Cats and milk—it’s a scene we all recognize: an adorable young kitten cautiously approaches a small saucer of milk. Hesitantly, she takes a small sip. And then another. “What is this deliciousness!” she thinks. Gleefully she slurps until every last drop is gone. But can cats drink milk without harmful side effects? Each cat’s needs are unique, but the general consensus amongst pet professionals is no, not really.

While it may seem like a charming moment, the reality is that cow’s milk, intended for humans, often does more harm than good to your little kitty. While they’ll love the taste of that sweet cream, most cats are lactose intolerant and can’t digest the lactose found in most cow’s milk without a bout of tummy troubles.

Good Now, Not So Good Later…

Watching your cat happily enjoy that saucer of milk will definitely garner tons of photo ops, but most likely, you’ll both end up paying the price later. When cats have trouble digesting milk, it often leads to vomiting and diarrhea—a messy situation for both you and your furry friend. If you MUST give your kitty a treat, opt for snacks and treats formulated for felines. Cats should rarely eat human food, as most of it is too rich and fatty for their dietary needs. Proper cat food should always contain nutritional elements that will help your cat thrive.

Mama Knows Best

The dairy debate raises another big question: can kittens drink milk? The only time a cat should consistently drink milk is when she is still young and nursing. But a mother cat’s milk is significantly different from anything you’d buy in the dairy aisle. A kitten’s stomach is extremely sensitive and unable to process most other types of milk. If for some reason a mother cat is unable to nurse, or she is separated from her young, opt for a replacement formula specifically designed for kittens. So when questioning whether “can kittens have milk?” the answer is yes—but only from its mother.

Good for Me, Not So Good for You

Much like humans, each cat will have a different reaction to the various foods they eat. So even though your neighbor’s furry pal loves to enjoy an occasional teaspoon or two of cow’s milk, it doesn’t mean your cat will be able to digest it the same way. If you must give it a go, start small with just a few drops, and never let milk—or any other human food—comprise of more than 10% of their diet. As kittens mature, they lose their ability to digest lactose, the sugar that’s naturally found in milk. Milk without lactose, or with lactase, can be OK for cats—but keep it to small amounts.

Spoiling your pet is often one of the greatest joys for a pet owner. But it’s important to remember what’s best for them and their tiny tummies. So whether or not your cat can have milk without any issue, think twice before opening the fridge and reaching for the milk carton the next time you’re tempted to give your kitty a little treat.