The popular image of a cat lapping away at a bowl of milk is firmly lodged in the public consciousness, from cartoons and media to the things we did as kids.
It's only been relatively recently that people have discovered cats are largely lactose intolerant, and while they'll happily drink what you give them, it can upset their tummies 💩 and cause them all kinds of problems. That's a bowl of milk, though.
What about whipped cream? Can cats have whipped cream as a treat or is it dangerous? Well, the short answer is yes, they can but no, they probably shouldn’t.
However, you can use whipped cream strategically only when and if, needed. I’m sharing a great educational video 📽️ by the Kitten Lady about this, it’s a must watch!
Today I’ll talk about a cat’s intolerance to lactose, the reasons why 🐈 cats love 🥛milk, dangerous ingredients ☠️ in whipped cream and some good safe alternatives to whipped cream.
As always, if you are looking for more cat care resources, I have sprinkled some great ones throughout the post. Alternatively, you may want to visit the toe beans pet parents blog, which by the way is loaded with resources📚, and you can search by topic.
Can Cats Have Whipped Cream as a Treat? Answers Around the Web
Before digging into our own analysis, let's look at what a few other pet sites have to say about the topic.
On one side of the issue, we have MrBossCat.com:
"Our best answer to this question is that, yes, cats can have whipped cream. However, most cats should not have any dairy as they are lactose intolerant. While cats can have a few tablespoons of whipped cream a week, they shouldn't have more than that."
This is backed up by LiveLongAndPawsPurr.com:
"A little bit of dairy, or whipped cream, on special occasions, doesn't cause any damage to your cat's overall health. But continued exposure can eventually cause long-term issues."
On the other hand, some pet experts take a stronger perspective on the issue. Here's one from AskMyCats.com:
"No, in general, cats can't have whipped cream. Healthy cats may tolerate little amounts of whipped cream on rare occasions. Whipped cream, on the other hand, includes chemicals that are harmful to cats. As a result, it is preferable to seek a healthier alternative snack."
When it comes right down to it, all of these blogs are saying more or less the same thing, though. So, let's break it down to discuss how they likely arrived at their answers.
The first thing to discuss was already mentioned above: almost all cats are lactose intolerant. In fact, you might be surprised to hear that most adult animals (and even most people) are lactose intolerant.
It's considered kind of weird that humans drink milk as much as we do, and even then, it's only some cultures that place as much emphasis on it as we do.
Animals (mammals, anyway) drink milk from their mothers as babies but quickly grow out of that phase and start to wean off milk. Most then start to develop an intolerance to the primary sugar in milk, lactose.
This intolerance is caused by a lack of an enzyme (lactase) needed to break down the lactose. Since many humans love the taste of milk, you can find everything from lactose-free milk to medications like Lactaid to help digest that milk sugar.
Anyone who has ever tried milk while being lactose intolerant knows how unpleasant it can be. Digestive issues arise quickly. This can result in anything from bloating, awful flatulence to stomach pain and cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The actual problem is that lactose is a sugar. Sugar breaks down and ferments when certain kinds of bacteria are present, and those bacteria are present in the stomach.
Fermentation creates a lot of gas and sugar alcohol, which bloats up the stomach, causes flatulence and pain, and cycles through to other issues as the body tries to get rid of it. It can be very unpleasant for both humans and kitties!
Now, not all cats are lactose intolerant. Mammals generally lose the digestive enzyme that allows them to process lactose over time. Some lose it very quickly; others lose it slowly, and some don't lose it at all.
This is why some cats can drink milk all day and be fine, and others can clear a room 20 minutes after taking a few laps.
Why Do Cats Love Milk and Cream When It's Bad For Them?
If it's unpleasant to eat dairy, why would cats still go after that milk or whipped cream when it's offered to them? There are a couple of reasons for why cream/milk/dairy is still pretty attractive to a cat.
The first reason is that milk is high in protein and fat, whole milk more so, and heavy cream (the kind of cream used in whipped cream) most of all. Cats are carnivores which means they seek out foods with proteins and fats.
For a cat, this would usually mean meat, but in our homes, dairy based products are another attractive option.
Of course, we don't usually put whipped cream in the same category as ground beef. That's because, to us, whipped cream is packed with sugar and is quite sweet.
Cats don't really have the same taste receptors we do, though, and they don't taste the sugar. All they sense is the fats and proteins in the cream.
It’s worth noting that cats don’t have the ability to taste sweets. My sister, who by the way is a healthcare professional, might disagree with this scientific finding because she once had a kitty that would always try to devour anything she baked!
My only point here is that what’s pleasing to us isn’t the same reason your cat wants dairy based products.
The second reason a cat might be attracted to dairy products is that any unpleasant side effects from eating dairy may be delayed enough that they don't associate the two experiences with one another.
If you've read anything about training cats, you know that you need rapid responses between behavior and reward in order for your feline to associate the two.
Lactose reactions are generally somewhat delayed – it takes time for the cream to hit the digestive system, react poorly, and show symptoms – so your cat likely won't associate the bad feelings with the cream.
Now, let's get into the dark side of whipped cream for a moment.
Whipped cream is generally made up of three main ingredients: cream, sugar, and air.
It's easy to make on your own if you have a stand mixer, and technically you don't even need the sugar; you just need to whip the cream with air enough to fluff it up.
Many store-bought whipped creams do include added sugar, though. This is because plain cream might taste a little off-putting for many people, and sugar makes it more palatable. As I mentioned above, though, cats can't taste sugar.
Just because they don't taste it doesn't mean they don't process it, though. Even though they're carnivores, their little bodies can process glucose and fructose, and those sugars can cause all kinds of damage.
Whipped cream is also largely milk fats, and those milk fats can contribute to obesity in cats. It just keeps going, doesn't it?
