Imagine a kitten. Chances are you imagined a kitten drinking from a bowl of milk, possibly with a bow around her neck. However, kittens who are old enough to separate from their mothers are old enough to drink water instead of milk. They no longer need milk to survive.
Kittens need milk for the first several weeks of their lives. The kittens’ mother provides the best milk for their needs at that age. However, you may feed orphan kittens goat’s milk, available at many large grocery stores or supermarkets. You can also feed them kitten milk replacement formula. Cow’s milk can upset a kitten’s stomach and should be used as a last resort. Kittens should be drinking water by the time they are 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Milk is a Food, Not a Beverage
Female mammals produce milk to feed their own offspring. Human beings use milk from other mammals to feed their older children and sometimes their pets. Milk, therefore, is a liquid food, not a beverage. Water is a beverage, used by the body to keep its tissues hydrated and all of its organs working properly.
Lactose Intolerance in Cats
Go back to your mental image of a milk-drinking kitten. Although this image is a popular one, many cats are unable to digest milk sugar, lactose. This inability to digest lactose comes from the gradual loss of an enzyme that is present in their bodies at birth. Lactose intolerance usually results in diarrhea, but may have other serious side effects.
Water Helps the Body Function
Cats are unable to tolerate dehydration well. All cats and kittens need water for their bodies to function correctly. Water helps the body digest food, eliminate stools and keeps crystals from forming in a cat’s urine. It can also keep tissues and joints from drying out. Cats can get a lot of their water requirements from eating canned wet food, but should always have plenty of fresh, clean drinking water available.