When most people think of cats, they also think of milk.
Or the cats’ collective plot to murder us all.
But milk, too.
We associate cats with milk and assume they love it and that it’s good for them.
So it stands to reason that ice cream (made of milk) would be a good cat treat, right?
But what if it were bad for your cat?
Many cat owners ask, can cats eat ice cream?
Physically, yes, they can.
And can a six-year-old tie a trash bag to his backpack and climb on the roof to test his new parachute (based on a true story)?
Sure he can.
But neither is a good idea.
You shouldn’t feed your cat ice cream for several reasons, the most important of which is that ice cream can make them sick— not just uncomfortable or gassy, but ill.
Most kitty lovers want to avoid that at all costs.
Can Cats Eat Ice Cream?
Ice cream is a dairy product, and though, as mentioned, most of us assume cats and milk are a thing, milk is actually bad for cats.
Kittens drink mothers’ milk, and that’s great, but an adult cat will generally be lactose intolerant.
Plus, human food isn’t generally recommended for cats of any age.
Humans are the only mammals on earth who drink any type of milk once they have reached physical maturity.
So it’s unnatural for your adult cat to drink milk, even though she may love the stuff.
Many people love cigarettes, but that doesn’t make them healthy things to set on fire and suck on.
The dairy aspect of ice cream can cause digestive discomfort and other gastric issues, and a chemical that ice cream makers use to keep ice crystals from forming can be pretty toxic to your cat, so there are two good reasons to keep Felix out of your bowl of ice cream.
Can Cats Eat Vanilla Ice Cream?
While the cherry on top of your ice cream is quite toxic for cats and dogs, the vanilla bean poses no threat to your cat.
If your kitty gets into some vanilla ice cream, the vanilla itself won’t harm her.
The dairy and other chemicals might, but the vanilla won’t.
However, most cats don’t love the taste or smell of vanilla, so the cat that wants to eat vanilla ice cream is relatively rare.
If you have that rare cat, she’ll be fine eating a very small amount of vanilla ice cream—no more than a spoonful.
The vanilla won’t hurt, but other stuff might, so mete it out sparingly.
An alternative cat treat is frozen yogurt if you must give your cat a cold, creamy delight.
Can Cats Eat Non-Dairy Ice Cream?
Not really, no.
Sure, non-dairy ice cream takes lactose intolerance out of the picture, but remember that all ice cream has a bunch of stuff cats don’t need.
Too much sugar and fat are bad for any person and any cat.
Since cats are carnivores, the bulk of nutrients they need come from meat sources, not plants, fruits, vegetables, or grains.
Many non-dairy ice creams use vegetable or other oils, which are not suitable for cats.
In fact, some gardeners use vegetable oils to keep cats out of their gardens, so your cat may turn his nose up at ice cream with that in it.
You can find other cat treats that won’t potentially sicken your pet.
Is Ice Cream Bad for Cats?
Let’s start with the worst thing: propylene glycol.
Many brands and flavors of ice cream use propylene glycol, an antifreeze, to keep their product from forming ice crystals or freezing rock hard, which would render it inedible.
Since the Centers for Disease Control considers propylene glycol “generally recognized as safe” when it’s used in food, and that’s food for people.
Since cats are significantly smaller, the exact quantities of the chemical in ice cream that are generally safe for us could be too much for your cat.
Propylene glycol, in fact, poses a high enough risk to your cat’s health that the Food and Drug Administration forced cat food manufacturers to stop using it.
While one or two licks of ice cream probably won’t kill your cat, she generally should not eat it.
Once again, another issue is lactose intolerance.
Most adult cats are lactose-intolerant.
Feeding them ice cream, filled as it is with lactose, is a recipe for dyspepsia.
Gastric issues are no fun for your cat, and that lack of fun can also impact you.
Or whoever has to clean up.
Does the Flavor Matter?
Yes, the ice cream flavor matters.
