How can I get my cat to eat?
May 19, 2011 2:55 PM   Subscribe

My cat has stopped eating (for a couple of reasons) and I'm running out of ideas on how to get her to eat. Looking for advice and suggestions and anything which will help me quit worrying in the meantime.

Our cat did something to injure one of her front legs, and was pretty much in obvious pain. We let the problem "settle" overnight to see if it would heal on its own, but it seemed to only be getting worse, so we took her to the vet. There we discovered she'd lost nearly a pound (probably because the posture required for eating was painful for her). After a couple of x-rays, the vet diagnosed her as having some kind of ligament damage to her forelimb and gave us Metacam, a liquid NSAID, which is to be administered every 3 days.

After the first dose she was obviously having less pain, favoring her forelimb a lot less, and seemed to be on the road to recovery.

After the second dose (this past Monday) her pain continued to lessen, but she had pretty much stopped eating altogether. Now, I've taken various NSAIDs for a back condition I have, and know how much they can fuck up your stomach. And one of the side effects we've read about online for this particular drug is that it can make cats stop eating. After consulting with the vet, we've stopped administering the Metacam to her. It has been 3.5 days since her last dose.

She's acting obviously hungry, but it seems that there isn't anything which is triggering the "smell to eat" response in her.

We've tried mixing some of her regular wet food with water to make a sort of porridge and heating that briefly in the microwave.

We've tried getting special "Recovery RS" high-protein food from the vet.

We've tried administering that special food diluted with water until it could be administered via oral syringe, but she pretty much rejected all of that we squirted into her mouth, with very vocal protests.

We've managed to get her to eat a very tiny amount in the past 18 hours or so. Yesterday evening, she was interested enough in some turkey-flavored Temptations (cat treats) that she ate about 10 of those. They're nutritionally sound and high in protein, so I was encouraged. But she's rejected them (and every other of the (yes we spoil our cats) 8 flavors of cat treats we have on-hand since then. She's eaten two or three pea sized bits of that special Recovery food because we put the bits on her nose and she had no choice but to lick it off or leave it there.

I know that cats can end up with liver damage if they aren't eating regularly, and this cat was always a nicely healthy weight -- between 11 and 12 lbs. She was under 10 lbs last Friday when we took her to the vets, and she hasn't eaten in such a long while, it's becoming visibly obvious that she's losing weight. Plus her behavior is obviously changed -- much more low energy and less interested in things in general.

The thing is... she's acting like she's hungry. She keeps approaching her food, both wet and dry, and sniffing at it... She keeps coming up to me and doing her "give me a treat" routine, but once the treats are given she doesn't follow through with the actual eating part.

We've been looking online, but none of the "get them to eat" tricks we read about seem to actually work.

Is this something I need to be panicking about yet? How long until the real damage from not-eating sets in? Are there special techniques to feeding cats with a syringe I may not know about? Will this all go away in a day or two and I have nothing to worry about?
posted by hippybear to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was tending to my own sick-straight-from-the-shelter cat I rubbed small amounts of plain yogurt on his face. He wouldn't eat anything voluntarily but he would clean the yogurt off his face and eat it in the process. I did this over and over again.

I also opened his mouth and put tiny bits of lunch meat right in there. Once it was in his mouth, he ate it.

(Note: my cat is a bit dim and easily fooled. I'm not sure how this would work on a sharper cat.)
posted by divka at 3:00 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried meat baby food? Just make sure whatever flavor it is doesn't have onions or garlic added, and you're fine. Any cat I've ever had would crawl through a lake of fire to eat it. (It's not nutritionally complete so it won't be a long-term solution, obviously.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:01 PM on May 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Is she drinking lots of water? Dehydration is the most urgent issue if she's not (and that would be go-to-the-vet-NOW urgent).
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:02 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: I successfully used meat-flavored baby food to coax my old sick cat to eat. Also tuna packed in oil.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:02 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Pure chicken baby food worked well (no onion). I mixed it with rice cereal sometimes (the vet said to, I am not sure why), and kitten milk replacement powder (which kept it less nutritionally incomplete).
posted by jeather at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: meat baby food, mashed up watery tuna (my cats don't like it packed in oil), real butter, heavy cream (some people say dairy is not good for cats, but mine never had a problem and it gets them to eat a bit)

Try to make a slurry and drip it in her mouth with an eyedropper. It may make her realize that she really does want to eat. If not, you can keep feeding her this way until she feels better and eats on her own.
posted by fifilaru at 3:15 PM on May 19, 2011

If your cat starts losing more fur than just normal shedding, get her to the vet right away so that they can hydrate her. Losing fur is a sure sign she is dehydrated.

