milk

Kittens rely on their mother’s milk for the first 4-6 weeks of life in order to get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. Mother’s milk contains important antibodies and nutrients specifically formulated to meet the needs of growing kittens. Kittens should nurse frequently, as often as every 1-2 hours in the first few weeks of life.

If a kitten is orphaned or rejected by its mother, milk replacer formulas designed specifically for kittens can serve as an alternative to mother’s milk. According to WebMD, kitten milk replacers are the best alternative and should be fed according to package directions. Cow’s milk or other milks made for humans can sometimes be used in a pinch, but may cause diarrhea or intestinal upset in kittens.

Weaning kittens off milk generally begins around 3-4 weeks of age, as they transition to eating solid food more and nursing less. But kittens still benefit from continuing to nurse or drink formula until about 6-8 weeks old as milk provides an important source of nutrition in their early development.

Adult Cats Don’t Need Milk

Unlike kittens, most adult cats are lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the enzyme needed to digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk (Purina). Cow’s milk and other dairy products contain high amounts of lactose that adult cats simply can’t digest properly.

When an adult cat drinks milk, the undigested lactose in their intestine pulls water into the intestine via osmosis. This leads to diarrhea and digestive upset. At best, drinking milk may give your cat an upset stomach accompanied by vomiting or loose stools. At worst, it can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration (PetMD).

While some cats may be able to tolerate small amounts of milk, it’s best not to give your adult cat any milk at all. The risks outweigh any potential benefits.

Small Amounts as a Treat

While milk should not be a regular part of your cat’s diet, small amounts can be given as an occasional treat. According to Chewy, you can give your cat up to 1-2 tablespoons of milk once or twice a week if they are not lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.

The key is to only give milk in very small quantities as a snack. More than a tablespoon or two can cause digestive upset. Stick to just a teaspoon or two to be safe, especially when first introducing milk.

Milk should never make up a significant portion of your cat’s diet. It does not provide complete nutrition like cat food does. But as an occasional treat in tiny amounts, milk is usually fine for cats who tolerate it well.

Best Types of Milk

Goat’s milk is often recommended over cow’s milk for cats. Goat’s milk contains less lactose and is easier for many cats to digest than cow’s milk, even for lactose-intolerant cats. The proteins in goat’s milk are also closer in structure to feline milk proteins than cow’s milk proteins, making it gentler on a cat’s stomach.

According to Pawlicy, goat’s milk contains less than ten percent lactose compared to cow’s milk which contains around twelve percent. The fattier composition of goat’s milk may also benefit cats better than skim varieties of cow’s milk.

If offering goat’s milk, introduce it slowly and in small amounts to watch for any intolerance. Opt for plain, full-fat goat’s milk and avoid flavored varieties. [1]

Watch for Signs of Intolerance

Cats who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk may show signs of intolerance after consuming milk. The most common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Diarrhea – Milk may cause loose, watery stools in cats who are intolerant. Diarrhea often begins within 8-12 hours after drinking milk. Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so consult your vet if it persists. (1)
  • Vomiting – Some cats may vomit after drinking milk, especially if they drink a large amount too quickly. Vomiting is a sign the milk is upsetting their digestive system. (1)
  • Gas – Lactose intolerant cats often get gassy after drinking milk. This is caused by undigested lactose fermenting in the gut. Excessive gas can be uncomfortable for cats.

If your cat shows signs of intolerance, stop giving them milk and see your veterinarian if symptoms persist. They can test for allergies and prescribe medications to manage symptoms.

Other Treats and Food

While milk is not recommended for adult cats, there are many other healthy treats and snacks you can give your cat in moderation. Some healthy alternatives include:

Fish: Many cats love fish, and omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help promote a shiny coat and healthy skin. Just a small amount of cooked salmon, tuna, or fish broth makes a tasty treat (Chewy).

Chicken: Lean cooked chicken breast with no bones or skin is an excellent source of protein for cats. Chop it up into bite-sized pieces for a tasty snack (NBC News).

Vegetables: Some cats enjoy small amounts of blanched green beans, carrots, or sweet potatoes. Just be sure to introduce new foods slowly (The Spruce Pets).

Cat grass: Growing and offering cat grass provides fiber and aids digestion. It also satisfies cats’ instinct to chew on greens (Chewy).

Commercial treats: Look for high-protein, low-carb commercial treats made from real meat, fish, or poultry. Avoid treats with artificial colors or preservatives (NBC News).

Always introduce new treats slowly and in small quantities to avoid upsetting your cat’s stomach. Make treats no more than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake.

When to See a Vet

If your cat shows signs of lactose intolerance like diarrhea, vomiting, or gas after consuming milk, you should monitor their symptoms closely. In most cases, symptoms will resolve on their own within 12-24 hours as the lactose passes through their system.

However, if symptoms persist beyond 24 hours, seem to be getting worse, or your cat appears lethargic or dehydrated, it’s best to make an appointment with your veterinarian. According to the Animal Emergency Care of Braselton, “A cat in this poorly state must be taken to a vet. Depending on the extent of the diarrhea, they may be dehydrated and require an infusion.” (

Your vet can examine your cat, provide supportive care like fluids if needed, and rule out any underlying conditions contributing to ongoing intolerance issues. With prompt veterinary attention, most cats fully recover from milk intolerance episodes.

Milk Substitutes

While adult cats don’t need cow’s milk, you should provide specially formulated milk replacements to kittens who have been orphaned or separated from their mother. According to Kitten Formula & Milk Replacer from Petco, kitten milk replacers provide essential nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins that are critical for proper growth and development.

Look for milk replacers specifically designed for kittens like KMR® Kitten Milk Replacer Powder, which contains key ingredients like whey protein concentrate and calcium carbonate per the manufacturer’s website. Follow the mixing instructions carefully and avoid overfeeding. Consult your vet if you have concerns about your kitten’s growth or if they show signs of gastrointestinal distress.

Once kittens are over 12 weeks old, slowly transition them to wet and dry kitten foods. But continue providing extra hydration and nutrition with kitten milk supplements if needed.


In summary, while milk is an important part of a kitten’s diet, most adult cats do not need milk at all. Giving a small amount of milk or milk substitute as an occasional treat is fine for some cats, but be cautious and watch for signs of digestive upset or intolerance. Other treats and a nutritionally balanced cat food are better options for day-to-day feeding. Consult your veterinarian if your cat is showing concerning symptoms after consuming milk. The key is to be informed about your cat’s individual needs and preferences when it comes to milk and treats.

The best practice is to avoid giving milk altogether unless kittens need it, and even then specialized kitten formula is a better choice. For adult cats, focus on a healthy balanced diet, enrich their environment, and give non-milk treats sparingly.

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