Milk is just such a big part of our culture. We seem to have it with everything, from cereal all the way through to coffee. But what about rats? Can they safely consume it and other dairy products or does it pose a risk? It’s good to know as its often in the fridge left over; and we are constantly reminded of the many health benefits, vitamins and minerals it can provide. With these factors in mind, I decided to spend some time researching the suitability of this food for rats to find out for good!
So, can rats drink milk? Rats can only safely consume a very small amount of cows milk, and should do so infrequently. This is true for any dairy product including yogurt. Even if they are to enjoy it, rats are lactose intolerant. Consuming too much milk or other dairy product will likely result in diarrhea and digestive upset. Instead, plant-based milks (Almond, Coconut, Oat etc.) and calcium supplements are better options.
When we look at diet recommendations for pet rats, we often find the foods that are safe to eat, preferable and those to avoid.
However, when it comes to a food like milk, and although a liquid is still classified as such, its not commonly referenced.
Besides, milk can be problematic for many of us humans, so the question naturally follows if it is preferable, or even suitable for our pets.
And then there is the fact that milk can take many forms.
It can come from a range of animals, and is very different in composition depending on where it comes from.
Cow milk is without doubt the most popular and one of the most commonly consumed beverages throughout the world. Then there is goats.
Even some ‘nuts produce milk’. I’m kidding of course, but there are various plant based milks available on the market too; all of which may be suitable to those who suffer with milk allergies.
But back to rats. That’s why we are here of course.
Let us now take a closer look at whether rats can drink cows milk in further detail, if it differs for baby rats, whether a rat would even attempt to drink it and the suitability of other dairy products.
Do Rats Drink Milk?
Irregardless of whether it is healthy for them; rats will drink milk if you serve it to them.
In fact, they generally really enjoy it and will drink copious amounts – to the point of consuming all that is provided.
There are plenty of reports from rat owners who confirm this to be the case.
While they are highly intelligent rodents, they do not have the self awareness to know that a food is going to be problematic for them.
So, this is why if you are to serve milk to them, you need to consider the type and the quantity!
So, let us begin with cow milk in the following section; is this a good idea to offer?
Can Rats Drink Cows Milk?
Rats can drink cows milk, but only in very limited serving sizes and only very infrequently.
In other words, cows milk should definitely not become a staple in the diet of your pet rat.
A small amount here and there should not prove problematic, but in higher quantities and frequencies, its going to cause issues.
This is because rats are lactose intolerant as adults, not having the digestive capabilities to process the sugars that naturally occur in cows milk.
Being lactose intolerant means that they do no possess the enzyme required (lactase) which leads to lactose malabsorption.
The consequences? Bloating, gas, diarrhea and general digestive upset.
Whether or not rats can drink lactose free milk is another matter entirely of course.
While it is much more likely to be safe, it is far from ideal.
A rat should be getting the majority of their nutrition from their staple pelleted foods, along with fresh fruits and vegies as treats.
At this stage, you may be wondering where rats can get the calcium they need for good health?
The answer here is through calcium supplementation; talking to your vet or pet store will help you to find the best product to provide.
This study even suggests it is generally a good idea. Especially if their diet is high in phosphorous to begin with.
Otherwise, cows milk is generally not the best of ideas as a means of getting your rat this mineral.
Baby rats should generally not drink cows milk. As the American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association (AFRMA) outlines, cows milk should not be provided as it does not support adequate growth.
This is quite interesting. As baby rats are actually very reliant on milk in general.
But a very specific type of milk.
Rats are one of several different animals that actually consume milk from their mothers in the early stages of life.
They rely on their mothers during the period of time where they are too small and unable to acquire and digest solid foods; their mothers milk really is the only option.
Besides, their mothers can provide everything they need during this important phase of life.
Rats do eventually go through a period known as ‘weaning’. This is when they become independent from their mother and transition over to acquiring their own food.
As part of this process, they actually lose the ability to digest lactose by up to 50-75% as this study confirms.
And while one may infer from the study that this mans rats can digest lactose as babies; we have to consider that the lactose found in mothers rat milk is very different to that found in cows. Its in much lower quantities for starters.
Can Rats Have Dairy Products?
Dairy is not preferable and should not be fed to pet rats. At the minimum it should be fed very infrequently, and in very limited amounts. Even then, it also depends on the particular dairy product that you are looking to provide.
As a general statement, rats just do not have the digestive capacity and capabilities to sufficiently break dairy down.
We have already mentioned and looked at the problems of lactose above which is often found in milk; but we should also consider that there are better foods available that can provide the same, if not better nutrition.
Especially for rats and their specific needs.
But what about cheese?
Cheese is another dairy product that owners often question whether or not it is suitable.
Again, there are problems just beyond the lactose here. And it is of course true that not all chesses are the same, nor all contain lactose.
With this reasoning in mind, hard milder cheeses are theoretically the best (as they are lower in lactose).
Soft, moldy and strong cheeses not suitable altogether .
We have to consider that cheeses are generally very high in fat and calories.
This is not going to promote the health of your rat, and can equally make them put on excess weight which will only lead to all other kinds of other potential health issues this brings.
So, it depends on the type of cheese. A very small piece of cheddar, edam etc. here and there should not cause issues.
But a stilton, a brie or a feta just are not suitable.
What Milk Can Rats Drink?
Milk is synonymous with cows, although it can come from different animals and there are a variety of milk substitutes on the market today.
As such, there are actually a number of milk products that may be suitable for consumption by rats.
One particular instance where this has been shown to be true is with baby rats that are taken away from their mothers early, or whom lost them early in life.
In this instance, specific formulas have been used safely and successfully to wean them and give them the nutrition they need at this important phase of life.
But beyond this, adult rats can equally consume certain milk products.
Let us now take a closer look at some of the main options below:
- Goat milk; which is naturally lower in lactose and other sugars. Equally, fat molecules are known to be smaller. All of these factors make it easier to digest.
- KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer)
- Esbilac; a puppy formula
- Enfamil (so long as it does not contain iron)
Most of these can easily be purchased from online marketplaces such as Amazon. Take this Esbilac product on Amazon for example.
While it is marketed for dogs, rats will be able to safely consume it. Plus, it contains prebiotics, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, is very easy for your rat to digest and easy to mix and provide.
Beyond these kind of formulas, you can also consider plant based and or nut milks.
Almond, Coconut, Soy and Oat milk etc. are all such examples.
Even then, despite their safety – they should be provided as a rare treat and in moderation.
Rats will drink milk if provided and available, and they will typically enjoy doing so! But this does not mean it should be given, regularly, if at all.
While it is true that not all milk is the same; it is generally advised that rats obtain most of their hydration and nutrition from water and other foods.
If you do want to treat your rat; then there are certainly better options out there. Goat milk is just one example, although some of the formulas may be better still.
In fact, they may even be beneficial depending on context. Is your rat underweight or in need of extra nourishment?
Then perhaps it is an avenue to explore.
At the end of the day, whether or not you feed milk is ultimately a decision that you will need to make.
When it comes to cows milk and other dairy; it should not cause any significant issues, in the short term.
But is it truly worth the risk?
There are better foods out there, for sure.