If you have recently adopted a young kitten, know that their nutritional needs change markedly in their first few months of life. In the beginning of their lives, kittens should live solely on their mother's milk, as it is more nutritional than cow's milk. However, if this is not an option, specially formulated cow's milk can be procured.
The Weaning Process
Cat mothers wean their cats about one month after birth. Prior to that, the only nutrients a kitten receives come from her mother's milk. If your kitten is younger than 4 weeks of age, feed her specially formulated milk that gives her the nutrients found in her mother's milk.
Should Kittens Drink Milk?
Cow's milk is formulated to be nutritionally adequate for baby cows, not baby cats. Therefore, kittens should not drink cow's milk, particularly not in its whole form. However, pet shops and veterinarians do sell cow's milk that is specially fortified to be similar to natural cat milk. It contains the calcium, fat and protein that kittens need in order to grow. It is also free from lactose, as many cats cannot tolerate the substance.
Lactose Intolerance in Kittens
After the kittens are weaned from their mother's milk, they stop producing the enzyme lactase, which aids in digesting lactose. As a result, many kittens and adult cats are lactose intolerant, making cow's milk an impractical dietary addition. A cat's reaction to lactose may result in diarrhea and stomach pains. Do not give your cat milk if she exhibits these symptoms, as continuing to do so will only make the reactions worse over time.
Milk as a Treat
Though cow's milk is not a necessary part of a kitten's diet, you may give milk to your adult cat occasionally if she does not have an upset stomach afterward. However, if you do not already know that your cat tolerates cow's milk, stick with specially formulated cat milk. The trial and error process in discovering whether or not your cat tolerates milk may bring her unnecessary discomfort. Additionally, diarrhea can fatally dehydrate kittens' little bodies if left untreated.