Cats are notoriously known for eagerly lapping up a bowl of milk as a special treat. Cats happily enjoy this luxury, but as many cat owners can testify, the unpleasant consequences of feeding their kitty dairy products can be pretty catastrophic. How can one know whether your furry friend has the misfortune of being lactose intolerant?

Kittens start producing less of the lactase enzyme needed to digest milk after six months old. Younger kittens have a significantly lower risk of suffering from lactose intolerance than older cats. Most older cats are lactose intolerant to a lesser or greater extent.

But what exactly is lactose intolerance, and what steps can you take to ensure that your fur baby avoids any unnecessary pain and suffering?  There are a few considerations to consider when confirming that the unpleasant symptoms are caused by lactose intolerance and not by something else such as food allergies or other health concerns that may have similar symptoms.

What Exactly Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose, the cruel torturer responsible for preventing both humans and our furry friends from enjoying our favorite treats in peace, is a type of sugar found in milk.  It is the culprit to many an upset stomach. Humans and cats suffer from the adverse effects of consuming lactose because our digestive systems do not produce the enzyme lactase needed to help us digest dairy products. We can all sympathize with our cats when they crave the taste of dairy but have to resist the temptation to overindulge.

This happy period is short-lived, though, as kittens make the change from milk to solid food in roughly four to six weeks. Deprived of the delicious milk, kittens are forced to start eating a staple diet of meat such as chicken, fish, formulated dry food, or beef. It is around this time that kittens start producing smaller amounts of the lactase enzyme. This is a natural process as their digestive systems mature to digest the solid food they will need to meet their nutritional requirements as they grow older.

Your older kitty produces far lower levels of lactase. This is a natural process as your cat matures and his dietary needs change. The level of lactose intolerance will differ from cat to cat, but generally, older cats are way more prone to exhibiting severe symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Why Do Cats Enjoy Dairy Products?

Cats are very particular about what they enjoy, and once they find something they like, they never forget it! My ginger cat has a special place in his heart for yogurt. I am unable to eat these treats without him begging and moaning for a serving. As it turns out, it is the protein and fat content of these treats that cats are after. Adequate amounts of protein and fat in a cats’ diet are crucial to its well-being. No wonder dairy is so attractive to your cat as it is not only delicious but has the added benefit of large portions of protein and fat. What a pity that lactose throws a spanner in the works of an otherwise treat made in heaven. You are not depriving your cat if you decide not to risk treating him to a dairy treat. 

Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance

The unfortunate consequences of overindulging your cat with their favorite dairy treat can be rather messy and painful. The first signs of lactose intolerance may start to manifest roughly eight to twelve hours after the offending treat has been devoured.

Constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea may lead to more severe conditions such as dehydration. Your typically graceful and elegant feline may also exhibit excessive gas. Yes, kitty farts. Be kind and pretend that this never happened as your fur baby would naturally be mortified and distressed.

Bloating is also a common symptom and may cause discomfort and abdominal pain. Symptoms associated with dehydration such as polydipsia or increased thirst and dry gums are a cause of concern as severe dehydration can cause serious health problems for a cat. Lastly, your cat’s heart rate will increase as his body struggles to absorb the problematic lactose in his system.

There are some serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastrointestinal cancer, and bacterial infection that your cat may be suffering from that have similar symptoms to lactose intolerance. This is the reason why a consultation with your vet will be critical, as you would want to rule out these possibilities and seek out the most appropriate treatment.

How To Treat Lactose Intolerance

Do not ignore severe symptoms of lactose intolerance. If your cat has been vomiting and suffering from diarrhea for an extended amount of time, make sure to consult your vet. This is because dehydration can cause the demise of your cat. Hydration is vital for keeping your cat healthy as it helps your cat expel harmful toxins. Just a tiny drop of 10 to 12 percent in hydration levels can be critical.

There are a few ways to assess the level of dehydration your cat may be experiencing; A skin turgor test can be performed at home. Pull back or pinch the loose neck skin at the top of your cats’ head. The rate at which the skin returns to its original position will indicate the level of dehydration. The slower it takes, the more severe the dehydration. You can also try to check whether the gums are dry and lacking in adequate moisture. Consulting your vet would be advisable, especially if your cat is in significant distress.

Keep in mind that the symptoms of lactose intolerance could be similar to that of more serious conditions such as gastrointestinal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or bacterial infection that you would want to rule out. X-rays, blood work, and testing for parasites would be measures your vet will take to ensure that your cat gets the correct treatment. Your vet would then be able to best advise on the way forward.

If the level of dehydration dips too low, your vet will administer an intravenous fluid into the skin at the top of his neck. If there is severe dehydration, a hospital stay may be in order while your cat recovers.

For mild dehydration, your vet will advise you on treatments that you can administer at home.  A Subcutaneous Fluid would be the typical treatment here. 

What Are The Alternatives?

 Milk has no nutritional benefit for a cat, so you are not depriving your cat of anything should you cut dairy out of his diet. The option of simply eliminating dairy would probably be the most advisable as most adult cats would be lactose intolerant. The most important thing a cat needs to thrive is lots of water, as this is what is needed to keep him hydrated and eliminate harmful toxins from his system.

Choosing a dairy treat for the occasional spoil should be carefully considered. Yogurt, cheese, and other fermented dairy products could be an option as they contain somewhat lower levels of lactose. Be aware of artificial flavors and preservatives found in dairy products, as these may be harmful. Make sure that you especially avoid chocolate in products such as yogurt.

Another possible option is unpasteurized dairy products, as lactose levels are far lower.

If you would like to treat your younger cat or kitten to a dairy treat, your vet can advise you on some milk replacement products that are specifically formulated for kittens and younger cats. Try to stay clear of milk replacements meant for humans, such as soy milk or lactose-free milk. These products may contain other additives that may be harmful to your cat. 


Being vigilant about your cats’ reaction to certain foods is a good exercise as you can spot the symptoms of lactose intolerance early. Should you decide to give your cat the occasional treat, be mindful of the portion. Remember that should your kitty have a severe reaction to her dairy treats, you need to consult your vet to ensure that she doesn’t suffer dehydration.