Kittens feed exclusively on breast milk from birth until weaning (about 6 weeks of age). During this lactation stage, kittens have large amounts of lactase (the enzyme that synthesizes lactose), as they grow, the amount of the enzyme decreases, and in some kittens it disappears; this is why some of them become Lactose intolerance.
The lack of lactase production is not the same in all cats and there are some that continue to produce it as adults, so they can consume dairy products without problems. But the opposite generally occurs and there are more cases in which adult cats are not able to properly digest lactose and that is when it is often believed that the cat is allergic to milk. And at this point it is important to differentiate food intolerance from food allergy.
Intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest food, in this case the lactose contained in milk; food allergies, on the other hand, involve the processes of the immune system, resulting in hypersensitivity reactions when in contact with the allergen (lactose) and cause allergic reactions. While lactose intolerance is common in adult cats, allergies are not.
Differences between food allergy symptoms and intolerance:
- Mainly gastrointestinal signs
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal swelling
- Gastrointestinal and dermatological signs
- Itching, alopecia, scaling
- Increased gas elimination
- Recurrent otitis
Rarely breathing problems
As you can see there are some signs that are repeated therefore it is important that if you see any you go to the veterinarian so that he can make the correct diagnosis. The diagnosis is usually made through exclusion, this means removing milk from the feline’s diet and seeing the evolution of clinical signs, but if the signs are more severe, they may include blood tests.
The prognosis is generally favorable if the agent causing the intolerance is eliminated from the diet. There are more complex cases where the intestine may be damaged and require pharmacological treatment.
Currently it is not necessary to supplement the diet of felines with milk, since the nutrients are acquired from formulated diets. There are people who give it as a reward, but as we mentioned before, it is more likely that an adult cat is intolerant and we are causing it a problem rather than a benefit.
Baby cats should drink milk
When a cat is born it is a very weak being. His senses are not yet fully developed and his immune system is very fragile. Still, the only thing they need to get ahead is their mother. She will guide them so that they are not harmed, she will protect them from the cold and she will feed them with her milk. Said milk contains all the necessary nutrients to be able to live and this is the case until weaning occurs, more or less at 8 weeks of life.
During the time that the cat is nursing her young, they continuously produce the enzyme lactase. This enzyme is responsible for “breaking” lactose (present in milk) into the two simple sugars that make it up: galactose and glucose.
Since the body can only absorb simple sugars, it can be specified by saying that lactase is responsible for animals and humans being able to digest lactose. That is what prevents us from intolerances and hence small kittens are not lactose intolerant. Now, this is not the case for some adult cats. Why? Keep reading!
Cats are lactose intolerant, but as adults (and not all)
When weaning occurs, the kittens will already be ready to take solid food and it is normal for them to switch to these. Leaving milk aside, lactase production decreases, to the point of disappearing. That is why some Cats Lactose Intolerant as adults.
However, the lack of production of the enzyme lactase is not identical in all felines. For example, if the cat has been able to continue to consume breast milk beyond the time he should have stopped suckling, he may continue to produce lactase for some time. But this is not common. For this reason, when some guardians offer their cat milk and see an adverse reaction in it, it is usually said that it is allergic. This is a mistake, because an intolerance is not the same as an allergy.
If the cat drinks milk and nothing happens to him, can I continue to offer it?
One thing must be clear: milk is not part of the essential food for the cat. That means that, whether they are intolerant, allergic or not, it is not necessary to offer it to them.
Felines are strictly carnivorous animals and although other elements can be included in their diet in small portions, such as fruits and vegetables, their main source of food is meat.
When cats are lactose intolerant, it is clear that we must completely eliminate it from their diet. But if it has already been offered and the cat has not shown adverse reactions and, in addition, loves it, it can be given following some advice.
Give small doses of milk and very infrequently.
Avoid cow’s milk , as it is one of the most fatty. It is better to give sheep or goat milk. If it is lactose-free or semi-skimmed milk, better.
Another option is to choose special milk for cats, which is the milk that is usually given to puppies when they are separated from their mother and cannot breastfeed.
Yogurts or dairy derivatives have less lactose than milk, but if they are offered a little, it must be taken into account that they cannot have sugars or other derivatives.
Now you know that cats can drink milk as puppies, but as adults, many cats are lactose intolerant, so it’s best to avoid it. Take care of your pet’s health!