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What to Feed a Sick Cat That Won't Eat

Learn what to feed your cat when it feels sick and refuses to eat normally.

November 1, 2023 4 min read
What to Feed a Sick Cat That Won't Eat

Cats may have a reputation as finicky eaters, but under normal circumstances they'll happily dive into their daily meals, often forcing owners to control portion sizes to prevent obesity. A sick cat, however, poses a different problem. Just as you might have no appetite when you don't feel well, your cat may show a dangerous lack of interest in food while battling a health problem. Here are some foods and techniques you can try to get your kitty eating again.


First and foremost, cats need water to survive. A cat can go without food considerably longer than it can go without proper hydration. Fortunately, many cats who take little interest in their food will still drink water. Make certain that your cat has fresh water every day, monitoring its water consumption by keeping its bowl separate from any other thirsty pets in your household.

A cat that won't drink water voluntarily might need a little extra help on your part. See if you can squirt a little water into your cat's mouth periodically with a syringe. Most cats don't like having a syringe forced between their teeth, so use this technique sparingly. If this approach simply doesn't work, you may need to schedule intravenous hydration at your local animal hospital.

Liquid Diets

A liquid diet obviously provides more nutritional value than water, and can greatly supplement your efforts to keep your cat hydrated. Many cats who can't quite stomach a solid diet can manage a liquid equivalent. In fact, there are a variety of pre-packed liquid diet formulas for cats designed for specific challenges, such as low-protein formulas for cats with kidney disease and high-calorie formulas for cats that have lost a lot of weight. Ask your veterinarian to recommend the best type of liquid diet for your cat's condition.

You can also concoct your own liquid diet formula for your ailing kitty. Try making a puree out of some of your cat's favorite menu items. You can even feed your cat pureed baby food.This approach can prove especially beneficial for cats who have swallowing problems or dental issues.

Soup definitely counts as a good liquid diet option for sick cats. You can prepare chicken soup or bone broth without unhealthy, unnecessary seasonings. Your cat will enjoy the flavors while consuming critical moisture and nutrients.

Don't include milk in your sick cat's liquid diet. Contrary to popular belief, the dairy products enjoyed by humans can cause digestive trouble in cats due to their lactose (which feline tummies can't tolerate) and fat content.

Irresistible Cat Treats

If your sick cat doesn't want its usual food, maybe you can grab its interest by supplementing their everyday fare with a special topper. Add some sardines, tuna, unseasoned chicken, or gravy to trigger your cat's appetite. Since cats seem to have a special preference for stinky foods, aim for the strongest-smelling options you can find -- or make a beeline for cat treats that your pet usually goes crazy for. Warming the food before you serve it can make it even more aromatic.

Keep in mind that too much sudden enthusiasm for food can make a sick cat sicker. Dole out your topper ingredients in small, easy-to-digest quantities so your cat can make a gradual, healthy return to regular eating habits.

Whatever foods you add as a topper to your cat's usual meals, you should probably stick to lean meat products. Cats get all their necessary nutrients from meat anyway, while the fiber in fruits and vegetables can upset a cat's stomach -- especially when that cat already feels sick. Starches such as rice and potatoes can also challenge the feline digestive system. Steer clear of fatty meats for the same reason.

Appetite Stimulants

If your cat has lost its interest in food, an appetite stimulant might help turn things around. Catnip has a reputation as a natural appetite stimulant for cats. But if this cheap, easy-to-find product doesn't produce results, it may be time to look into prescription appetite supplements.

The most common appetite stimulants for cats prescribed by veterinarians include mirtazapine, cyproheptadine, and capromorelin. Myrtazapine and cyproheptadine both work by manipulating levels of a hormone called serotonin, while capromorelin behaves in much the same way as ghrelin, the body's own appetite-boosting hormone. Mytazapine comes in a topical gel rubbed on the ear, while the other two are available in liquid form.

If nausea interferes with your cat's appetite, your veterinarian may prescribe a drug called maropitant citrate, either on its own or in combination with the appetite stimulants mentioned above. Maripotant citrate blocks the neurotransmitters that signal queasiness and vomiting. Since this drug comes in tablet form, you may want to administer it with food or water.

When All Else Fails, Contact Your Veterinarian

If you can't cajole your cat into eating or drinking anything at all, you have a potential crisis on your hands that calls for immediate veterinary evaluation. Even if your sick kitty succeeds in eating some of its food, you’ll want to understand and resolve the illness in question. Your vet can diagnose and treat the underlying issue, even inserting a feeding tube if necessary to keep your cat hydrated and fed. Here's wishing your feline friend a complete and speedy recovery!

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