Image via iStock.com/douglascraig
By Dr. Sarah Wooten
People may think that you can give kittens a saucer of milk, but is cow milk actually healthy for kittens? What about soy milk, goat milk or almond milk? Are those healthy choices to feed kittens if they are orphaned from their mother?
Can Kittens Drink Milk?
The short answer: The only milk that is healthy for kittens to drink is either their mother’s, or they will need a kitten milk replacer, which can also be called KMR or kitten milk formula. Kittens lack the proper enzymes to digest the lactose in cow milk, and feeding cow milk to kittens can cause diarrhea and dehydration very quickly in very small kittens. This is why it is important to avoid feeding cow milk to kittens.
Can You Give Kittens Soy Milk or Almond Milk?
Because kittens have such sensitive stomachs, it is important to avoid feeding kittens other milks as well, such soy milk, almond milk or any of the other nut milks. Nut milks and soy milk do not provide the appropriate balance of amino acids needed for cats because cats are obligate carnivores and must eat animal products or they will become malnourished.
What About Goat Milk for Kittens?
If you do an online search, you may notice that some people recommend goat milk for kittens. But most veterinarians will discourage feeding goat milk to kittens because there are better kitten formula options available that are complete, balanced and a good fit for a kitten’s digestive system.
Feeding Kitten Milk Formulas
In addition to PetAg KMR powder, products like PetAg KMR liquid, Hartz KMR powdered formula and GNC Pets ultra mega premium kitten milk replacer powder are good options to feed kittens who are too young to eat solid food and still need to drink milk.
Most kittens need to be nursed by their mother or fed kitten formula from a bottle until 4-5 weeks of age; however, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Weaning can take place later if a kitten is underweight or ill, and it is important to use your best judgement when weaning.
If a kitten starts to lose weight, stops eating or is acting more lethargic than normal during the weaning process, go back to feeding kitten formula for another 3-5 days before trying weaning again.
In most cases, you can tell when a kitten is old enough to be weaned when you see baby teeth emerging from the gums. The best way to start is to offer a slurry of canned or dry commercial kitten food that is soaked in kitten formula.
Your initial goal is to get the kitten used to the taste of food, and this will probably take some trial and error. Some kittens may do well if you blend some canned food with formula in a blender to make a thinner liquid. Other kittens may be better with a mush that has the consistency of oatmeal—so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Eventually, you can place the mush in a cat bowl with low sides, and prepare to get messy! Kittens who are learning to eat food are just as messy as toddlers who are learning to feed themselves, so put newspaper down to keep the mess contained.
Kittens will walk through their food, paw their food and get it everywhere. Over time—anywhere from a week to 10 days—increase the amount of canned or dry food in the slurry and reduce the amount of kitten formula until the kitten is completely weaned.
You can also offer dry food at the same time to let the kitten get used to the texture and flavor, but it is likely that the kitten will get the bulk of his or her calories from the slurry that you are making until the kitten is fully weaned.