Can I Give My Cat Ice Cream?
Okay, so maybe we should not use cute clichés as a guide for nutrition, but the question remains: can cats have ice cream? We get that this dessert probably should not serve as a staple in any animal’s diet, but what about as a treat?
The answer: while ice cream will not result in any poisoning symptoms, it still is not a good addition to your cat’s diet—in fact, your cat should not eat any dairy at all! The cliché of the cat drinking the saucer full of cream may be everywhere, but it is misguided. To maintain optimal health, cats should avoid dairy products—including ice cream—whenever possible. That said, if you want to let your cat lick the bottom of your empty dessert bowl, it shouldn’t send you scurrying to the vet’s office.
Nobody eats ice cream with an eye on improving the quality of their diet. Though some have tried to make the argument that ice cream, as a dairy product, contains some calcium and protein, there is really no nutritional justification for feeding this food to your beloved cat. The protein found in ice cream is minimal, and it isn’t even the right ‘type’ of protein—the sequence of amino acids in dairy products is all wrong for cats. Even if you fed your cat pure milk protein with all the fat and sugar removed, they would wind up deficient in several amino acids. This is why nursing kittens can thrive on a diet of their mother’s milk, but will grow ill if you try to feed them cartons of cow’s milk. They will not reap any health benefits from pure dairy milk, and they will get even less from its chilly, heavily processed, sugary sister.
Ice cream is often very high in sugar, which can be a recipe for disaster. Our feline friends, unlike our omnivorous dogs, do not produce the enzyme amylase, which is responsible for digesting carbohydrates (like the sugar in ice cream). Since they cannot properly digest sugar, many of our favorite desserts may result in severe digestive problems, including upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. But the sugar content is not the only reason to avoid ice cream.
Cats, all the way from lions to your sweet little Siamese kitten, are obligate carnivores. As the title suggests, they are ‘obligated to be carnivores,’ which means that they have evolved in such a way that their bodies have become efficient at extracting nutrition from meat and not much else. Though wild cats may chew on small amounts of grass or other plant matter as a way of regulating their digestion, they would rarely consume any sort of plant food. And they would certainly never consume dairy foods—not milk and certainly not ice cream.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you absolutely must give your cat a little bit of ice cream, be aware of the flavor you choose. Any ice cream fed to your cat should not contain chocolate, raisins, or xylitol, which are all extremely toxic to cats. If your cat experiences bloating, vomiting, or diarrhea after a taste of ice cream, avoid feeding them any dairy products in the future.
Unsurprisingly, ice cream is not recommended for cats of any age. This high-calorie, high-sugar dairy product offers no nutrition and is full of poorly-digested carbohydrates that can easily result in upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your cat laps some ice cream off a spoon, it’s not a cause for concern, but it’s best to avoid feeding them dairy products whenever possible.