can cats eat yogurt

Can Cats Eat Yogurt?

Cats love dairy; yogurt is dairy. In other news, 2+2=4. But is dairy a good choice for cats? Can cats be lactose intolerant, and if so, how many are? Are dairy products even nutritionally suitable for cats?

Can cats eat yogurt? They can, as it isn’t poisonous. However, it’s nutritionally insufficient, and many cats are lactose intolerant meaning that they shouldn’t have it. All cats become lactose intolerant if they wean properly and don’t eat dairy after doing so. Yogurt also contains too much simple sugar, not enough fat and protein, and not all of the amino acids that cats need. This means that even if your cat can digest lactose, there are better snack choices available, although yogurt isn’t the worst.

The guide below first looks at why cats shouldn’t eat yogurt, with particular reference to its nutritional content (carbohydrates, sugar, protein, fat and water). It also details how cats become lactose intolerant, whether it’s likely that yours is or isn’t, and what snack alternatives are available for your pet.

Can Cats Eat Yogurt?

Cats can eat yogurt, although it’s far from the ideal snack choice for your pet. There are several reasons why.

One is that your cat may be lactose intolerant. If after it was weaned as a kitten, it then didn’t regularly consume dairy of some kind (milk, yogurt or cheese) then it will have lost its ability to digest these foods. It essentially becomes lactose intolerant, not because it was born with the issue, but because it developed it after not digesting dairy for an extended period. This is not unique to cats, and is in fact the default state for all mammals including people.

The other reason is that yogurt is not nutritionally suitable for cats. For reasons we will explore in greater depth below, it doesn’t provide cats with key nutrients they need, and is also too rich in certain other nutrients to be ideal. Since there are snacks that cats love and which are nutritionally suitable, there’s no logical justification for feeding your cat yogurt instead.

Do Cats Like Yogurt?

Some cats do like yogurt. Cats have a reputation for enjoying dairy products, and yogurt is one. While it’s not the most common one cats are known for liking—cats are more often given cream, milk and cheese—some cats nevertheless do pester their owners for yogurt!

The trouble is that it’s tempting to think that pets know themselves better than we know them. It’s possible to fall into a trap of thinking that cats are drawn to foods that are good for them, and eschew foods that are bad for them. Sometimes they are, because all cats are drawn to meatier foods and fresh/raw prey. But that doesn’t always apply, and if your cat likes eating yogurt, that’s not because yogurt is good for cats. In that sense, yogurt here is a lot like fast food that a person might be drawn to: tempting, but definitely not a good choice for a snack or a meal. And as we’ll find out below, yogurt and other nutritionally unsuitable foods can have negative health effects just like fast food does for people.

Why Shouldn’t Cats Eat Yogurt?

can cats eat yogurtIt’s one thing to say that yogurt isn’t in a cat’s normal diet, so you shouldn’t feed it to your pet. But it’s another thing entirely to examine why yogurt isn’t thought of as a suitable food or snack for cats, with particular reference to its nutritional content.

Nutrients in Yogurt

The details in the table below are from two sources. The data on yogurt are from, a site that details the nutritional contents of the most common foods (branded and unbranded). Those below are for plain, whole-milk yogurt; there are, of course, alternative yogurts available but they all broadly contain the same nutrients. The data on the cat’s nutritional requirements are from the AAFCO, which is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. This organization monitors brands of dog and cat food to check whether they are nutritionally suitable, and also publishes guidelines on the ideal diet for cats and dogs and how much of each nutrient it should contain.

NutrientsAmount per 100gCat RDA* per 100g
Carbohydrate4.7g (4.7g sugar)Variable**
Protein3.5g26-30g dry matter
Fat3.3g9g dry matter

As should be obvious from the table above, yogurt contains too much of some thing and not enough of other things. The sections below will explore each nutrient in more depth: why cats need lots of it or not much of it, and the role it performs in keeping your cat healthy.

Carbohydrates & Fiber in Yogurt

Many cat people think that cats can’t digest carbohydrates. Some people take that to mean that cats struggle to do so, or that carbs pass through a cat’s gut altogether untouched. The truth is somewhere in the middle, as it often is.

For starters, cats can digest carbohydrates. Your cat’s gut is capable of breaking down both simple and complex carbs and absorbing them, using them as energy as other mammals including people do. That’s why kibble—although it isn’t perfect—contains lots of carbs. This makes sense from the perspective of wild cats too, which ingest plant material in the form of their prey’s stomach and gut contents. The cat’s digestive system is certainly built to process meat more efficiently than plant material, but that doesn’t mean cats can’t digest carbs at all.

