Cats aren’t quite the beggars that dogs tend to be when it comes to human foods, but certain things we eat seem to tickle their fancy. Yogurt is often one of those foods.
As soon as the sound of a yogurt lid peeling back rings through the kitchen, cats tend to come running. With cats being such picky eaters, and a chance to please them at our fingertips, it can be tempting to let them have a lick without much thought.
However, as pet parents, our core responsibility is for our cat’s safety. One of the most important ways we can look out for their safety is by ensuring they are fed a complete, balanced diet with treats that are also safe for them.
To that end, it’s essential to stay informed on what cats can and can’t eat safely. At Spot Pet Insurance, we’re committed to walking with you on your pet parent journey, and it starts here!
Today, we’re investigating yogurt for cats and answering all your core questions. Is yogurt healthy for cats? Can yogurt provide health benefits, such as probiotics, for cats? What kinds of yogurt might be more or less healthy for cats? We’re going to touch on each answer and more.
Yogurt is an ancient food. It was discovered, possibly by accident, by herders in Bulgaria. Since then, humans have been eating yogurt with all manner of foods — sweet, salty, and savory, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Traditional yogurt, the most common kind encountered in supermarkets, is coagulated and thick but still somewhat runny — certainly more so than Greek yogurt. Nutritionally, this yogurt is quite high in calcium and has a lower calorie count than Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt comes from the same base as traditional yogurt, but it’s made through a different process. Creating Greek yogurt involves straining the fermented product to remove liquid. The result is a higher protein yogurt that carries more calories.
Yogurt doesn’t have to be made with cow’s milk. It can also be made with goat’s milk or dairy-free milk such as almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk.
Kefir is commonly mentioned in the same discussions as traditional and Greek yogurt, but it is not technically a type of yogurt. Kefir is a fermented dairy product, but because it is made with a unique bacterial composition, it is distinguished from all kinds of yogurt.
Is Yogurt Safe for Cats?
Yogurt isn’t always toxic to cats, but many cats still get sick eating it. It can be a risky snack and is generally advised against.
Why is sickness from yogurt so common in cats? The answer lies in the origins of yogurt. Since yogurt is fermented milk, it contains lactose. Most cats are lactose intolerant.
Even though yogurt has less lactose than regular dairy milk, many cats still have a reaction to it. Even yogurt made from goat milk could cause a reaction, although dairy-free yogurt is free of this issue since it does not contain lactose.
Why Are So Many Cats Lactose Intolerant?
It may be surprising that cats are lactose intolerant. After all, the media has portrayed cats and milk as a perfect combination for decades. Further, from a young age, cats drink milk from their mother. So why can’t they consume dairy as they get older?
As cats grow, they wean off milk from their mothers, so their bodies stop producing lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose, the natural sugar found in milk.
Without lactase, a cat’s gastrointestinal tract (responsible for digestion) can’t fully process lactose, and thus we have lactose intolerance and its unfortunate symptoms.
How To Know if Your Cat Is Lactose Intolerant
The symptoms of lactose intolerance in cats include mostly gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and bloating.
Thankfully, lactose intolerance rarely escalates beyond minor symptoms. Your cat may be sick, but their life isn’t likely to be in danger.
If your cat does eat yogurt and has an adverse reaction, they have a very positive prognosis. This holds true as long as the yogurt did not contain highly toxic ingredients such as xylitol and wasn’t mixed with toxic foods such as grapes (like in a parfait, for example).
However, that doesn’t mean we should intentionally feed cats yogurt. Consult a veterinary professional before giving yogurt for the first time to your cat as a treat or as part of their meal.
Is Yogurt Healthy for Cats?
Yogurt is certainly a healthy snack for humans. It’s justifiably labeled a superfood for humans, even though that term is thrown around somewhat loosely today.
Most importantly, yogurt is packed full of probiotics, a type of friendly bacteria we need for our digestive systems to function efficiently.
Yogurt also has lots of calcium, which aids in bone growth, muscle growth, cardiac health, nervous system function, and more.
