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essential nutrition advice for your pet.

How to Get a Sick Cat to Eat

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

How to Get a Sick Cat to Eat

December 26, 2014 / (3) comments

When cats feel poorly, they stop eating. When they stop eating, they feel worse and are even less likely to eat. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped as soon as possible if a cat is to heal.

 

How to Get a Sick Cat to Eat

 

The first step in the process is determining why a cat is no longer eating. Sometimes you can figure this out by remembering that most cats hate change. Anything different in the home could be responsible. Visitors, new pets, different foods, a new food bowl, an altered schedule, a different feeding location — you name it and it might be to blame. As much as is possible, return your cat’s diet and environment back to what is “normal” for him or her and see what happens.

 

If this doesn’t work or you are noticing other worrisome symptoms, it is time for a check-up with your veterinarian. Virtually every disease that cats can get has the potential to turn them off their food.

 

The fix may be straightforward. For example, a cat with dental disease will usually start eating again once doing so isn’t painful anymore. Sometimes, however, we need to encourage a cat to eat while we figure out what is wrong or wait for treatment to take effect.

 

While I have just said that cats hate change, it is possible to get them to eat by tempting them into trying something new so long as that something is darn near irresistible (from a cat’s point of view). Try buying a few types of canned food (pate-style, flaked, etc.) in different flavors. Place some on a small plate and warm it slightly. If your cat shows no interest, try adding a little fish oil, chicken broth, tuna juice, or cooked egg.

 

Check out this video for another idea. Those wiggling things are bonito flakes — thin shavings of tuna — that move when placed on top of warm, wet food. I think a cat would have to feel really awful not to be intrigued by that!

 

Make feeding time a social and pleasant experience. Take your cat to a quiet part of your home, ideally with a diffuser emitting feline facial hormone, a natural signal to cats that everything is “okay.” Try hand feeding him or put a small amount of pate-style food on your finger and touch it to his lips. Pet your cat and praise him. If your cat is willing, try dribbling a thin slurry of food into his mouth using a syringe. Do not force the issue, however. Force-feeding is stressful for cats and potentially dangerous for you.

 

If none of these tricks are successful and you still can't get your cat to eat, your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant (e.g., mirtazapine or cyproheptadine) or even recommend placement of a feeding tube. While owners sometimes balk at the thought of a feeding tube, most who have agreed to the procedure are thrilled with the results. Feeding tubes make giving cats all the food, water, and medications they need incredibly simple.

 

One of the biggest mistakes owners make is waiting too long to make a veterinary appointment for a cat that has stopped eating. The adverse effects of poor nutrition start within just a few days, and the longer you wait the harder it will be to get your cat eating again.

 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

 

 

Image: v777999 / Shutterstock

 

Comments  3

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  • Been There. Done That.
    12/26/2014 05:04pm

    I've had all the above experiences except for a feeding tube on one of my own. However, I cat-sat for a kitty with a stomach tube and it was, in my opinion, exceptional. I wouldn't hesitate to have one for a sick kitty if that's what the doctor thinks is best.

    My current problem is that I have one that has never been food-motivated. She's slowly losing weight and the doctor is working to figure out why she's not eating much. (It's not a dental problem. However, a couple of her blood counts are low.) I have found that mixing the wet food with warm water (and serving it immediately) has helped. I'm wondering if the aroma is stronger and is more appealing.

    She can act really hungry, but if I don't serve what she had in mind, she will walk away, regardless of how hungry she is.

    Next we do chest x-rays, an ultrasound and possibly a bone biopsy.

    It's frustrating because she acts just fine and looks wonderful. She definitely needs to eat more, but we have to find out why she's not interested.

  • 12/26/2014 05:08pm

    Best of luck diagnosing your kitty!

  • 12/27/2014 08:08am

    Thanks so much. She has low white and red cell counts and a high-ish calcium level.

    Although my fingers are crossed, I'm not expecting a good outcome.

    You know, expect the worst and hope for the best.