Cats are true carnivores. This means that in the wild, they would naturally receive 100% of their nutrition from animals. But this doesn't mean they won't try to eat other stuff too. Cats have delicate, sensitive noses and will try to taste anything that smells attractive. Sometimes, they will want to taste something just because their human is eating it.
Many human foods are not suitable for cats. Some simply don't carry any nutritional value, while others are toxic and can make your cat ill. It's a good idea to do your homework before giving your cat something new.
Can Cats Eat Yogurt?
Yes, cats can eat yogurt, although it is not recommended. Adult cats are lactose intolerant, but they can eat plain Greek yogurt. However, any sugary or flavored yogurts are better avoided. Even plain yogurt may cause stomach problems if not fed in moderation, so check out the vet-approved serving size first.
The answer to this one is both yes and no. Yogurt is a very healthy food for humans and has been around for thousands of years. It's often recommended as a soft, gentle food to kick-start the tummy after an illness. It's only natural to wonder if it would have some of the same effects on your cat.
So many human yogurts are full of additives, which can be toxic to our feline friends.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
If you're in a rush and don't have time to read, a tiny plain Greek yogurt may be okay. All other kinds of yogurt, and especially anything sweetened and flavored, are best avoided. Cats can't even taste sugar and are definitely not built to digest it. They are best off without any, if possible. And when it comes to flavorings, they can be downright toxic to cats.
It's important to know that adult cats are lactose-intolerant. Basically, as a kitten gets older, their body stops making the enzyme needed to digest lactose. From about 12 weeks of age onwards, they become more and more lactose-intolerant.
So milk and most other dairy products are a total no for your lactose-intolerant cat. Yogurt, however, contains bacteria that break down the lactose. It makes yogurt much more palatable and less likely to cause digestive issues.
Health Benefits: Is Yogurt Good for Cats?
Yogurt in and of itself, less any added sweeteners and flavorings, is a healthy food for us humans. Some of these benefits carry over to cats too.
Good Source of Phosphorus
Phosphorus is an essential mineral and the second most abundant one in the body. It is present in every cell, but most of it is found in the bones and teeth. Phosphorus is as important as calcium in the formation of bones and teeth.
The body also uses this element to manufacture ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule that the body uses for energy. This mineral is also required for the body to produce protein for the growth and maintenance of tissue. Phosphorus works together with the B vitamins in maintaining healthy nerve and brain function too.
Yogurt contains a healthy dose of phosphorus for us people. If your cat is eating a well-balanced food specifically designed for cats, she's already getting everything she needs – the occasional treat is okay, though.
Yogurt Contains Calcium
Like all dairy products, yogurt contains a fair amount of calcium. We all know that calcium is essential in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. But that's not the only function this mineral has in the body.
The body uses calcium to help release many hormones and enzymes. These, in turn, affect almost all body functions. Calcium is also needed to help blood vessels efficiently move blood throughout the body. And it is required for muscles to move well and nerves to transmit messages.
Too much calcium is not safe and can cause a condition known as hypercalcemia in cats. But the occasional small helping of yogurt isn't going to do any damage. Just remember to give only a little, and infrequently, as a treat.
Rich in Vitamin B12
Yogurt is a rich source of vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential to the body and is needed for several processes. This vitamin is involved in making DNA, the genetic material that constructs all cells. It also has a role to play in keeping the body's blood and nerve cells healthy. And vitamin B12 can help prevent some types of anemia as well.
Too much vitamin B12 is known to affect the skin negatively. We've already said it, but it's worth mentioning again. Your cat will receive all her dietary needs from a complete cat food. A treat like some yogurt can be healthy, but not if they get too much of it.
Health Risks: Is Yogurt Bad For Cats?
Plain, unflavored yogurt is good for otherwise healthy human beings. Cats can also get a little something out of it, although their main nutrition should come from meat. But there are several things to watch out for when feeding yogurt to your pet.
Cats are Lactose-intolerant
Past the age of 12 weeks, kittens stop manufacturing the enzyme needed to break lactose down. By the time your cat is an adult, it will be completely lactose-intolerant. The bacteria in yogurts with live cultures, such as Greek yogurt, break the lactose down. This makes it more digestible to cats when compared to milk.
