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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.

Appetite Stimulants for Cats

June 28, 2013 / (5) comments

When one of my feline patients isn’t eating, I first try to determine why. Directly addressing the underlying cause (when possible) is essential if we’re going to get and keep the cat eating in the long run. But sometimes, resolving the primary problem takes some time. In these cases, we need a patch to keep us on the road to recovery.


The solution may be as easy as reducing the symptoms associated with the cats primary disease. If the cat is hurting, improving pain control may do the trick. Nausea can at least be partially controlled with medications. Some cats will develop a food aversion when they don’t feel well. It’s as if they believe the food they were eating when they became ill is responsible for their condition (not an unreasonable assumption when you’re not that far removed from your wild ancestors). Try offering a couple of different foods (wet, dry, and various flavors). Warming the food and hand feeding can also help.


If none of this works, and the cat has been inappetant for only a couple of days, I will next try a medication that can stimulate the appetite. Diazepam (Valium) and a related drug midazolam have been used in this role, but they have fallen out of favor. At best, cats tend to take a few bites of food but then get so sleepy they stop eating. Diazepam has also been implicated in causing liver disease in some cats. The drugs mirtazapine and cyproheptadine are better options. An acupuncture/pressure point located on the top of the nose, right at the midline where the haired and unhaired tissues meet is also worth a try.


Appetite stimulants aren’t a good option when a cat has been eating poorly for more than a few days. As we wait to see how effective they’ll be, the cat is probably still not taking in enough calories, which is most likely initiating or worsening hepatic lipidosis. In these cases, I strongly recommend placing an esophagostomy tube (E tube). E tubes are easy to insert, allow the feeding of canned food (in comparison to specially prepared diets) and the administration of medications, have few complications, and cats aren’t overly bothered by them. If vets were quicker recommend and owners quicker to authorize the placement of E tubes, we’d see far fewer cases of hepatic lipidosis and save many lives.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  5

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  • 06/28/2013 08:35am

    When the cats is not willing to eat, we should feed them with some natural appetite stimulants that can help renew their hunger and get them to eat again rather than providing drugs as it might have some side effects. A natural appetite stimulant, catnip plant is very useful in increasing the desire to eat. You can also try feeding them with tuna fish or sardine. The strong smell of tuna will definitely make your cat hungry and eat it up. However, as far drugs are concerned, it should be given in prescribed dosage.

  • 06/28/2013 09:50pm

    I haven't had good luck with cyproheptadine and haven't tried mirtazapine, but have never failed with prednisolone. Yeah, I know steroids should be used very carefully in cats, but in all cases (so far), they were getting the pred anyway for something else. My cancer kitty was on 10 mg sid and wouldn't eat at all if we tried to wean him from the steroids.

    Interestingly, I've heard anecdotal evidence that generic diazepam works better than brand-name Valium and used that many years ago with good results.

    Of course, drugs are a last resort when hand-feeding fails.

    I've not had a tube-fed kitty, but once cat-sat for a kitty with a stomach tube. It was a breeze and the cat didn't mind at all. I wouldn't hesitate to have a feeding tube place if the vet recommended it.

  • 05/31/2016 03:10pm

    How much Diazepam you think its ok to give.
    My cat stopped eating after gastritis and hairball removal via surgery and now he just stares at the food, tried with syringe but not much of a result.
    ( Hope you will read the post just saw it was 3 years ago tou posted it )

  • 05/31/2016 10:05pm

    Baba Nuki,

    I would strongly suggest you talk to your vet. Some vets are reluctant to use Diazapam due to possible complications, but no doubt your vet could help with a kitty that won't eat after surgery.

  • Assist-feeding w/ syringe
    11/05/2013 02:27pm

    I'd suggest that the next step from hand feeding is actual "assist-feeding",
    in which a large syringe is used to place watered-down canned or home-made food onto the cat's tongue.
    When done correctly, it can "prime the pump" of appetite in your cat; sometimes tasting and swallowing that first mouthful turns a psychological switch, changes in their attitude, and they're more keen to eat another mouthful, and so on.
    It's [b]not[/b] safe of course to squirt the food far down into their throat as it risks aspiration and choking. There is a right and wrong way to do it.

    They likely resist at first, but with patience and love a pet can get on board with the process. My Renal Failure cat lived an extra 6 months with assisted feeding at home. Well worth the ordeal of learning the ropes. I even bought a baby bib as the first dozen tries were messy!

    With ill cats, [i]any [/i]amount, even if it's not how much they eat when healthy, helps.