Otherwise, I would try putting a little food right on her face, under her nose, to get her to lick it off, as you have done.

She could be in pain from her leg still, and it may be the pain, rather than a side effect from the meds, that affected her appetite. So you might want to also call the vet to see if you can maybe give her the meds again.
posted by misha at 3:16 PM on May 19, 2011

Also, I second the rubbing food on the muzzle and paws. I have a dim-bulb cat and it worked on him
posted by fifilaru at 3:17 PM on May 19, 2011

Is her bowl flat on the floor? You might try elevating it a bit, in case her eating posture is causing pain.

Also, need cat pix pls.
posted by cyndigo at 3:19 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my cat was non-eating for quite a while, meat baby food (without onions/garlic) was the best answer for her. Hope she feels better soon!
posted by Stacey at 3:25 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Nthing the baby food - chicken, turkey, ham. The Safeway near my vet's office is always out of those flavors (not kidding).

As you may know, cats who don't eat are in major danger of fatty liver, which can be fatal, and can happen very fast. Call your vet and ask if you should bring her in, or when you should bring her in if she continues to not eat.
posted by rtha at 3:27 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going back to your original question, you say the cat "did something" to injure her foreleg. It's the nospecificity of this that concerns me – it suggests you're not quite sure how she fell or what happened. I know this is second-guessing you and your vet, but is there any chance she's done something else, like cracked a tooth or hurt her jaw, that's making it difficult to impossible for her to eat comfortably?
posted by zadcat at 3:28 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hill's Prescription a/d is already thin enough to use in a syringe and has more vitamins than baby food. I had to force-feed one of my cats last year -- it took forever and was not fun for either of us, but she's alive and healthy today.

Your vet should be able to you tips about syringe feeding and demonstrate, too.
posted by thaumatrope at 3:30 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, if your cat still won't eat the baby food, if you mix it with water, it's very easy to force feed with a syringe. I found that 1 or 1.5cc of liquid at a time gave cats the least likelihood of spitting it out -- just hold their mouths open (put your fingers at the back of her mouth and push) and squirt it as far back into her mouth as you can. Sometimes it takes being forcefed for a cat to get its appetite back.
posted by jeather at 3:30 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Mrs Piato (veterinary nurse) writes:

Lots of red flags, esp. the behavioral and rapid weight changes. I recommend you tell your vet about your concerns ASAP or get a second opinion on what is going on with your cat. In the meantime, try heating up her food to make it more pungent. That can help stimulate appetite. Otherwise, you can force feed using the following technique:

1. sit in a chair with a towel over your knees
2. put in the cat in your lap with it's head pointing away from you
3. Cup her head with one hand, with your thumb and middle finger at the side of her jaw
4. GENTLY tilt her head back
5. Insert the barrel of your syringe into her mouth at a diagonal (do not shove it directly down her throat)
6. Slowly press down on the plunger

If you decide to try to force feed her yourself again, make sure you are using complete cat food so she is getting the vitamins she needs. Overall though it sounds like she needs more professional attention and I agree that you should check her mouth for any signs of inflammation or soreness.
posted by piato at 3:33 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hate to be paranoid buuuut. Er. Is it possible there's an additional thing that is not her leg and not the specific food choices you are offering, that might be the problem? Dunno if that would help you get her to eat, but might indicate some other condition (teeth/gums weird? some other thing in the bloodwork that might show why her behavior is this aberrant, for her?)

Or, what Mrs. Piato, (veterinary nurse) just wrote too fast for me to beat her to the punch.
posted by bitterkitten at 3:36 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: When my cat was sick from chemo and wouldn't eat any cat food, the only things he would tolerate were meat baby food (he LOVED the ham one, but he was a ham-loving cat) and these Fancy Feast appetizer things. He mostly just lapped up the "delicate broth" of the appetizers, but he'd get a little food that way. But he'd eat almost a third of a jar of baby food at each sitting.