If you must feed your cat a little bit of ice cream, make it vanilla.
Cocoa powder, cocoa products, and chocolate of any kind are contraindicated for all cats and dogs.
Other flavored ice creams may contain dyes and flavorings unhealthy for your cat.
One chemical in chocolate can overstimulate feline nervous systems.
This can result in fever, vomiting, changes in behavior, irregular heartbeat, and death.
Since you can’t know exactly how your cat’s system will react to chocolate or what amount it might take to cause her harm, it’s best to keep all chocolate away from your cat at all times.
Can Cats Die From Eating Ice Cream?
Yes, they can.
That said, if your kitty just stole a lick from your cone and ran away after one, you probably have nothing to worry about.
If you are worried, keep an eye on her for symptoms of an upset stomach.
More severe symptoms that you’d more easily notice would be panting (because chemicals in the ice cream can force their nervous systems to overheat) or vomiting.
The most significant risk to your cat would be allowing her to eat chocolate ice cream.
Enough chemicals (including caffeine and theobromine) from the chocolate can be fatal.
The short answer is yes.
Cats can die from eating ice cream, but probably not vanilla ice cream.
Can Cats Get Brain Freeze?
Scientists aren’t 100% in agreement about what causes brain freeze and how the physiology of it works, but nobody disputes that it happens.
And many cat videos are floating around on the Internet of cats getting fed cold treats and suffering what looks like brain freeze.
While we can’t know if the cat experiences the same sensations we do, these videos clearly show cats in discomfort.
We’re not going to link to any of those videos because causing animal pain on purpose is cruel.
Think about when you get brain freeze.
Aren’t you as miserable as you’ve ever been in your life for about 15 seconds?
Why would you want to do that to your cat?
Funny cat memes don’t justify that.
How Brain Freeze Affects Cats
While, again, scientists don’t all agree on how brain freeze works, a loose consensus holds that when blood vessels in the sinus cavity constrict rapidly when exposed to cold stimuli, then expand equally rapidly when warm air or saliva heats the cavity again.
Fast changes in these vessels seem to be the cause of discomfort.
Cats have sinuses, blood vessels, and warm mouths like we do, so it’s not much of a leam to conclude that cats experience brain freeze just like we do— in agony.
Cats and Dairy
Dairy products like milk and ice cream contain lactose and other compounds your cat’s digestive system is not designed to handle.
Without the lactase enzyme, which adult cats lack, your cat’s body doesn’t know what to do with many ingredients in milk.
And while some would now point to the fact that kittens drink milk from their moms, that’s not the same as cows’ milk.
Pouring your kitten a saucer of 2% milk is not good for her.
She should only drink cat milk.
Dairy, specifically cows milk, is not good for cats.
Do Cats Like the Taste of Ice Cream?
That depends on the cat, but if you’ve ever seen a cat eat ice cream, you can assume the answer is almost a universal yes.
What’s not to love? It’s sweet, cold, and creamy.
Cats shouldn’t have dairy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.
What Happens if Your Cat Eats Some Ice Cream?
You shouldn’t have too much to worry about if it’s just a little ice cream.
If your cat eats a lot of ice cream, keep an eye on her, as she might start feeling bad.
If she begins to look or act significantly ill, get her to your vet.
The same goes if she gets into chocolate ice cream, as that’s a double-whammy: the dairy isn’t suitable for cats, and the chocolate can be deadly.
So, can cats eat ice cream?
While feeding ice cream to your cat won’t make you the worst cat owner, due to the chemicals and other compounds in a lot of ice cream, cats should not eat ice cream.
Frozen yogurt is okay, but remember to avoid chocolate of all kinds.
It is dangerous for your pet’s health.
If you think your cat has gotten into chocolate or a large amount of any flavor of ice cream, you should get her to the vet just to be safe.
Have you had experience with cats and ice cream, good or bad?
Let us know in the comments.