If your cat has a very sensitive stomach, even yogurt may cause them discomfort. Several symptoms can develop after a cat has eaten yogurt. These include diarrhea and vomiting. A single bout of vomiting may not be the reason to panic and call your vet, but it doesn't change the fact that your cat is not comfortable, and their gut is struggling to digest the yogurt.
Any time you choose to give your cat yogurt, keep the quantity small. If it's the probiotics you want your cat to get, there are much better sources than yogurt. The market is filled with probiotic supplements designed specifically for cats.
Avoid Any Yogurt with Additives
Many of our favorite yogurts come with all sorts of additions. Nuts, fruits, cereals, and sugars of all sorts are everywhere. You may be in love with your almond, strawberry, or granola yogurt, but your cat's needs are entirely different.
There are much healthier treats available for cats, particularly for those with a sensitive tummy. If you want to give your kitty a yogurt treat, choose plain, unsweetened, live yogurts, and if it's lactose-free, that's a bonus.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
Cats and humans have two very different digestive systems. What is good for you might be pure poison for your cat. Things like granola and strawberry are acceptable in the sense that they're not toxic to felines. However, they don't hold any nutritional value for cats.
Then there are some nuts and fruits that are downright toxic to cats. Two common ones that can result in poisoning to felines are almonds and grapes.
Aside from some additives being toxic, there is also the problem of sugars. Sugar just isn't good for your cat, period. Yogurts contain sugar in one form or another, both natural and added. Sugar comes in many forms, anything that reads maltose, dextrose, fructose, corn sweetener, or fruit juice concentrate is not for your cat.
In short, to avoid any unwanted digestive issues and poisoning, stick to plain yogurt that has no sweeteners or additives.
Serving Size and How to Feed?
Yogurt may not be the best of treats for your cat. But provided it is plain, it shouldn't harm most cats. If your cat likes yogurt, you can give them a little every now and then.
Kitties that have enjoyed their milk and cream may feel nostalgic for it. Yogurt can make an excellent treat to satisfy their craving for dairy. Cats with a low appetite may also benefit from a teaspoon or so to encourage them to eat.
And if a cat that likes yogurt is ill and needs medication, you can use the yogurt to help. Mix the tablet in with a teaspoon of yogurt to help convince your cat to swallow it down.
A Teaspoon is More Than Enough
When giving your cat yogurt, be sure it's plain, with no sweeteners or other additives. Give a teaspoon at most. A couple of times a month should be safe.
The exact values for any one nutrient will depend on the yogurt culture and the milk used, but in general, all yogurts are high on phosphorus, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and selenium. All these are essential nutrients and have crucial roles to play in the body.
Yogurts generally contain between 11-20% protein while being low on carbohydrates. Unless they're low-fat, they are often high in fat, about 4-9%. Being a dairy product, yogurt doesn't contain fiber. The sugar content should also be lower for any plain, unsweetened yogurt.
Adult cats are lactose-intolerant, but many enjoy the taste of milk and cream due to the fat content. Yogurt can also provide some probiotics and may encourage a cat with a poor appetite to eat.
Yogurt has bacteria that break the lactose down, so most cats should be okay with it. As long as it's given in small amounts as an occasional treat, they should be fine. Be sure to give your cat only plain, unsweetened, unflavored yogurt. That way, you'll know there's nothing toxic in it.
Can cats eat Greek yogurt?
Yes, cats can eat Greek yogurt. Adult cats are lactose-intolerant, but the bacteria in the yogurt break down the lactose making it easier to digest. Still, feeding yogurt to your cat can cause stomach upsets for sensitive cats. Felines may enjoy Greek yogurt's fatty taste, but it should only be offered as an occasional treat.
Related reading: 11 Things You Should Pay Attention to When Choosing Cat Food
Cats are sensitive to the lactose in dairy, partly because their own mum's milk is actually lower in lactose than cow's milk.
A second reason is that as they get older after weaning, their ability to digest lactose is reduced further, so we often see tummy upsets (or stinky flatulence) after a cat indulges in dairy products, including some yogurts.
If your pet has a sensitive tummy in general, it's best to steer clear of all dairy products to prevent irritating their gut.
- Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
Edele Grey, BSc, MVB, PGCertESM, MRCVS was born and raised in Ireland on a farm, so she was destined for veterinary-related work from a young age. Dr. Grey attended the only veterinary university in Ireland, the University College Dublin, and graduated in 2013. Since graduation, Dr. Grey has worked with a range of exotic, companion, and production animal species.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your cat's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.