Meat baby food is one of the grossest things I've ever seen or smelled, but it gets the job done.
posted by bedhead at 3:38 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would definitely check in with the vet again and find out if she should be on an IV at the pet hospital. My cat got an intestinal infection this past fall and had to be hospitalized and on an IV. THey told us they were trying everything to get her to eat and she wouldn't take anything. They thought we should keep trying, and so we brought in some different flavors of canned food and put small amounts on our fingertips, while gently holding her and petting her. With a lot of coaxing she would eat off our fingertips. Eventually she was well enough to go home and I can to keep coaxing her to eat for several days until her normal appetite came back. They also sent us home with an appetite stimulant. I'm sure force feeding with a dropper is a good last resort, but I'd try the wet food or baby food on the fingertip (and be gentle but persistent) first. She was so uncomfortable and sick that I couldn't imagine holding her down and forcing her mouth open (my cat fights this sort of thing intensely). Best of luck with your kitty.
posted by JenMarie at 3:40 PM on May 19, 2011


Heavy whipping cream--straight as a liquid or it's easy to whip it in the blender. But don't buy whipped cream, it has sugar added, and don't use milk, it has a lot more lactose than cream (bad for many cats)
posted by anaelith at 3:44 PM on May 19, 2011

Response by poster: Well, of course there's a chance there's another injury going on here, but she was eating fine up through her second dose of this medication on Monday, which was a good 3-5 days after she did whatever-she-did to her arm which had her avoiding using it. There's no evidence of any other injury, and as I said, she was eating fine until after this second dose of the NSAID.

We've been in touch with the vet regularly for a couple of days now, when it was obvious that she wasn't eating. The vet is a cat-loving vet, so they're staying on top of this as much as they can.

I had a pretty clear explanation of how to do syringe feeding from the vet, although no demonstration. I will try looking for youtube videos which may give better instructions.

In the meantime, I'm off to find some meat baby food. Just typing that out is disgusting, so we'll see how the actual experience is once I have some in hand.
posted by hippybear at 3:52 PM on May 19, 2011

My old (made it to almost nineteen) non-eating cat was never keen on baby food of any kind, but cooked chicken or turkey breast could tempt her. During some of the worst times, I would lie on the floor next to her and fed her the shredded meat, a tiny morsel at a time. She seemed to enjoy the attention.

She would eat and then reject many different varieties of canned food, but the Fancy Feast classics in the little cans were the most reliable performers.

Near the end, she would only eat turkey, so I would buy a pre-cooked breast, mince it all up with the fat and skin, stir in a little broth and feed her that. I would freeze the bulk of it as tablespoon sized portions.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:55 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my old fogey cat wouldn't eat, I got him Fancy Feast Fish and Shrimp Feast, because it's the stinkiest, and heated it slightly in the microwave.

First, though, I got a whole bag of dried catnip and let him roll around in a big pile of it. I'm not kidding. High cat = munchies. He still didn't eat as much as he normally did, but he ate a little, and it got better every day after that.
posted by HopperFan at 4:12 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Has your vet not talked to you about Pepcid??? It's pretty par for the course when cats are on medication that might upset their stomach to prescribe low-dose Pepcid, and the anti-inflammatory stuff might be making her feel blechy. (It's usually a 1/4 of a low-dose pill, not much. (I AM NOT A VET, I AM NOT YOUR VET. Don't give your cat medicines without professional consultation.) But yeah, a little Pepcid often goes a long way in settling.

It sounds like your cat isn't generally a finicky eater but maybe it's time to try a bunch of stuff, ranging from cat foods hard and soft to people foods, especially yogurt, pumpkin and meat. (Warning: pumpkin is high fiber and does what fiber does. Heh. Which is useful if they have diarrhea.)

When Cat (sigh, RIP) was off his food, we'd go buy a roast chicken at Whole Foods and toss little slices at him. That never failed.

But also people are making a good point: cats also respond well to the MacDonald's of cat foods, the Deli Cat and the gross cheap food in cans. After all, they like comfort food too.

And we're assuming she's drinking. But if she's not, that needs to be dealt with.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:21 PM on May 19, 2011

Chicken flavor baby food is supposed to be the best -- or maybe it's just what everybody I know has used.

You might ask for another pain medication, too. One of our foster cats goes off his food when stressed, and didn't eat for a couple of days when his paw was recently injured, but after the vet gave him buprenorphine he ate a lot (and tried to jump 6' into the air -- he was feeling pretty good). This is apparently a fairly standard drug for cats; the local spay/neuter van gives it as post-operative pain relief to their patients.
posted by amtho at 4:41 PM on May 19, 2011

My cat needed probiotics a while back and he LOVED FortiFlora. It's a powder that you sprinkle on their regular food. When I fed him food that had this stuff on it, he couldn't eat it fast enough. Your vet may carry it (if not, perhaps another in your area will). You can order it online from several places, but I'm sure you don't want to have to wait several days for it to arrive.
posted by kitty teeth at 5:14 PM on May 19, 2011

I hope I'm wrong in this case, but my understanding and past experience is that this is very bad news and an urgent, critical condition.