As such, the carbohydrate content of a food like yogurt isn’t a major problem. What is a problem is for all of that carbohydrate content to be simple sugar. In one sense, there are two kinds of carbohydrate: simple carbs and complex carbs. Complex carbs are made up of lots of simple carbs chained together. There chains have to be broken down so that each simple carb can be absorbed by the gut lining. Simple sugars include lactose, such as is found in yogurt, glucose, fructose, galactose and the like.

Simple sugars are both good and bad. They provide almost instantaneous energy when they reach the gut because they can be readily absorbed. The problem is that they are all absorbed at the same time, causing a blood sugar spike. This doesn’t directly cause type 2 diabetes, although simple sugars can contribute towards weight gain, which does; and if your cat is pre-diabetic or diabetic, then blood sugar spikes are bad.

The yogurt listed above isn’t particularly dense with carbs and simple sugars. That’s because it’s mostly water, a point we’ll return to in a moment. But there are yogurts that have lots of added sugar, in which case this would be even more of a problem.

Protein & Fat in Yogurt

Where yogurt truly is nutritionally unsuitable is in its protein and fat content. When assessing your cat’s diet, the two most important nutrients you need to monitor are protein and fat.

The reason for this is that the wild cat’s natural diet is mostly protein and fat. When a cat catches a rodent or a bird, the edible parts are its muscle mass (protein) and the fat layer around its body (fat). Cats use this protein to maintain a high level of muscle mass, and use the fat for dense, high-calorie energy. By contrast, the wild cat’s natural diet contains very little carbohydrate, as stated above. The upshot of all this is that the foods your housecat eats need to be high in protein and fat, because it still thrives on the same diet as its wild ancestors.

Unfortunately, yogurt contains little protein. It contains only 3.5g per 100g, while cats would prefer somewhere around ten times that. This isn’t a major issue if your cat is still getting lots of protein from its core diet. But since there are snacks that provide a suitable amount of protein, and which cats love, there’s no rational justification for feeding yogurt instead. And the more yogurt you feed, the less your cat will eat its regular food, so the more this effect will be felt.

Another issue here is that cats thrive on complete protein. A complete protein is one that contains all the amino acids an animal needs to get from its diet. Amino acids are commonly referred to as the building blocks of protein, because they combine together into long strands, similar to how simple sugars form chains to form complex sugars. There are eleven amino acids that cats need to get from their food, and meats contain them all. Yogurt doesn’t. Perhaps the best known example is taurine. According to a paper published in 2010, while yogurt does contain taurine, it only contains a very small amount (and nowhere near as much is found in meat).

As for fat, this isn’t a major problem. While cats would prefer more fat, they need fat in their food to provide energy rather than to have a thick fat layer. Since yogurt provides energy in the form of simple sugars, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have the right amount of fat.

Water in Yogurt

cat urinary health
Cats need water just like we do. But they prefer getting it from food than drinking it.

Yogurt is around 88% water. That might seem like a lot, but to your cat, it’s not so much.

The reason for this is that the meat cats are supposed to eat contains lots of water too. The amount varies based on what kind of meat it is, how old the animal is when it’s caught/processed for food, how fresh it is, and many other factors. But broadly speaking, meat contains around 60% water. 88% is a fair amount more, but this at least means that your cat is used to digesting large amounts of water all at once.

In fact, yogurt’s water content could be a good thing. Cats can struggle to get enough water in their diets, particularly those that eat kibble. Cats prefer getting their water from their food rather than by drinking it. This can result in kidney problems in cats that eat a dry diet. If your cat ate nothing but kibble, then yogurt could help it get a small amount of water in its system. Yogurt isn’t the only water-dense food out there, and there are certainly better options to offer your cat, but this is a plus point in its favor nevertheless.

Where this would be a problem is if your cat eats nothing but yogurt. Excess water in the diet can make your cat’s stool softer than usual. This on top of the nutritional insufficiency of yogurt, and the problem of lactose intolerance, mean that yogurt would be a very poor choice as a key part of your cat’s diet.

Calories in Yogurt

Calories aren’t a kind of nutrient, but are included here too because they’re important when assessing your pet’s diet. Cats require a diet that’s rich in calorie-dense foods. Fatty, meaty prey is high in calories and that’s what cats are used to. That’s why the chart above states that cat food should ideally contain somewhere between 100 and 400 calories per 100g.

