Mother cats feed their kittens milk for the first few weeks of life and it seems only natural that they should continue drinking milk after weaning. Milk is an important food for a cat — a very good source of protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus. Some cats, however, cannot tolerate cow’s milk as it gives them an upset stomach with chronic diarrhoea. If your cat is allergic to milk, you may have to provide it with calcium supplements.
The image of a cat contentedly lapping from a saucer of milk is a recurring one, symbolising all things feline. Yet not all cats like milk and some are allergic to it, which may be a serious condition.
Cat’s milk is richer in fat than that of cows or humans. It is also much richer in protein: put more specifically, feline milk is about 10 per cent protein, whereas human milk is only a little more than I per cent. Cat’s milk is also lower in sugar than cow’s milk and considerably lower than human milk.
As a kitten suckles, it pushes its forepaws against its mother’s body, in a characteristic action known as ‘milk treading’ . It is this action that stimulates the mother to let down milk.
Eastern breeds of cat are more likely to be allergic to milk than other cats.
Cats that drink milk rarely drink water.
Most cats are partial to milk.
Their mother feeds them herself when they are kittens and most of them continue drinking it in the form of cow’s milk after weaning. So it’s hardly surprising that the first thing most people offer to a hungry stray cat is a saucer of milk. For most cats, milk is an important part of the diet, and is a rich source of protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus.
Fresh milk should therefore be offered on a daily basis. The cream at the top of a bottle of milk is best, as the fat is more concentrated here. There are, however, some cats that do not like milk and, more importantly, others that are allergic to it, to a greater or lesser extent.
Allergy to milk is not uncommon — in cats or humans. It is caused by a deficiency of lactase, which is the enzyme that digests milk sugar (lactose). The telling sign of
allergy is chronic diarrhoea, which should always be taken seriously. If your cat is allergic to milk, the cat’s diet should be modified to exclude milk and milk products such as cheese and butter. Depending on the type of food you choose, extra calcium supplements may be necessary — so take your vet’s advice. In very mild cases, it may be enough just to dilute milk with water.
Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that newborn kittens are orphaned — which deprives them not only of their mother but also of their source of food. This means that their owners have to play ‘mum’ and find alternatives to cat’s milk. Because cat’s milk is much higher in protein and fat than cow’s milk, a kitten will not thrive on cow’s milk alone. There are several alternatives, including commercial cat milk substitutes, which must be prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions, formula baby milk, which should be mixed at twice the concentration recommended for babies, evaporated milk and goat’s milk.