Another great benefit of yogurt is that it provides protein. Greek yogurt is exceptional in this regard compared to traditional yogurt.
Cats need protein, calcium, and probiotics, but yogurt isn’t cut out to be the source of these vital elements for cats. This is simply because yogurt does not contain these elements in nearly enough quantity to make any significant difference, given the amount of yogurt a cat can safely eat.
Additionally, your cat’s diet should already include these elements in plentiful supply. Complete, balanced commercial cat food formulated by certified professionals contains all the nutrients your cat needs, so when it comes to yogurt, there’s nothing truly to gain.
Why Cats Shouldn’t Eat Yogurt
Let’s say your cat is not lactose intolerant and shows that they want to eat yogurt. Should you give your cat yogurt or hold off?
It’s not completely off the table, but there are some precautions you need to consider before letting them lick the spoon.
Cat’s Have a Very Specific Diet
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they rely on meat and meat by-products (eggs) for their diet — not plant foods.
This is partly because meat and eggs contain nutrients, such as taurine, that can only be found in those sources. Cats can’t make taurine and other nutrients on their own, and some of these nutrients can not be found in plants — at least not in a form cats can digest.
Most carnivores consume only meat and eggs. Some carnivores can consume small amounts of dairy as well, but this isn’t natural for adult cats, so it should be no surprise that lactose intolerance is so common among our domesticated felines.
However, even if your cat doesn’t get sick from dairy, dairy still isn’t part of their necessary diet.
Yogurt Can Contain Added Sugars
When it comes to carbs, research shows that cats are capable of breaking down properly prepared starches and whole grain carbohydrates, but they can not efficiently digest and put to use simple sugars and some starches.
Many yogurt products you might have in your home to snack on yourself contain added sugar. Unfortunately, this bit of sweetness could be detrimental to your cat’s health, contributing to obesity, diabetes, and more. If your cat already has one of the conditions, avoiding yogurt with added sugar is a must.
Yogurt Can Contain Dangerous Ingredients
Yogurt bought from the store often contains other ingredients that could be dangerous for your cat.
Sugar substitutes can be a common replacement for regular sugar, but they can be even more dangerous than the natural variety. If you see a sugar-free label on yogurt, avoid that yogurt completely.
Most sugar-free yogurt (and sometimes other varieties) contain xylitol. This artificial sweetener is extremely toxic to dogs, but research is less clear regarding cats. Since the verdict is still out on xylitol for cats, but it is so deadly for dogs, the safest approach is to avoid xylitol for cats, too.
Other dangerous ingredients include chocolate, grapes, raisins, preserved fruits, and nuts or granola that could be a choking hazard.
Bottom Line: Can Cats Eat Yogurt?
The bottom line is that yogurt is a treat, not an essential part of a complete diet for cats. It also is not acceptable for many cats, so you should proceed with caution.
Keep a close eye out after introducing yogurt for any signs of food sensitivities or allergies, including lactose intolerance. It’s advised to introduce one new food at a time so you can isolate the cause of any symptoms more easily. You should always talk to a vet before introducing a new human food to your cat.
If snack time finally rolls around, use plain Greek yogurt or dairy-free yogurt with no artificial ingredients. You can potentially mix a dollop with one or two blueberries or a commercial cat treat, should you wish.
We hope this article helps you better understand how cats work and how to give them healthy treats while avoiding unsafe treats going forward! For more resources, check out our Blog.
The Country That Brought Yoghurt to the World | BBC Travel
What Is Kefir and Is It Good for You? | Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Food Intolerance in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital
We Know They Love It, But Can Cats Eat Yogurt? | Daily Paws
Feeding the Carnivore in Your Cat | Pet Health (a division of Avrio Pharmacy)
Focus on Nutrition: Cats and Carbohydrates: Implications for Health and Disease | Vetfolio
Ask a Vet With Dr. Sam: Is Xylitol Dangerous for Cats Too? | The Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society