Yogurt typically falls below that range. The plain yogurt listed above weighs in at 61 calories per 100g, which isn’t too much. You can buy yogurts that are low in fat, but these normally have sugar added in to make up for the taste, meaning that they end up at roughly the same calorie-wise as they started.

The calories in yogurt therefore aren’t a problem for your cat. Yogurt could theoretically make your cat gain weight, as anything could; if your cat were eating a maintenance diet and you added yogurt to it, and your cat ate no less of its regular food, then it would gradually gain weight. But that applies to anything, so isn’t a particular problem with yogurt.

Vitamins & Minerals in Yogurt

When you’re considering whether a food is good for you or your pet, you likely look at the vitamins and minerals it contains too. That’s a good idea: vitamins and minerals are vital to bodily processes for cats just like they are for us. The table below uses data from and lists each micronutrient that yogurt contains appreciable amounts of:

Vitamin/MineralAmount per 100g
Vitamin B20.142mg
Vitamin B50.389mg
Vitamin B120.37mcg

As you can see, yogurt contains a reasonable range of micronutrients, and some of them in large amounts (particularly vitamin B12). That’s a good thing, and it’s certainly better that they’re there than if they weren’t. However, this shouldn’t inform your decision as to whether you should feed your cat yogurt or not.

The reason for this is that your cat should get all of the vitamins and minerals it needs from a complete core diet. People are omnivores, so should eat a wide range of foods. But cats are carnivores, and are used to only eating one kind of food, be that rodents, birds, or something similar. It’s therefore valid for your cat to eat nothing but one kind of complete cat food for its entire life. If your cat isn’t eating a complete food, don’t supplement it with yogurt. Instead switch to a food that does contain everything your cat needs.

If you can’t find a complete food that your cat will eat, the answer still isn’t to offer yogurt. Rather, you should talk to a vet about your options. These include feeding a range of healthier food choices that won’t fall foul of lactose intolerance, supplementing with actual veterinary-sourced supplements, or feeding a cat food that your vet recommends. Even if all of these options were exhausted, it would be better to feed your cat random human foods, fruits and vegetables before choosing yogurt.

Is Yogurt Poisonous to Cats?

Yogurt is not poisonous to cats. A poison, which you could also call by its synonym toxin, is a substance that damages organs upon ingestion. The damage can, of course, become so bad that it results in organ failure or death. This damage can be instantaneous or can build up other time. Toxins and poisons are not nebulous ‘bad things’, and are typically very well understood by the scientific community. They are also distinct from venoms, in that poisons are ingested, while venoms are injected (although they will both damage the organs).

Yogurt will not cause damage to your cat’s organs upon ingestion, neither immediately or over a long time. However, it can have other effects, and is still nutritionally insufficient as described above.

Can Cats Be Lactose Intolerant?

my cat wont drink, cat water fountain, cat bowls
Cats love dairy, but can be lactose intolerant.

Cats can either be born lactose intolerant, or can develop lactose intolerance later in life. They are the same as people in that regard.

The idea that cats love dairy products isn’t without evidence. Many people’s cats will lap up milk and cream or gobble down cheese. But if those cats weren’t fed dairy for a small amount of time, they would begin to develop an intolerance.

The reason why this happens is that no animal is meant to drink milk after the age of weaning. When a mammal is born, it’s so small and defenceless that it has no way of finding food on its own. Its teeth may not even have grown in, and many animals, like cats, are born blind. They’re therefore entirely reliant on their mothers for food, and mammal mothers provide their young with food in the form of milk. However, as the young grow, they become able to chew food with their newfound teeth, and so can begin grazing or hunting for themselves. It’s at this point that the mother starts discouraging the young from drinking her milk, and instead focus on finding their own food, or at least eating the food that the mother hunts for them.

The young, of course, if they live on nothing but milk, will never be able to feed themselves in the wild—so they need to be weaned. When this happens, a biological change happens wherein the mammal’s gut stops being able to digest lactose. This happens in people, too, when they stop eating or drinking dairy products; and of course, there are people who develop lactose intolerances despite continuing to ingest dairy.

All of this is to say that cats can be lactose intolerant. It is possible for cats to be born with lactose intolerance, although you would likely already know that if it were the case for your cat; lactose intolerant cats have to be hand reared when they’re kittens. Cats can also develop lactose intolerance in the manner described above, meaning that if you haven’t given your cat dairy in a long time, then it may not be able to digest it. If your cat has a bad reaction to dairy products, it will cause similar symptoms as in people: bloating, gas and diarrhea.

