There are actually two questions you should ask. Can cats eat ice cream and should cats eat ice cream? The answers are “yes, but it depends” and “definitely no”
Ice cream is more than a desert for us humans. There are so many flavors and so many recipes for ice cream that it makes me doubt if there is any other desert that has the same variety. Except for some unlucky individuals, ice cream is perfectly safe for human consumption. But is it safe for cats? Can cats eat ice cream as some sources on the internet claim?
First things first… “can cats eat ice cream” and “should cats eat ice cream” are two different questions. The fact that you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. For instance, you “can” smoke tobacco products but you know that you really shouldn’t because it is not healthy.
One of the differences between humans and cats when it comes to food is that we know something is bad for us but consume it anyway because we live around 65-70 years and minus 1 or 2 years don’t seem like big difference when we are not close to the inevitable end. However, cats live up to 20 years at best and they don’t really know if it is good or safe for them when they consume the food we provide them. They act instinctively. This makes it our responsibility as cat parents to provide the right food for our little feline friends.
Is Ice Cream Safe for Cats?
When you want to give any kind of food to your cat or it wants to taste the food you are eating, always think about the ingredients inside rather than thinking the food as a whole. Ice cream has two main ingredients; milk and sugar both of which are bad for cats but not lethal if not consumed in large amounts.
Milk has lactose and cats are lactose intolerant which causes vomiting, diarrhea and bloating as well as pain. You may think that kittens suck milk from their mothers and that is also milk but as a kitten grows and starts eating solid food instead of mother’s milk, the lactase enzyme that helps digesting lactose is produced less and less by its body eventually making it lactose intolerant.
Diarrhea and many other gastrointestinal issues are a lot more problematic for cats than it is for humans. Diarrhea can cause dehydration which can be fatal for cats when it is combined with other issues that you may not be aware of. Also, why would you have your cat suffer?
The other issue with ice cream is sugar as mentioned above. Sugar can cause diabetes and obesity which is becoming more and more widespread and lower the life expectancy of cats significantly. In addition, cats don’t have taste receptors that allow them to recognize sweetness. So they don’t even know the real taste of sugar anyway. Cats are not drawn to sweet foods if there is no other ingredient in the food that draws cat’s attention.
Some brands use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar and, although there is no data to conclude that the artificial sweeteners are bad for cats, it is an artificial food anyway. Just like any artificial food, it better to be safe than sorry and not give it.
In the end, ice cream won’t kill your cat right away but it will chip away its life when given regularly or in big amounts. So can cats eat ice cream? Yes, they can in very small amounts but they really shouldn’t.
What about flavors?
So let’s say your cat tried to kill you or conspire against you over a few licks of ice cream and being cornered you were forced to give some ice cream to your cat. What flavor should you give?
Remember, when I said think about the ingredients of the food rather than the whole food? This is another good example to apply this technique. One of the all time favorite flavors of ice cream is chocolate but chocolate contains an organic compound called theobromine which is an alkaloid and it builds up in a cat’s body and becomes toxic. It only takes just a little bit of chocolate to harm your cat.
The lethal dose of theobromine is accepted as 100 to 200 milligrams per kilogram (35.2 oz) and only one ounce of cocoa powder contains 800 milligrams of theobromine which is equal to 25000 milligrams per kilogram! This is 125 to 250 times the lethal dose! A little math shows why cocoa powder and the products containing cocoa powder such as chocolate should NEVER EVER be given to cats!
On the other hand strawberry or vanilla has no toxic effects on cats and is safe.
Are There Any Nutritional Benefits of Ice Cream to Cats?
The answer to this question is very simple. The health benefits of ice cream to cats are none at all.
Is It True That Cats Can Have Brain Freeze?
It is indeed true that cats can have brain freeze but it is very painful and confusing for them. They are even stressed by it so I have no idea why would anyone wants its cat to have brain freeze on purpose. If put simply, brain freeze is caused by the cold temperature rapidly changing the diameter of the anterior cerebral artery (one of the arteries that sends blood to the brain). Although it is not known where the pain comes from because brain has no pain receptors, suddenly decreasing the diameter of an artery and causing less blood flow is not really a good idea.
Are There Any Safe Ice Cream Alternatives For Cats?
Ice cream is generally made with cow’s milk but if you prepare an ice cream with goat’s milk in order to prevent diarrhea. Contrary to cow’s milk, goat’s milk does not need to be pasteurized which means that it still contains some natural enzymes that help lactose digestion.
There are also ice creams that are produced especially for cats which are safe. So if you want your cat to lick some ice cream every now and then, it might be another option for you.
If your cat licked just a little bit of vanilla ice cream there is no need to panic. However, watch your little furball closely for any gastrointestinal issues or symptoms so you will know immediately if there is any need to go to your veterinarian.