We had a cat that stopped eating (no obvious injury or disease, but it started soon after her brother died). Our vet at the time mentioned that once they stop, it's very very difficult to get them to start again. The vet was right. Our cat wouldn't eat even foods that she previously loved (tuna from a can) -- would sniff it but then walk away. We ended up force-feeding her (syringe + wet food) per our vet's instructions. We kept it up for something in the range of 2-3 weeks, but she kept losing weight and our actions were obviously just torture for her -- she really didn't want to eat, and we had to wrestle with her to do it. I cannot get the images of her dying days out of my mind, and it was 15 years ago. Our poor cat didn't deserve to go through all that, and then still be euthanized.

I'm sharing this in an attempt to convey the potential urgency of the situation for your cat, in answer to the question "Is this something I need to be panicking about yet?"
posted by StrawberryPie at 5:25 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hepatic lipidosis can occur if your cat is not eating. This is really bad- as in life threatening. If your cat is not eating, please go in and ask your vet for an esophageal feeding tube.

This may not be serious now, but it could possibly turn very serious soon.

If your vet balks at all, ask for a referral to an internal medicine specialist.
posted by TheBones at 5:47 PM on May 19, 2011

We're having a similar problem with our cat. In his case it seems to have something to do with his hypothyroidism. He'll whine and beg for food, then sniff it and walk away. Very annoying. We tried different wet stinky foods, heating up the food, adding water, but nothing worked. We were also told to give the cat a 1/4 tab of Pepsid as RJ Reynolds mentioned. That seemed to help a little but he was still barely eating. Finally, the vet gave us a appetite stimulant (Mirtazapine) and that really works! It's one dose every three days. He's been on it for a couple weeks and is eating much more normally so we're starting to ween him off it.

Good luck and hang in there, I know it's frustrating.
posted by LoraT at 8:42 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Ask your vet about an appetite stimulant as LoraT mentions. My cat once quit eating when he got a cold and would not eat no matter what. He very nearly died after a (bad) vet told me that he would just come around and eat on his own eventually. I tried every brand of cat food, baby food, treat, you name it and I syringe fed him and wiped food on his face just to get something in his belly. He was miserable, I was miserable and nothing convinced him to eat. A new vet put him on an appetite stimulant and BAM, a scant hour passed before he was back to normal eating followed by a quick recovery.
posted by tinamonster at 11:21 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am surprised that all your vet offered was Metacam, when the cat is painful enough to not want to eat (and is now not eating at all). I would call your vet and discuss this and/or get a second opinion if this were my cat. Mirtazepine works very well for most cats, as does meat baby food, as does pepcid, but you are right to be concerned about the weight loss and not eating, and this needs to be addressed right away, like today.
posted by biscotti at 4:19 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: Get some sort of wet food. Grab the cat by the scruff of the neck. Push her down on it's stomach as gently as you can, then pull her head back. At this point, you should be able to get the syringe in her mouth. Shoot a little at a time so she can swallow. Don't over feed her. Watch for her to start licking her lips, that is a sign of nausea.

Here is one video for you. I had to restrain my guy a little more and I had to hold him by the scruff of his neck but this is roughly how it worked. Nthing asking about the appetite stimulant mentioned. That is what got us over the hump. Good luck! I hope she gets better soon!
posted by Silvertree at 5:38 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: We managed to help our cat Dog recover from what our vet diagnosed as hepatic lipidosis -- which is not infrequently a terminal diagnosis -- through round-the-clock syringe feeding of dilited high-nutrient wet food for a period of a few weeks. If your cat's eyes or ears appear yellow, it's vital that she gets nutrition into her somehow until she stops being too nauseated to eat.

Burping and watching for vomit during and after feeding were part of our fun times, which started after we realized another of our cats was bullying Dog away from the food bowls.

Best wishes for you and your cat.
posted by thatdawnperson at 5:51 AM on May 20, 2011

Emergency and critical care vet tech here, but like everyone else in this thread, I haven't seen your cat and am not your kitty health professional.

I agree with everyone that said your kitty's weight loss and inappetence needs to be addressed immediately. It sounds, by your description, as if she is interested in eating but not capable. She may be feeling nauseated.

