Q & A: yoghurt for cats?

Q: Can I give my cat yoghurt to eat?

A: There is definitely some reason for concern when giving your cat dairy products. Some cats, however, may retain the ability to digest milk throughout their lives. Both dogs and cats can be lactose intolerant and cats are more likely to experience problems.

When young cats nurse, their bodies produce high levels of an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the lactose sugars found in their mother’s milk.

As they get older, their bodies produce less and less lactase, making it difficult for them to digest any type of milk. Since they are unable to break down the lactose in dairy products, this leaves lactose sugar in their intestinal tract for bacteria to ferment. This fermentation process produces gas, which causes cramps and in some cases diarrhoea.

When considering giving your cat dairy products like milk or yoghurt, there is a difference between products. That is because the amount of lactose varies from dairy product to dairy product.

Regular milk has the highest amount of lactose, while some milk by-products have less lactose than milk. Goat milk is easier to digest because it has smaller fat globules and easier digestible protein molecules. Because it is more completely digested in the intestinal tract, there is less fermentation and therefore less gas being produced.

In some cats even consuming a tiny amount of yoghurt can cause gastrointestinal upsets, and feline patients with a history of skin or stomach problems should rather avoid any product before consulting with your veterinarian first.

Also remember that giving yoghurt to your cat as a source of probiotics is not sufficient enough on its own, as it does not contain high enough levels of probiotic bacteria.

Dr Letitia Swartz, veterinarian

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