Can Cats Eat Ice Cream? Here’s What You Need to Know

Written by Angie Menjivar
Published: November 30, 2023
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A cat with an upset tummy is not a happy cat. And since you’re the one cleaning the litter box, you face some consequences too. You know what happens when your cat eats something it’s not supposed to. Sometimes you have to deal with what’s in the litter box, and sometimes you have to deal with what lands on your favorite rug. But can cats eat ice cream? Let’s find out!

Can Cats Eat Ice Cream?

Dr. Colleen Wallace, a cat-only vet at Cozy Cat Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, NC told A-Z-Animals, “Cats can eat a small amount of ice cream unless they have lactose intolerance, in which case they will vomit and it may sometimes cause diarrhea. Unfortunately, some cats may develop lactose intolerance over time, and the digestive upset may present suddenly after years of dairy ingestion.”

Digging further, you have to consider what other added ingredients are included in the ice cream recipe. Some of those may actually be toxic for your cat. If it has chocolate or coffee in it, it’s a hard no. You might wonder if sugar-free ice cream might be okay, but the answer is still no. Sugar-free ice cream typically has another kind of artificial sweetener like xylitol, which is a toxic ingredient for your cat.

You’re reading that the answer is that ice cream isn’t exactly suitable, but you’re still wondering if a little, occasional lick of your spoon might be possible. What if the ice cream recipe is simple without any extra ingredients that may be toxic? Vanilla ice cream, for instance. Considering it doesn’t have any toxic ingredients, you might think that it would be okay to give to your cat. But ultimately, it still contains dairy, and it still contains sugar, which are two ingredients that won’t always settle well in your cat’s tummy.

Colorful ice cream cones of different flavors. Melting scoops. Top view,  steel metal backgroun

Ice cream is a sweet treat for you, but it’s not the best treat for your kitty.

©Foxys_forest_manufacture/iStock via Getty Images

Certainly, you’re not planning on giving your cat an entire pint of ice cream. So, an occasional light lick of your spoon once you’ve had your spoonful can satisfy your cat’s curiosity, give them a taste of something sweet, and then they have to be on their way. But do not make a habit of sharing ice cream with your cat.

What About Non-Dairy Ice Cream?

There are other types of ice cream options that don’t include dairy. Would one of those be a suitable substitute for ice cream your cat might be able to enjoy? Ultimately, it depends on the ingredients included in the recipe. If the non-diary ice cream includes nut milk, that’s typically safe for your cat’s consumption.

But take a magnifying glass to the rest of the ingredients and confirm that there is nothing toxic in there that could potentially hurt your cat’s system. Even if you find a safe option for your cat, that doesn’t mean that you can give it to them in large quantities. These are calorie-dense foods that don’t offer your cat much by way of nutritional benefits. Small quantities on rare occasions are okay. But again, don’t make a habit out of it.

Lactose Intolerance in Cats

You might be wondering how cats can tolerate their mother’s milk as kittens but as adults, have trouble processing dairy. Well, when your cat was a kitten, it was able to digest lactose because its body was producing lactase. This is an enzyme that allows cats to digest milk. Once they wean off sustenance obtained from their mother, they no longer produce this enzyme — it stops being necessary.

Remember, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that their diets need to include meat for survival. So, as cats get closer to adulthood, they stop being able to process lactose. When they consume dairy products, this results in several symptoms like flatulence, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.

Your cat may be attracted to dairy products, however. Some cats go crazy for cheese, the milk in your cereal bowl, and of course, ice cream. Just like you try new foods because they seem appealing, cats do too. But you know that not everything you eat settles well in your tummy.

Cats may be attracted to these foods, not recognizing that upon consumption, they’re going to feel uncomfortable. Now, to be fair, not every single cat is lactose intolerant. Does this mean that your cat might be able to tolerate ice cream better than another cat? Yes. However, it’s a gamble.

Close up photo of little cat drinking milk from her mother with other kittens. Cat nursing kittens

Before weaning off their mother’s milk, kittens produce an enzyme that makes it possible for them to properly digest dairy.

©Vitalii Stock/

Is Ice Cream Bad for Cats?

Consider what a cat needs to thrive. Ice cream isn’t on the list. It’s not on the list for you, either. It’s a sweet treat you might be able to enjoy on occasion if your health is otherwise good, but you know it’s not something to indulge in because it doesn’t benefit your health. The same is true for cats. It’s not a good food item for cats so yes, it is bad for cats.

While there is a little bit of protein in an ice cream treat, the bad easily outweighs the good. The sugar content is too high and there’s plenty of fat in there, which isn’t good for cats. Cats should be on a specific diet and have a daily caloric intake to remain at a healthy weight. Too many sweet treats here and there don’t just upset your cat’s stomach, but also cause weight gain. Obesity in cats is linked to a host of other conditions, including diabetes.

If You Must Feed Your Cat Ice Cream, Do This

We get it. How can you say no to those pleading eyes? Opt for a dairy-free option to be safe and double-check those ingredients. The cardinal rule pertains to frequency. Don’t consider this a green light for regular ice cream enjoyment with your kitty. Let several weeks pass before you offer a second lick off your spoon. Keep the total consumption of ice cream under a tablespoon.

If you like your ice cream with extra toppings, enjoy it alone. There are too many toxic ingredients in these rich recipes that your cat’s body can’t tolerate. When you know you’re going to indulge, get your cat a safe option. There are frozen treats cats can enjoy and if they have their own, they won’t look at you with those eyes you have a hard time saying no to. Aside from ice cream made for cats, you can also offer up other sweet options that aren’t considered bad for cats.

Safe Alternatives to Ice Cream for Cats

Your cat has a sweet tooth, but how can you offer something safe to satisfy it? Well, there are several human foods you can offer your kitty that give them a different flavor experience than their usual dry or canned food. Try offering your cat cantaloupe. This is a sweet treat they can enjoy chilled from the fridge, and it doesn’t just taste good, it has nutritional benefits. Your cat can snack and absorb beta-carotene along with antioxidants, which promote good skin and eye health.

Another tasty fruit your cat can enjoy is a banana. Serve a piece at room temperature or make it ice cream-like by freezing the pieces before offering them to your kitty. Remember, however, that with any treat, you shouldn’t be offering more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories. Blueberries are a great low-calorie fruit for cats that you can also freeze to simulate the cooling effect of ice cream!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Nic_Ol/ via Getty Images

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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