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Encouraging Sick Cats to Eat

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Your Philly Vet Art City Vets Philadelphia Cat Blog Veterinary

Cats, like humans, may lose their appetite when they're feeling unwell. It's essential to encourage them to eat to maintain their strength and ensure a swift recovery. Unlike humans, cats can become very sick if they don’t eat for even 24 hours since their unique metabolic pathways put them at a high risk of hepatic lipidosis. It is extremely important to encourage them to eat while in the process of diagnosing and treating the cause of the decreased appetite. If you notice your cat is eating less or has skipped a meal, get in contact with your vet. There are many causes of decreased appetite including nausea, pain, fever, and stress. Addressing the underlying cause specifically is essential. These are tips that will help your cat eat as they are being treated by a veterinarian.

Offer Variety

Offering a variety of foods or a totally new food can help jumpstart your kitty’s appetite. Rotate between different flavors and types of cat food to find what your cat prefers. If cats are sick and feeling nauseous, they may develop a food aversion and stop eating a previously-loved food. Providing something with a totally new flavor can help combat this. Rotating flavors is also helpful - feed a given flavor for 1-3 meals before switching to a different flavor.

  • Wet food is often more appealing to cats because of its strong aroma and soft texture. Try adding water to make it soupy

  • Try different textures of canned food: flakes, stew/gravy, pate, or slices.

  • Some cats really prefer crunchy textures, so trying a different brand or flavor of dry food can be helpful. Crunchy treats like Greenies and Temptations are actually fully balanced with vitamins/minerals, so those can be a helpful addition either on their own or as a topper.

  • Some cats may be enticed to eat by the smell and taste of human food. Try offering small amounts of cooked chicken, turkey, or fish. Be cautious not to offer any foods that are toxic to cats, such as onions, garlic, chocolate, grapes, or heavily salted foods.

  • Some all time cat favorites: Churu, chicken baby food, bonito fish flakes, clam juice, Party Mix treats.

Modify Feeding Techniques

  • Warm the food: Warming your cat's food slightly can enhance the aroma and make it more appealing. Be sure not to overheat the food; it should be just above room temperature. Usually just 5 seconds in the microwave is enough. Mixing in warm water is also an option.

  • Small, frequent meals: Instead of offering large meals, try providing smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. This may be easier for your cat to manage and can help to stimulate their appetite. To prevent food aversion, move unfinished food away from your cat so they aren’t stuck with the smell of old food.

  • Hand feeding: If your cat is reluctant to eat from their bowl, try offering food by hand. You can also try petting them while they eat. This may help to create a sense of comfort and bonding, encouraging your cat to eat. Avoid syringe feeding or force feeding as this can cause food aversions or even aspiration pneumonia.

  • Use a shallow dish: Some cats may be hesitant to eat from a deep bowl. Switch to a shallow dish, plate, or even cookie sheet to make it easier for your cat to access their food.

  • Make it exciting: You can give your cat a “free pass” to eat cat food off of a regular dinner plate on top of the counter or kitchen table.

Experiment with different types of food and feeding techniques to find what works best for your cat. Always consult with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your cat's health or need additional guidance on encouraging them to eat. By working together with your veterinarian and implementing the tips in this article, you can help your cat get back on the path to health and happiness.

By Dr. Morgan Shafer

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