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Cat eating ice cream
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No matter what time of year it is or what the temperature is outside, ice cream is always a favorite sweet treat. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, ice cream’s origins started in the Roman times or earlier. And its popularity never stopped growing. 

But if your curious kitty wants to join in on lapping up this yummy frozen dairy treat, you might be wondering: can cats eat ice cream? 

Can Cats Eat Ice Cream?

The simple answer to this question is no. Ice cream is primarily made of cream, which cats shouldn’t have due to being lactose intolerant. Sugar is another major ingredient, which is just as bad for cats as it is for us. 

Additionally many ice creams have added ingredients, some of which are toxic for cats. Watch out for rum and raisin, chocolate, or coffee for some of the more common dangerous ice cream flavorings. Sugar-free ice cream may also contain the sweetener xylitol, which is toxic for cats. 

What about plain flavors – can cats have vanilla ice cream? While vanilla ice cream won’t cause toxicity in cats, you still shouldn’t feed it to felines due to its dairy and sugar content. Even if you avoid all of the harmful ingredients, ice cream is high in calories, which can lead to obesity.

Can Cats Eat Non-Dairy Ice Cream? 

Cat licking ice cream

Since cats are lactose intolerant, you may be wondering whether that makes non-dairy ice cream a safe option. However, there isn’t a simple answer, as it depends on the ingredients in the product. 

Non-dairy ice creams usually use nut milks (including coconut milk), soy milk, or oat milk to produce the ice cream, which are generally safe for cats. As long as none of the other ingredients in the ice cream are toxic, your cat can have a very small amount of non-dairy ice cream. 

The problem comes with the calories in non-dairy ice creams, which are similar in to those in regular ice cream. A cup of non-dairy ice cream may provide more calories than your cat’s daily recommended intake!

Can Cats Eat Frozen Yogurt?

Although frozen yogurt is marketed as a healthier option than ice creams for humans, it’s still really high in sugar. The main ingredients in frozen yogurt are sugar, milk, and yogurt cultures. 

Unless it’s specifically marketed as lactose-free, frozen yogurt will still contain lactose and therefore is not a suitable option for cats. 

As with the other ice cream options, a single lick of frozen yogurt won’t hurt your cat (unless it contains toxic ingredients), but large amounts can lead to an upset stomach and weight gain. 

Are Cats Lactose Intolerant?

Cat looking at glass of milk

Yes, adult cats are considered lactose intolerant. Like all mammals, kittens are born with the ability to digest lactose (a sugar in milk) because they produce lactase, an enzyme. 

But as kittens wean, they stop producing lots of lactase. Most cats older than 6-8 months therefore can’t digest much lactose. When cats eat dairy, the milk sugars can’t be properly digested and instead pass through the intestines causing diarrhea, flatulence, and abdominal pain.

Of course, cats don’t know that this will happen when they drink milk or eat cheese, so they’ll quite happily lap at a saucer of milk. 

It’s worth noting that a small number of cats do not become lactose-intolerant, and dairy products may not cause adverse reactions. However, the symptoms of lactose intolerance are present in many cats after eating dairy, suggesting that most cats are lactose intolerant to some degree.

Is Ice Cream Bad for Cats?

Three ice cream cones

Unfortunately, ice cream is considered bad for cats. You probably already know that ice cream isn’t exactly good for humans. The tiny amount of protein and calcium it includes is quickly outdone by the large amounts of fat and sugar in the ice cream. And that fat and sugar doesn’t have any benefits for your feline friend. 

Aside from the potential gastrointestinal issues associated with dairy ice-cream, there’s also the risk of toxic ingredients. Raisins, nuts, chocolate, sugar-substitutes like xylitol, and coffee are all toxic to cats to some degree, meaning that you have to scour the list of ingredients if you’re thinking about letting your cat lick your ice cream cone. How sick your cat gets will depend on the amount consumed and the type of toxin, but these dangerous ingredients can cause serious problems and even be fatal.

Of course, eating small amounts of non-toxic ice cream is unlikely to cause any immediate harm, especially if the ice cream is dairy-free. 

However, it’s important to remember that ice cream is very high in calories. Even a small taste can cause your cat to exceed their daily calorie allowance. If this happens often, it will lead to obesity. Obese cats have a lower life expectancy than felines who maintain a healthy weight.  

Ice Cream and Cats: Helpful Feeding Tips

If you’ve got this far and you still want to feed your cat some of your ice cream, then here are some tips to make sure you’re doing so safely.

  1. Only feed your cat ice cream as an occasional treat – no more than once every couple of weeks.
  1. Don’t let your cat eat more than a tablespoon of ice cream at a time, to avoid them consuming too many calories.
  1. Thoroughly check your ice cream ingredients list for allergens and feline toxins. The main ones to look out for are raisins, chocolate, coffee, macadamia nuts, alcohol, xylitol (also seen as E967 or birch sugar). However, it’s best to double-check any ingredients you aren’t 100 percent sure are safe.
  1. Dairy-free ice cream prevents the risk of lactose intolerance and is the better option as long as it’s also free from toxins.

Try to avoid highly-flavored ice creams – not only do the extra toppings increase the calories, but more ingredients also increase the chance of an allergen or a toxin creeping in. 

There are also special frozen cat treats available that are marketed as ice cream for cats. These may be a better option if you’d like to offer your cat something special. These products generally use very little cream or milk, making them a safer bet. 

Even though ice cream designed for cats may be a better option, it still shouldn’t be offered regularly and should never make up more than 10 percent of your cat’s daily calorie allowance.

The Verdict on Ice Cream for Cats

Ice cream is not a healthy treat for cats and in some cases can be unsafe, depending on the ingredients used. If your cat eats ice cream with toxic ingredients you should call the nearest open veterinarian for advice. 

While a small lick of non-toxic ice cream every now and again is unlikely to do your cat much harm, consuming large amounts will likely lead to gastrointestinal problems and weight gain.

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