If you're buying store-bought whipped cream, especially whipped cream in a can, you're going to find other ingredients that can be bad for cats, too.
Carrageenan is a stabilizer that helps keep whipped cream from melting. It’s derived from seaweed, which seems safe enough right? The problem is what was found in a 2017 study that found carrageenan could cause intestinal inflammation. Full disclosure, a 2018 review of carrageenan, said the same conclusion couldn’t be drawn and that more research is needed. So, in short, the jury is still out on this one.
Sugar alternatives cats are obligate carnivores, so they require a meat source to get their nutrition. Those mice out in the wild aren’t covered in sugar much less corn syrup, which is a commonly added sweetener in whipped cream.
Preservatives are also common in store bought whipped cream.
Up to this point we’ve been talking about true whipped cream, which is generally a limited ingredient item. You might also be familiar with the blue tub of alternative whipped topping in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.
While it’s often used interchangeably with whipped cream as a dessert topping, it’s much less cream and more so processed and artificial ingredients.
These are not limited to high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial flavors and colors. Ditch this option if you’re ever considering giving a taste to your kitty.
What About Lactose-Free Dairy?
I mentioned it in passing above, but we humans are pretty clever.
We know some people enjoy milk but are lactose intolerant, so we found a way to make milk that doesn't have lactose in it. Is that kind of milk – as whipped cream – any better for cats?
The answer here is a solid "maybe, but probably not."
Lactose-free dairy whipped cream is hard to find and still includes plenty of sugar and ingredients like carrageenan.
Fully vegan whipped creams also include a lot of sugar and oils, which aren't good for your fur baby, no matter how you slice it.
Many non-dairy alternatives use coconut milk, which is extremely high in fats and sugars, making it almost worse than dairy, even if it doesn't trigger lactose intolerance.
Whipped Cream is Generally Safe for Cats in Small Doses
If you’re going to give your kitty dairy, plain whipped cream is probably the safest option you can give. Why?
Well, whipped cream is whipped, which fluffs the cream up with a lot with air. That means it's a relatively low concentration of dairy and lactose, and other potentially harmful ingredients.
If you're going to use whipped cream, it's almost always better to make it yourself, so neither you nor your furry friends are exposed to the chemicals present in various artificial foods.
When you purchase your heavy whipping cream, be sure to check the ingredient label to confirm there aren’t any additives.
A tablespoon of whipped cream isn't going to cause problems in many cats and can only really be harmful if:
You give your cat this treat every day or worse, multiple times a day.
Multiple people give your cat treats, not knowing the others are too.
Your cat has other health issues, like diabetes or obesity.
So, if you're making yourself dessert and you want to give your furry friend a dab of whipped cream as a treat for being a good baby, well, it's probably not going to hurt them. And while perhaps you shouldn’t, who can resist those begging faces. Am I right?
One big problem is that they tend to remember everything about the whipped cream experience. So the next time you are making desert, they will run to you to beg for it as they associate all your behavior related sounds with the yummy experience.
Remember, cats don’t have sweet taste receptors, so they will likely prefer a more species appropriate treat.
Now, having said that, sometimes a little bit of bad to do good might be justified. For example, you may want to use whipped cream to keep your cat distracted while you perform a necessary procedure on them.
Check out this video by Kitten Lady on how to use whipped cream for the good of your kitty.
I guess that we can all agree that sometimes, giving your cat whipped cream can be justified 😊
What are Better Treats than Whipped Cream?
Now, all you cat parents out there know just as well as I do that our fur babies are adept at begging just as much as those dogs with their cute puppy eyes. And who can say no to that fuzzy little face?
Treats are an important part of rewarding behaviors and high-value training. And yes, cats can be trained!
So, keeping some high-value treats on hand can be a great idea. Whipped cream is often thought of as one such treat, but as I just extensively analyzed, it's not as good a treat as you might hope.
So, what should you do instead?
Fish. Little bits of salmon, tuna, or mackerel can be a great little treat for your cat. If you’re making these at home, make sure to exclude all seasonings.
Meat. A bit of chicken or beef can be a great treat too. While your fur baby can eat it raw, it's usually a better idea to cook it (no spices or salt, please) just to avoid any possible pathogens. Avoid salted cuts like bacon, deli meat, or cold cuts.
Some Cheese. Certain cheeses are dairy that have had their lactose processed out and can still be a decent little treat, but you still don't want to turn to it very often.
Egg. A bit of cooked egg can be a good treat for your fur baby too. It's high in protein and low in all the harmful things, but you do need to make sure to cook it properly. Go light on the oil or butter, and avoid salt and other spices.
Now that you know what you should (and shouldn't) be feeding your furry feline friend as a treat, you can start looking to other aspects of your cat's diet.
Treats should always be pretty limited as rewards for your cat since too many of them can lead to feline obesity and other health issues.
Oh, and make sure to approve anything you want to feed them with your vet; if your cat has any health issues, allergies, or other problems, your vet will know what they shouldn't have.
So, to wrap it up, here’s my final two cents on the topic. A small amount of natural whipped cream isn’t going to permanently hurt your kitty. It should however always be avoided for obese kitties and those with diabetes.
It’s just plain excess calories and could cause some digestive upset, but symptoms should pass with no lingering issues.
Sometimes we all want to eat or overeat foods that don’t agree with us, so it’s important to watch your kitty for any digestive symptoms after a dairy based treat.
And since cats can’t taste sweets, consider something more to their liking such as a freeze-dried meat treat!
Tell me, what kind of treats do you give to your feline friend, and which are their favorites? Do they love any of the listed recommendations above? Be sure to let me know! I absolutely love hearing about all your fur babies and the stories they create!
One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA, 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
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K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).