If you are a cat owner, gaining a basic understanding of feline nutrition is important, because it will allow you to offer your pet the right foods and drinks, and avoid those that can cause harm. One of the most crucial things to stay away from is cow’s milk and the main reason for this is because it contains lactose, which cats cannot digest properly. However, naturally, this opens up questions about various other lactose-free milk alternatives.
So can cats drink soy milk? While it is unlikely to do any harm in small amounts, it is still not ideal. A cat’s stomach will find it difficult to break down some of the sugars found in soy milk, even if it is unsweetened. It is also very high in calories, which makes it an obesity risk.
Generally speaking, most experts agree that it is best to avoid giving your cat soy milk so that it never develops a taste for it. Aside from kittens, who should only drink milk from their mother or a special cat milk replacement formula, cats do not actually need milk in their diet at all. With that being said, as I will cover later on, there are some specially formulated alternatives, which are suitable for cats and which can offer nutritional benefits.
Can Cats Safely Drink Soy Milk?
Cat owners are increasingly aware of the fact that cats are lactose intolerant, which means cow’s milk is unsuitable for them and can cause serious digestive issues. Additionally, some cats are allergic to cow’s milk and while small kittens do require milk, this is supposed to come from either their mother or from a carefully formulated cat milk replacement product. Many owners are less clear, however, about the suitability of soy milk.
On the surface, soy milk would seem to be an ideal replacement for cow’s milk, for several reasons. Firstly, it does not contain lactose, which means the primary problem associated with cow’s milk is eliminated. Secondly, soy is actually a listed ingredient in a number of commercially available cat food products.
However, unfortunately, the realities are somewhat more complicated. While soy is used in small amounts in some cat food products, it is not really a recommended part of a cat’s diet. This is because, in larger amounts, it can elevate a cat’s blood sugar and even cause damage to a cat’s thyroid, potentially leading to hyperthyroidism.
Furthermore, most soy milk contains Raffinose and Stachyose, which are types of sugars. Much like with lactose, the enzymes that a cat’s digestive system produces are unable to break these sugars down sufficiently. In large quantities, this can lead to problems like vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence, bloating and abdominal pain.
If the soy milk you feed your cat is sweetened, it is even more likely to cause some of these problems, because it will either contain extra sugar, or it will contain artificial sweeteners and some of these are harmful to cats and other pets. If your soy milk contains additional sugars, it also potentially poses some additional health risks, because it could contribute to tooth decay and even diabetes.
Finally, one of the single biggest arguments against feeding your cat soy milk is the fact that it is extremely high in calories. In actual fact, depending on the size of your cat and its recommended daily calorie intake, a cup of soy milk can account for as much as half of your cat’s allowance, while offering very few of its nutritional requirements. This not only makes it an inefficient choice – it means it can very quickly and easily contribute to feline obesity.
So, to summarise, while soy can be consumed by cats in small quantities, soy milk is not recommended for them.
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Is Soy Milk Acceptable As a Rare Treat?
Now that we have established that soy milk is unlikely to cause any harm in small amounts, you may be wondering: can I give my cat soy milk on rare occasions, as a treat? The simple answer to this question is ‘yes’, although you should watch out for any adverse reactions and stop if your cat appears to be having any issues. However, it is important that the word ‘occasional’ is understood to mean very rarely, rather than several times a week.
To be clear, if you leave some soy milk lying around the house and your cat drinks it, you do not need to panic, as it is very unlikely to cause any harm at all. It is possible that your cat might experience bloating or other minor digestive problems, but even these are unlikely after a single incident. Similarly, if you have been unaware of the downsides of soy milk and have fed it to your cat already, you do not need to worry.
Nevertheless, for the reasons previously outlined, it is not ideal from a nutritional standpoint and has no real value for cats. It is, in the most simple terms, unnecessary addition to your pet’s diet. Therefore, it is probably sensible to consider whether or not it is worthwhile to give your cat soy milk in the first place and to allow it to develop a taste for something that is potentially harmful in larger quantities.
As I stated earlier, it is also high in calories and can easily lead to over-feeding. For these reasons, I would personally advise steering clear of it and finding an alternative treat for your cat, which can be provided more readily, which is less likely to contribute towards obesity, and which does not pose any health risks at all.
What Type of Milk Can Cats Drink?
At this stage, you are likely to be asking: if I cannot feed my cat cow’s milk or soy milk, what types of milk can I use? For adult cats, the truth is that your options are actually very limited, because most milk varieties either contain sugars that cats cannot digest properly, or are far too calorie dense. Almond milk, for instance, is not toxic to cats but falls short for many of the same reasons that soy milk does.
For young kittens, milk is very important, but this must either be milk directly from its mother, or a cat milk replacement formula, which has been specifically designed to be consumed by kittens. The replacement products are commercially available and are formulated to provide similar amounts of protein and fat as real cat milk. They also tend to be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, enhancing a kitten’s immune system.
However, consumption of cat milk or cat milk replacement should only last for a fairly short time. Indeed, cats tend to start weaning their kittens off of milk from the age of around four weeks onwards and kittens should usually be eating solid foods by around the eight-week mark. From around the ten-week mark, kittens’ bodies stop producing the lactase enzyme, which is used to break down lactose. Therefore, they should not return to milk after this point.
From then on, the only 100 per cent safe option is to buy a cat-friendly milk product. These products are made by many major manufacturers, like Whiskas, TopLife and Pets at Home, and supermarket owns brands are also available. Cat-friendly milk tends to contain less than 0.2 per cent lactose and ingredients are carefully devised to offer nutritional value for cats while avoiding the various digestive problems caused by a cow, soy or almond milk.
Is Cat-Friendly Milk Necessary?
The final thing to say on this issue is that, while cat-friendly milk products are perfectly safe for cats to drink, they are still not actually necessary. Cats are obligate carnivores and get all of the essential nutrients they require from meat and have no nutritional requirement for milk, aside from when they are kittens. Meanwhile, high-quality wet cat food and some water will be enough to keep your cat adequately hydrated.
That is not to say that cat-friendly milk has no value at all. On the contrary, most of these products are very carefully designed to include calcium, vitamins and minerals that can contribute to keeping your cat healthy. In particular, they can help to improve your cat’s immune system, to keep its coat healthy, to aid with digestion, to improve bone strength and to guard against problems like tooth decay.
More importantly, however, cat-friendly milk products can also help to encourage your cat to actually drink fluids. This is important because many cats are reluctant to drink water and gain a lot of their fluids from their food. Yet, if you are feeding your cat dry cat food, or if your cat is experiencing a loss of appetite, it can be very easy for him or her to become dehydrated. This, in turn, can lead to some unpleasant symptoms.
Unlike cow’s milk or soy milk, cat-friendly milk products are not likely to contribute to any stomach or digestive problems. They are also significantly less dense in calories, reducing the risk of obesity.
Therefore, while cat-friendly milk is not necessary at all, it may be worth buying if your cat enjoys it.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.