Can cats eat ice cream?

We’ve all heard about the cat that got the cream. But what about the cat that got the ice cream?  Should you be concerned if you caught your kitty lapping up the rest of your raspberry ripple? And I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that on occasion I’ve let kitty finish off that last lick of delicious vanilla ice cream.

But is it safe? Can cats eat ice cream?

First, let me put your mind at ease, your cat will not suffer any ill effects from eating a little bit of ice cream. However, as this article discusses, there are many reasons why feeding regular ice cream to your cat is not a good idea.

Why do cats love ice cream?

I confess to having a sweet tooth and ice cream is one of my guilty pleasures. You would think the same applies to cats, all that yummy creamy sweetness is bound to be irresistible to your feline friend.

In fact, this isn’t the case, cats are unique amongst mammals in that they have no taste receptors that allow them to taste sweet foods. Depending on what source you read most mammals have five or six taste receptors that allow them to taste salty, sweet, sour, umami (meaty), and bitter, some experts argue that we also have a taste receptor for fat.

But not cats, and this lack of ability to discern sweetness in foods rules out all that sugary goodness (or badness) as being the reason she greedily watches me savor every last drop of my late-night freezer raid.

So if it isn’t the sweetness, what draws cats to ice cream?

Cats are carnivores and their senses including taste and scent are honed to pick up the presence of meats and fats in foodstuffs. It is this fat content in ice cream and other dairy products like full-fat milk and cream that they find irresistible.

 

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Is ice cream bad for cats?

As I noted earlier, a little ice cream from time to time is unlikely to cause any unprompted vet visits. However, there are several good reasons that you should avoid feeding your cat ice cream.

The first reason I will look at is also a familiar problem for many humans.

1 Many cats are lactose intolerant

In both humans and cats, lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency in an enzyme called lactase. It is this enzyme that helps digestive systems break down the lactose that is present in dairy products.

As in humans, the severity of this issue varies from cat to cat, with younger cats being less prone to the problem. Kittens will produce large amounts of lactase to help digest their mother’s milk, but as they move onto solid foods, the production of lactase reduces. While some cats will continue to produce enough lactase to eat some level of dairy products throughout their lives, others can be extremely intolerant.

As in humans, the side effects of lactose intolerance can be unpleasant, to say the least, and monitoring your kitty’s litter tray habits should offer some clues as to how badly affected your cat is.

If your cat is prone to diarrhea then it could well be that too much ice cream and/or other dairy products are the problem. This is caused by the undigested lactose in the ice cream working its way through your cat’s digestive system.

2 Diabetes

As well as not being able to taste sweetness in foodstuffs, there is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests they may also lack the ability to properly digest sugars. One of the reasons is that cats lack glucokinase in their livers.

Glucokinase is an enzyme that controls the metabolism of sugars. Without this key enzyme sugars and carbohydrates can build up in your cat. Some experts have cited the elevated levels of carbohydrates in many cat food brands behind the high instances of diabetes in cats. Some cat foods contain up to 20% carbohydrates in their products and your kitty’s digestive system is not evolved to cope with this.

3 Weight

Although in my case this could be construed as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, perhaps the most visible downside of feeding your cat too much ice cream is the weight gain that it can cost. Avoiding cat obesity is essential in giving your kitty the happy and healthy life they deserve.

4 Nutritional problems

Feeding your cat too much ice cream and other non-nutritional goodies can mean that they aren’t hungry enough when it comes to mealtimes and therefore they don’t eat enough food that gives them the nutrition they need to thrive.

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Can I treat my cat to ice cream occasionally?

A little ice cream from time to time is unlikely to cause major problems. However, if your cat is prone to diarrhea then it is probably best avoided. But most cats will happily eat a spoonful of ice cream as an occasional treat without any nasty side effects.

If your cat is prone to diarrhea and you still want to treat her now and again, then many cat owners have found that ice cream made from goat’s milk is a better option. Goat’s milk doesn’t require pasteurization, it is the pasteurization process that cow’s milk goes through removes many of the natural enzymes from the milk. With goat’s milk, the enzymes that are present can help your kitty digest the lactose and greatly reduce digestive tract problems.

Also, try to select less sweet ice cream,  and although artificial sweeteners aren’t as harmful to cats as they are to dogs, it is still best to try and avoid ice creams that have high levels of these substances.

Conclusion

For most cat owners, giving your cat an occasional treat of a little ice cream is fine. The important thing is not to make it a habit, too much ice cream can have a detrimental effect on your cat’s health.

And of course, it leaves more ice cream for me!

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