Cats, compared to some other animals, generally don't have a strong natural urge to drink frequently. This might be because of their origins – cats come from deserts, and their ancestors adapted to get most of their moisture from the prey they hunted, not so much from drinking water. In the wild, a cat's menu is full of juicy prey like rodents, keeping them well-hydrated. But here's the snag – the commercial cat food you might be feeding your cat, especially the dry kind, often doesn't have as much moisture. And guess what? Cats might not make up for it by gulping down more water.
And yet, we tend to presume that cats don't like to drink because they are picky drinkers. We often see in cartoons and on our childhood TV shows that cats prefer milk rather than water. This perception has led many cat owners to wonder about the suitability of milk as a treat for their feline companions. Despite all the good stuff like calcium and vitamins in cow's milk, cats may not process milk as effectively as we might think. Many grown-up cats face difficulty with it because they produce less of the enzyme required for digestion. This decrease in the production of lactase, the necessary enzyme, is a genetic trait that aligns with the shift from a milk-focused diet during early life to a diet primarily based on solid food as cats mature. This characteristic is not exclusive to domestic cats but is shared by many wild cat species too. So, giving your cat a bowl of milk might not be the wholesome treat you think it is. Now, considering this, what about evaporated milk?
What is Evaporated Milk?
Evaporated milk is basically regular milk with about 60% of its water content removed through heating and concentration, resulting in a thicker, creamier liquid with a slightly caramelized flavor. If you're someone who enjoys cooking or baking, you might find yourself reaching for evaporated milk quite often. It's a handy ingredient that adds richness and creaminess to all sorts of dishes, from desserts to soups and sauces.
Evaporated milk lasts longer on the shelf because a big part of its water is removed by heating it. This makes it harder for bacteria to grow. The process also concentrates the milk's solids, like proteins and sugars, acting as a natural preservative. After that, the milk is heated more to kill bacteria and enzymes, and it's sealed in a sterile container to keep it fresh. This makes evaporated milk last for about two years if unopened and stored in a cool, dry place. It might end up being cheaper. This is because it doesn't need as much refrigeration during transport and storage, and there's less chance of it spoiling before it's sold.
Can Cats Drink Evaporated Milk?
The evaporation process in making evaporated milk does not eliminate lactose. Studies show that adult cats can consume 6 grams of lactose daily without experiencing issues, but amounts of 10 and 16 grams lead to sporadic and persistent diarrhea. Overfeeding cats with evaporated milk may lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea, stomach discomfort, and vomiting, akin to the effects of regular milk.
It's important to understand that removing lactose from milk is quite a different challenge because lactose is a natural part of milk. However, for individuals, including cats, who are lactose intolerant, there are alternatives like lactose-free milk. These alternatives go through a process called lactose hydrolysis where the lactose content in milk can be significantly reduced. This process breaks down the complex lactose molecules into simpler sugars, resulting in a product with much less lactose. In some lactose-free or lactose-reduced milks, the lactose content can be as low as around 0.2%. In regular cow's milk, the lactose content is relatively high, typically around 4.7%.
Compared to evaporated milk, lactose-free milk products are considered safe and enjoyable treats for cats. They provide a milk-like experience without the digestive problems associated with regular milk, which can be challenging for many cats to digest due to lactose intolerance.
Best Way To Hydrate Cats
Cats primarily rely on water for their hydration needs, and it's the best and healthiest drink for them. However, some cats may show interest in other liquids, and individual preferences can vary. Here are a few examples of liquids that some cats might show interest in:
- Broth: Some cats enjoy the flavor of low-sodium chicken, bone broth or vegetable broth. Make sure it's safe for cats and doesn't contain any harmful additives like onion or garlic.
- Tuna Juice: The juice from canned tuna (packed in water, not oil) might be enticing to some cats. However, it's essential to offer it in moderation due to the salt content.
- Cat-Friendly Herbal Tea: Certain herbal teas, such as catnip or chamomile, prepared without any sweeteners or additives, may be appealing to some cats.
- Ice Cubes: Some cats enjoy licking or playing with ice cubes. It's a fun way to provide water in a different form, especially during hot weather.
While cats may not have a strong natural urge to drink frequently, it's essential to understand their unique hydration needs. Originating from deserts, cats' ancestors adapted to obtaining moisture from prey rather than drinking water. Commercial cat food, especially the dry kind, often lacks sufficient moisture, and cats might not compensate by drinking more water. Contrary to the common belief that cats are picky drinkers, it's not about preferences; it's rooted in their evolutionary history.
Addressing the misconception that cats prefer milk, it's crucial to note that many adult cats struggle to digest cow's milk due to decreased lactase production. This enzyme decline is a genetic trait shared by domestic and wild cat species. Even though evaporated milk undergoes a process that removes water content, it doesn't eliminate lactose. Feeding evaporated milk to cats can lead to digestive issues similar to regular milk.
For safe alternatives, lactose-free milk products are recommended. These products undergo lactose hydrolysis, significantly reducing lactose content and providing a milk-like experience without the associated digestive problems. However, the best way to hydrate a cat remains water, supplemented by cat-friendly options like broth, tuna juice, catnip or chamomile tea, and even ice cubes for added variety. Understanding a cat's hydration preferences contributes to their overall well-being.