The archetypal image that many people have of cats is a kitten drinking milk out of a saucer. Current petcare advice now, however, is not to give cats dairy as most are lactose intolerant. So, what about buttermilk; can cats drink them?
Adult cats shouldn’t drink buttermilk as it contains lactose. Most cats are lactose intolerant and suffer gastrointestinal problems if they consume products that have lactose. As an alternative, you can make lactose-free buttermilk, use milk designed for cats, or offer a healthy cat treat.
This article will take a deep look at why cats shouldn’t consume buttermilk and what to give them in place of buttermilk.
Products Cats Should Never Consume
Before deciding if cats can drink buttermilk, we need to understand which food and drink cats should never consume.
Some foodstuffs are poisonous to cats, while cats have mild to severe intolerances to others.
Toxic foods for cats are those that should never be fed to a cat. They can cause a range of symptoms, including severe digestive problems, organ damage or failure, seizures, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases, death.
If a cat has eaten food from the toxic list, you should contact your vet urgently or call the ASPCA Poison Control Center.
Foods that are toxic to cats include:
- Citrus fruit
- Raw meat or fish
- Raw bread dough
- Raisins and grapes
The list of food intolerances in cats includes those that are not likely to cause severe, life-threatening problems.
However, you should still avoid giving your cat these products as they can cause digestive discomfort, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Food intolerance in cats is also similar to an allergy in that it can cause hives, welts, and swollen areas throughout the body.
Below are foods to which cats have intolerances:
- All dairy products
Lactose Intolerance in Cats
Not all cats are lactose intolerant, but the vast majority of adult cats cannot tolerate dairy.
A mother cat’s milk is highly nutritious for kittens and vital to their growth and development. Kittens who are still feeding on their mother aren’t lactose intolerant as their bodies still contain lactase, the essential enzyme responsible for breaking down the lactose in milk.
Lactose is the primary, complex carbohydrate in sugar and milk. When ingested by a mammal, it needs to be broken down into simpler sugars to be digested effectively.
Very soon after the weaning period, the level of lactase in a kitten’s body will slowly wane until it completely disappears. Some kittens lose lactase faster than others, and a small minority of adult cats still have low levels of lactase.
Since most adult cats are either lactose intolerant or have low lactase levels, the chances are great that they’ll experience digestive problems after consuming dairy products. It’s very rare to encounter a cat that can safely consume lactose-containing products.
If you want to check if your adult cat is lactose intolerant or not, offer them one tablespoon of milk or buttermilk. Monitor them closely for 24 hours and, if they don’t show any signs of gastrointestinal problems, they can probably handle a small amount of dairy occasionally as a treat.
Most veterinarians don’t recommend this, however, even in cats that aren’t lactose intolerant. Buttermilk and other dairy products don’t contain the essential nutrients your cat needs for optimal health and should, therefore, not be a part of their regular diet.
What Does Buttermilk Contain?
Most buttermilk currently sold in stores isn’t the traditional variety that was a by-product of the butter churning process that was never pasteurized.
Traditional buttermilk is now typically only found in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Modern buttermilk consists mainly of water, milk protein (or casein), and lactose. Although buttermilk contains protein, an essential nutrient for cats, the protein content isn’t high enough to be considered nutritious.
One cup of buttermilk typically contains 9 grams (0.31 oz) of protein, while the same quantity of high-quality cat food contains over 30 grams (1.05 oz) of protein.
Buttermilk typically contains between 9 and 12 grams (0.31 and 0.42 oz) of lactose per cup, similar to the lactose contained in one cup of whole, low-fat, or skim milk at 9 to 14 grams (0.31 and 0.49 oz).
It’s usually always homogenized, meaning the fat particles have been emulsified to form a creamy substance.
Additionally, modern buttermilk is normally pasteurized, and healthy gut bacteria, including Lactobacillus bulgaricus or Lactococcus lactis are added. These fermenting bacteria give buttermilk its tell-tale sour taste.
The bacteria in buttermilk also produce lactic acid, which increases the buttermilk’s acidity to prevent unhealthy bacterial growth and extend the product’s shelf life.
Buttermilk typically has a much creamier taste than regular milk and has a thicker consistency. Its creaminess is what is very attractive to most cats.
What Happens When Cats Consume Buttermilk?
Given that buttermilk has a similar lactose content to regular milk, you should avoid feeding it to your cat as it’s quite likely that your adult cat is lactose intolerant.
When cats consume buttermilk, they’ll probably experience gastrointestinal complaints within 12 hours. These include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.
If your cat is a kitten or one of the rare adult cats that aren’t lactose intolerant, they likely won’t experience any problems.
What To Give Cats in Place of Buttermilk
Cat owners often feel frustrated when they realize that their cat loves dairy products (including buttermilk), but dairy should be avoided since most cats are lactose intolerant.
The good news is that there are some lactose-free alternatives to buttermilk. Watch this YouTube video to find out what milk is good for your cat according to a veterinarian:
You could make your own lactose-free buttermilk by mixing one cup of lactose-free milk with one teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Ensure that the ingredients are combined well by stirring the mixture for a few minutes.
After leaving it to stand for ten minutes, you’ll have a good buttermilk substitute that is safe for your cat to drink.
Many cat food manufacturers now produce a range of lactose-free milk, especially for cats. These products are perfectly fine to give to your cat for an occasional treat. You can find these products for sale in most pet stores and grocery stores.
Even though lactose-free buttermilk and cat milk products are safe for cats, most vets recommend giving them to cats only on rare occasions or not at all.
If you’ve been giving your cat buttermilk as a treat, consider swapping out the treat in favor of a healthier alternative. There are many nutritious cat treats available that are not only delicious to cats but are completely safe for cats to consume.
If you aren’t sure which treat is suitable for your cat, consult with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to recommend a good, nutritious treat to give your cat, and can advise how often the treat should be given.
Most adult cats are lactose intolerant and shouldn’t drink buttermilk.
You can check if your adult cat is lactose intolerant by giving them a tablespoon of buttermilk (or other dairy product) and monitoring their response over 24 hours. If they experience diarrhea or another gastrointestinal problem, they’re probably lactose intolerant.
Kittens may be given minimal quantities of buttermilk as a rare treat as they can break down lactose.
Excellent alternatives to buttermilk include homemade, lactose-free buttermilk and milk made especially for cats.
You should only give these buttermilk alternatives on rare occasions as they don’t contain sufficient nutrients for cats.
- Pet Place: Cats Drinking Milk: Fact or Fiction?
- ASPCA: Animal Poison Control Center
- Britannica: Homogenization
- Wag!: Lactose Intolerance in Cats
- The Free Dictionary: Bacterial Culture
- Britannica: Pasteurization
- Drugs.com:Gastrointestinal Disorders
- Wikipedia: Lactase
- Medline Plus: Complex Carbohydrates
- Pets Web MD: Weaning in Kittens
- Wikipedia: Casein
- Britannica: Emulsion
- Healthline: Lactobacillus Bulgaricus
- Wikipedia:Lactococcus lactis.
- Live Science: What is Lactic Acid?
- YouTube: What milk is good for cats ? – Are kittens lactose intolerant? – VET ADVICE
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.