Why Do People Feed Cats Dairy Despite Lactose Intolerance?

The idea that cats should eat and drink dairy is so ingrained in our culture that phrases like the cat that got the cream are known to almost all English speakers. But why did that happen, and why do we think cats should have cream, if it’s bad for them?

Part of the reason is that cats undeniably enjoy dairy products. Rich cream, full fat milk and cheese all have very high fat content. Wild cats, like all predators, naturally go through periods when they can’t find as much prey as they might like. That could be because of the season, because the cat is injured, or because there’s a new cat in town stealing all their prey. Whatever the reason, it’s useful for the cat to have a layer of body fat that it can draw on in times of need. Cats are therefore drawn to high-fat foods so that they can build and maintain this layer of fat. Plus, high-fat foods are rare in nature, so whenever an animal finds one it makes the most of it by eating as much as possible all at once. If that sounds familiar, that’s because we have the exact same instinct for the exact same reason.

Another part of the reason is that it’s the done thing. People know that cats drink cream and full fat milk, because it’s in every Tom & Jerry cartoon and it’s even built into our language. Lots of myths about cats are allowed to live on despite being proven wrong time and time again, so why not this one?

Then there’s the fact that a cat won’t become lactose intolerant unless it’s fully weaned, so if you feed your cat dairy from an early age, it never will. Lactose will therefore remain digestible for your cat throughout its life, and your pet won’t experience problems like diarrhea, bloating and so on. This means there are lots of owners that can rightly say Well, I fed my cat cream all of its life and it never had a problem! Even in these cases, though, dairy products aren’t the ideal snack, so are best avoided.

Can Cats Eat Fruit Yogurt?

Your cat may not be able to digest fruit yogurt for the reasons described above. Fruit yogurt contains just as much lactose as regular yogurt.

The difference here, though, is that fruit yogurt might be even worse for your cat than normal yogurt. There are two reasons for that. One is that the fruit the yogurt is partly made from contains lots of fructose, i.e. fruit sugar. Cats aren’t supposed to get lots of simple sugars, fruit sugars or otherwise, from their diets. If there’s enough then it can make your cat gain weight, or cause/exacerbate type 2 diabetes.

The other reason is that fruit yogurts are often made for children, so contain even more added sugar. This time, the sugar is plain glucose or another simple sugar that isn’t from the fruit or the yogurt, but is added by the manufacturer. The point is to make the yogurt sweet and palatable for children. Even more sugar means even more risk of weight gain and the chance of diabetes in the future.

One point, though, is that fruit yogurt wouldn’t be ‘poisonous’ for cats. While fruit isn’t the ideal snack for cats, it also isn’t poisonous. Even citrus isn’t poisonous for cats per se, although cats certainly don’t like it, and it can cause stomach upsets. The only fruit that is confirmed to be poisonous to cats is the raisin, which can cause kidney problems for unknown reasons.

How Much Yogurt Can Cats Eat?

Ideally, you should limit the amount of yogurt you give to your cat for the reasons described above. It’s nutritionally insufficient, and your cat may be lactose intolerant. Because of the possibility of lactose intolerance, we don’t recommend feeding your cat any yogurt whatsoever.

If you know for a fact that your cat isn’t lactose intolerant, then you should still limit the amount of yogurt you feed to it. That’s because if you fed your cat enough yogurt, it wouldn’t eat as much of its food as it should because it’s full; this would stop it getting all the protein, fat, vitamins and minerals it needs. You should therefore limit the amount you feed to one tablespoon at most, and ideally feed none at all.

How Often Can Cats Eat Yogurt?

The ideal frequency is ‘never’! Yogurt is a poor choice, worse even than fruit and vegetables for a cat for all the reasons described above.

If your cat is lactose intolerant, whether from birth or after weaning, don’t feed any at all. If it’s not, and you plan on feeding it yogurt anyway, limit the frequency with which you offer yogurt to once per week. This will mean that your cat can get plenty of nutrients from its core diet as it won’t be constantly filling up on yogurt instead.

Should Cats Eat Yogurt?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that yogurt’s nutritional insufficiency, lactose content and high simple sugar content make it unsuitable for cats. There are snacks out there that are far better for cats, and which your cat will enjoy just as much if not more than yogurt. You should feed these instead.