Cats obtain much of their hydration through the foods they eat, so if she is not eating, she is likely dehydrated as well.

If this was my cat, I would expect her to get IV fluids and treatment for GI derangement, including famotidine (pepcid), anzemet, reglan, ranitidine, etc. as my vet felt necessary.

An injection of midazolam (versed), a benzodiazepine, will stimulate her appetite remarkably, almost comically.

Were I in your shoes, I would seek a second opinion, preferably with a vet that specializes in critical care or internal medicine. My clinic receives numerous referrals from area clinics, and the disparity in quality of care from general practice is alarming.

Good luck with your kitty.
posted by Seppaku at 7:00 AM on May 20, 2011

Response by poster: Well, a brief update.

We've been somewhat successful with syringe feeding the cat. She's getting a mixture of that Recovery food, meat baby food, yogurt, and water, about 1/3 to 1/2 a syringe at a sitting and we're trying to get food into her about every 2 hours during the daytime.

The vet prescribed cyproheptadine as an appetite stimulant. She'll be getting her first dose of that as part of the next syringe feeding in about an hour.

Otherwise, she's acting more perky now that she's getting some minimal food into her system, although she's definitely not back to her old self at all. But it's nice to see her roaming around the house and wanting to go out back on her lead, which she wasn't doing at all a day or two ago.

Thanks for all the advice and concern so far. It's been greatly helpful and is much appreciated. Well, probably not by the cat... she's being wrapped in a towel and syringe fed every 2 hours -- that can't be fun. But she'll be grateful in the long-run once we get her over this hump.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

So glad that she's a bit better!

I lost a beloved cat years ago to cancer. He was 16, and getting a second opinion earlier may not have saved him. But things went on far too long because, like a lot of people, I loved my vet and had absolute faith in him. Now if I'd get a second opinion for myself, I get one for my animals. Quickly.

P.S. We still need pics of cat.
posted by cyndigo at 11:17 AM on May 20, 2011

Good news, hippybear. :) Been sending you and kitty my best vibes. Will continue.
Is she drinking at all on her own?
posted by likeso at 6:14 PM on May 20, 2011

Response by poster: So, an update...

Our cat has been eating on her own since either late Friday night or Saturday morning, after we started her on the appetite stimulant Friday morning. She's been having canned and dry food as well as a bit of heavy cream and those nutritionally-complete cat treats. She's also drinking lots and lots of water. She's had enough food that her digestive system has processed all the way through a couple of times now, which is good news.

She looks pretty terrible -- really scrawny, and her harness is hanging on her like a comically oversized t-shirt. But she has a spark back in her eyes I hadn't seen for a few days. She's still got a sore leg that is going to have to heal somehow, but she's also quite a bit more lethargic than she was before all that happened, so maybe she'll be staying off it long enough for it to heal.

In all she's probably lost at least 2 pounds, maybe a bit more. But she's eating on her own (we stopped giving her the appetite stimulant yesterday), and she's keen and eager not only to seek out food but also is grooming herself again and is being good company once more.

Once we get the weight put back on her, she should be as good as new, I hope.

Thanks so much for everyone's words of assurance and helpful information. I'm sorry I don't have photos to share -- we don't take many pictures, and I'm a bit of a throwback in that I don't even have a cell phone which can take photos. If I can get a photo or two taken I'll be sure to post them here soon.
posted by hippybear at 11:05 AM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Is her bowl flat on the floor? You might try elevating it a bit, in case her eating posture is causing pain.

Oh, and this seemed like a good suggestion, but she will only eat if her bowl is on the same level she's standing on. She doesn't seem to interpret it as hers if it's not down there with her.
posted by hippybear at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2011

Thanks so much for that good news, hippybear! Such a relief when they start acting more like themselves... and you can exit panic mode. :) Will continue to keep her and you and yours in mind.
posted by likeso at 2:01 PM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, turns out my partner has a few photos of our cat before she lost so much weight.

Her name is Nancy.

Contemplating reading material for a snowy day.
Luv-luv-luving you.
Watching carefully.
Sleepy stretchy cat.
posted by hippybear at 7:07 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

(don't mean to monopolize the thread, but that is one seriously adorable, poofy tiger smart cat with personality) (should try out for Next Supermodel) (girl got game)
posted by likeso at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2011

*snorgles hippybear's cat*
posted by rtha at 9:25 PM on May 22, 2011

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