Feline and Human Lactose Intolerance: Cause and Effect

feline lactose intolerance

No! This is wrong…Poster from about 1901

People who know about the food requirements of the domestic cat understand that they are lactose intolerant. I suppose there are degrees of lactose intolerance so that some domestic cats will tolerate cow’s milk better than others but by and large cats should not be fed the milk that billions of people drink daily and neither should they be fed cream but some cheese is either naturally lactose-free of treated during manufacture to make it lactose-free.

Why are domestic cats lactose intolerant? Well, there comes a time when a mother decides to wean her kittens. Kittens rarely wean themselves. The mother prevents her kittens having access to her milk. The kittens come hungry and seek alternative food sources.

In the meantime the mother brings back prey to the den and tears it up so that it is easier for her kittens to eat. Up until this point the kittens’ digestive tract is geared up to digest mother’s milk. Milk sugar is lactose and an enzyme, lactase, breaks it down.

When milk sugar is substituted for the sugars in muscle the kitten develops an alternative enzyme called sucrase to break it down. Lactase has been substituted for sucrase whereupon the kitten is no longer able to digest milk.

Lactose intolerance means that when a cat ingests lactose it can cause diarrhoea, gas, cramping, bloating and feeling sick.

This in turn can lead to the cat feeling sufficiently unwell to be apathetic. The same thing can happen to people too. For people, lactose intolerance is caused by an insufficient amount of lactase leading to lactose staying in the digestive system where it is fermented by bacteria causing the symptoms mentioned above for cats – the symptoms are the same.

There is another aspect to this: many people are also intolerant to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is meant to be drunk by cows and not by humans. I always drink lactose free milk because if I don’t, the cow’s milk irritates my sinuses so that if I catch a cold I invariably develop a secondary bacterial infection in my sinuses. Since drinking lactose free milk this has hardly ever happened. I wonder if some cats are both lactose intolerant and cow’s milk intolerant?

For centuries domestic cats have been fed cow’s milk! I immediately wonder how many millions of hours have elapsed during which domestic cats have felt apathetic and ill simply because their owner fed them cow’s milk. A great shame and a blot on the copybook of centuries of domestic cat welfare but at the time people simply were unaware.

There are many paintings, posters and photographs of cats drinking milk and even today there are probably millions of people putting down milk for their cat when really it is not the right thing to do. Cats like milk, even though it is not good for them, because of the fat content. Fat is high in calories for energy. It’s about survival.

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Feline and Human Lactose Intolerance: Cause and Effect — 15 Comments

  1. This a jolt to the nerve fibers, but think Leopold & Molly Bloom.

    Now that you’ve conjured up that vision, think of a six-year-old Hogan the Hulk, a 14 lb., furry black blimp of a cat doing this to his poor, defenseless Mother McCree. A couple of friends from years past – and no, they weren’t ignoramuses (both were dentists),though they never spayed her – had always to monitor H. the H., because each time his mother produced a litter of kittens, he’d amble upstairs when their backs were turned, search her out, and push the kittens aside. A startling vignette.

    As for lactose intolerance in humans, it is hard to imagine what this must be like. To the end of his days, Gandhi blamed himself for his inability to give up milk: though goat’s milk, which he favored, should have been easy enough to forgo. While there are people who consider themselves animal rights proponents (too ashamed to use the 1st person pronoun here), they’re well aware that dairy produce causes the cruelest suffering to cows and their calves, a form of abuse impossible to justify. Knowing this, they become so desperate when the milk runs out, they’ll brave flood, fire and earthquakes to rush out of their house barefoot on shards of glass, if need be, to bring home several gallons of org. milk from the grocery store. To go without milk is a howling, near strait-jacket deprivation for addicts of this stripe. End result: granite-strong bones, and a conscience swarming with maggots. Just how furious is the addiction? If anyone on PoC remembers Berkeley Breathed’s (sp) comic strip depiction of Steve in the throes of his nicotine withdrawal – eyes starting out of their sockets, hair on end, and tied by Opus the Penguin to a chair that his writhings turn into a pogo-stick with which he bounces off the ceilings and walls of the padlocked room – then you have an idea.

    It is distressing to think cats are unable to digest milk, as most seem to enjoy it. In fact, ‘back on the farm,’ they used to stand around whilst you milked the cows, waiting for you to squirt a stream in their direction. In fact, they lapped up chicken mash & milk porridge – inappropriate as that fare surely was, and no doubt a reason they seldom reached a great old age.

    • There is a very interesting photograph of a farm cat drinking cow’s milk straight from the udder. It looks really interesting but it’s the wrong liquid for the barn cat. The cat probably scuttled off to a corner of the barn within several hours with a keen desire to go to the toilet! Perhaps not.

      Some people think that nobody should drink cow’s milk because, as I stated, in the article, the stuff is for calves and not humans. I wonder how many human health problems have been caused over the years through drinking cow’s milk which compounds what you say in your comment namely that dairy produce causes the cruellest suffering to cows and their calves.

      It is rather ironic that suffering begats suffering.

    • Miss Sylvie, my summers were spent on my Grandma Flora’s farm down below St. Louis, and I remember so vividly helping her feed the herd in the early morning after we had our cornbread, bacon and sugarandcream-jacked coffee. The herd (she only had three Jerseys) was comprised of about fifteen cats and younguns who would sit outside of the kitchen screendoor, waiting for their warm mash of bacon fat, cornbread and fresh milk. Two of my uncles, when they were teens, had built a feeding platform four feet off the ground on an old black walnut tree, directly behind the screened door. I loved sleeping in her bed and waking up with her to watch her brush and braid her long grayed hair, and then go out to watch her milk her Jersey cows. You just brought back such fond memories! <3

  2. Okay, M, you tend to transpose, don’t you.

    “When milk sugar is substituted for the sugars in muscle the kitten develops an alternative enzyme called sucrase to break it down. Lactase has been substituted for sucrase whereupon the kitten is no longer able to digest milk.”

    You failed to state, as far as I can tell, the nature of the mother cat’s milk.

    In any case, goat’s milk is sometimes, in fact, very often, a good substitute for those products that are easily fed to a kitten/cat who needs the calories and craves the fat of a milk that they were weaned off of as a kitten. Does that make sense? Some cheeses are fine, some yogurts are fine (depending on the number of bacterial cultures used to break down the lactose). Goat’s milk still contains lactose, just not as much as cow’s milk, which is inappropriate for any cat. Camel’s milk? I’m not sure. 😉 If you can afford to give your cat the enzyme lactase, more power to you, but why? Let them lick your greek 5-cultured yogurt spoon, especially after a course of antibiotics. It will not do her/them/him any harm. 😉

  3. I’m sorry, Michael. I misinterpreted what you wrote.
    By the way, I am lactose-intolerant, due to my Cherokee blood. But I don’t believe that. I might as well be Chinese, really. It also is a condition caused by living on cow’s milk as a child.

      • Well, I really don’t know what you want me to say, Micahel… I am not Cherokee, yet I am instilled with the ability to feel what my kindred spirits feel, including my ancestors from the Giza, the Egyptians.

        May I remind you? Long time ago, I asked you to write an article on the ancient Egyptians. Look back. Use “Egyptian” as a keyword, Michael. 😉

          • And what do you consider yourself to be, as far as that “mystical and mysterious?” 😉 We would like to know. At least, those of us who do not know “which way you lean. I know. I feel the same way. I respect everyone elses religious believes, but I personally? do not believe in a religion.

            That, as you know, does not carry any weight against my spiritualism.

            • I am atheist and a realist. I believe in equality for all including non-human animals. I believe in fairness, justice and honesty. I believe is trying to do what is right – absolutely right.

  4. Michael, is Charlie sleeping by your side, before you get up in the morning? Shrimptaro sleeps up against my knees with his forearms laying across my thighs, and I love waking up to his purrs… They just reverberate throughout my entire body, and then I wake up feeling like a CAT! prrrr….. 😉

  5. I know, you’ve said this before. A neighbor’s cat, Oreo,, loves to sleep on me with Shrimp on my couch in the front room. He sleeps on his back like Shrimp, but he loves to wrestle in his dreams from his childhood, and wakes me up. I, like you and so many of us, am a light sleeper. But it is so endearing that I would rather lose sleep than disturb him. So it seems that you inadvertently conditioned Charlie. 😉 That okay you know. I’m glad that you get some rest. <3

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