Force-Feeding A Cat –
A Vet Explains What You Need To Know

force-feeding a cat

March 3, 2021

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Owning cats can be the most wonderful experience in the world! They are loving, sweet, and playful! Pet cats are like our own mini panthers or tigers!

But what do we do when we find a scared kitten or our little felines get sick, and we need to act immediately or continue the prescribed treatment at home? Force-feeding is one of the many types of treatments any cat can receive at home!

Sometimes, force-feeding our cats might be the solution to save their life!
– Dr. Iulia Mihai , DVM

Many diseases can cause loss of appetite in cats, so what do we do? We can’t sit with our arms crossed watching them lose weight with each passing day.

In this article, you will find everything you need to know about force-feeding cats to do it safely and successfully!

Force-Feeding a Cat – The Basics

In principle, force-feeding a cat involves administering food when your kitty does not want to eat or wants to eat but can’t.

Because not eating will quickly lead to deteriorating health, if your cat has not eaten for 24-72 hours, you should start force-feeding it.

There are many reasons why a cat cannot or does not want to eat, and we will explain them below.

When Should I Force-Feed My Cat &
Why Is My Cat Is Not Eating?

Cats can refuse food for many reasons. The best known are oral problems, systemic diseases that cause loss of appetite, diseases that cause pain or fever (fractures or infections), anxiety, stress from changes in the environment, or after surgery when the cat is still recovering. One not-so-common situation is after vaccination.

1. Your cat has oral problems

These are mainly divided into

  • stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth),
  • gum problems (inflammation of the gums, bleeding, etc.), and
  • dental problems (tartar, periodontitis, tooth loss, or teeth eruption in kittens).

Any oral issue may cause pain, and the cat might begin to refuse food. For all these medical conditions, the most observed behavior is when the cat goes to the food bowl, smells it, eventually takes a kibble or two in its mouth, spits it out without eating, and then moves on. Other examples of clinical signs are pawing at the mouth, scratching, hypersalivation, and blood in the saliva.

In kittens, when their teeth start to erupt, you may observe fever (in rare cases), gum inflammation, pain, and mild bleeding at the site of the eruption. The kitten may lose its appetite due to those symptoms. Feeding it with a syringe or a baby bottle is the best way to help it get through this period.

2. Your cat has a systemic disease that causes a loss of appetite

In general, diseases that affect the appetite are kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal problems.

Kidney or urinary problems can be kidney failure, kidney blockage, cystitis, etc. Hepatic conditions are represented by liver failure, fatty liver, hepatic lipidosis, and others.

You should note that if an obese cat does not eat for more than 3 days, it can develop hepatic lipidosis (the fat infiltrates the liver). This condition can lead to liver failure.

Gastrointestinal problems mainly manifest through vomiting, bloating, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.

Force-feeding a cat in these situations can help it live longer or at least get over the peak of the disease (in some cases).

Vet’s Tip

It is not advised to force-feed a cat that is vomiting. On the contrary, it is recommended to stop feeding your cat for a while.

3. Your cat is stressed

When we change our home, we also change the environment that our cat calls its territory.

This change in a cat’s life can sometimes cause stress and anxiety, and the cat may refuse to eat or drink for several days. Until it gets used to its new territory, you can force-feed it with a syringe to help it get over these stressful times.

sick cat needs force-feeding

4. Your cat refuses to eat after vaccination

In rare cases, the cat may refuse food after vaccination. This may be due to the experience being stressful or a side effect of the vaccine.

In any case, this lack of appetite does not last more than a few hours, so there’s no need to force-feed your cat.

5. Your cat has been in a surgery

In this case, it is recommended by the veterinarian to force-feed your cat with the syringe until it can eat on its own again.

Is It OK To Force-Feed a Cat?

If your cat has a known medical condition or it just stopped eating, force-feeding might be the only solution to keep it alive.

But keep in mind that this is a stressful process for cats and even potentially dangerous if you are not doing it correctly. Always force-feed your cat with care and caution!

Risks Of Force-Feeding a Cat

The risks of force-feeding a cat can go both ways.

Owner’s risks – your hand and fingers may be bitten or scratched. If you are not careful and the cat is very stressed or not accustomed to you, you could risk being scratched on the face.

Cat’s risks – if you are too forceful or in a hurry, you risk scratching the cat’s gums with the syringe or risk introducing too much food at once, and the cat may choke, vomit or, worse, develop pneumonia ab ingestis (when the cat aspirates food into the lungs).

How to Force-Feed a Cat Safely –
Different Options Explained

1. Syringe Feeding 

Syringe feeding is the most common way to administer food, fluids, and medications to a cat that is sick or is refusing to eat or drink. It can be done at home, and it may save your cat’s life. When force-feeding with a syringe, use:

  • 10cc syringes for kittens or small cats and
  • 60cc syringes for big cats.

We recommend the Lixit feeding syringes that come in different sizes.

It is important you follow specific guidelines to prevent your cat from choking on the food or aspirating it into its lungs. We will introduce those shortly.

2. Bottle feeding kittens

When kittens are not drinking their mother’s milk, you may feed to assist them with eating. You can try a syringe, but a bottle is more natural to a young kitten.

For bottle feeding kittens, the Vet Worthy Nursing Kit is our favorite.

bottle feeding a kitten

3. Feeding tubes

There are situations when the only option to keep a cat alive is to have a feeding tube inserted. It can be placed temporarily or permanently depending on the situation. Liquid food and medicine can be administered through most tubes.

Your vet will tell you if your cat needs a feeding tube and show you how to use it.

4. Feeding tiny pieces

If your cat is able to swallow and is interested in eating, but, for example, an oral issue is preventing them from chewing, feeding tiny morsels of food may be an alternative.

One option would be to make meatballs small enough to be swallowed without chewing (pea-sized). Carefully open your cat’s mouth and place the meatball in the back of the mouth. Close the mouth and gently massage your cat’s neck to help with the swallowing.

Feeding Guidelines For Assisted Cat Feeding

What do you feed a cat that won’t eat?

To force-feed your cat, you can use:

  • Its usual dry food, soaked in water and blended
  • Wet food mixed with water and blended
  • Special supplements for cats in critical situations

Here are the products we recommend:

Many veterinarians recommend Hill’s prescription diet a/d wet cat food because it is nutritionally balanced and has an appetizing taste. You can easily add water to it to get the desired consistency for syringe feeding. However, this food is not advised for long-term feeding. You can order it on Amazon, but you will need approval from your vet.

Royal Canin recovery is another good choice for syringe feeding your cat. You can order it on Amazon, and you don’t need approval from your vet. Check it out here.

Human baby food is an affordable solution for force-feeding a cat with a syringe. The Gerber chicken and gravy is an excellent and affordable choice, but make sure your vet agrees with using baby food before you feed it.

Pâté cat food can also be given through a syringe when it is mixed with water to make it runnier. Pâté is a mix of different ground meats, and it has the perfect consistency to be blended with water to make a slurry. For example, you can blend Trader Joe’s chicken or turkey and add a little water until it flows out of the syringe easily.

You can also give your cat its favorite canned food through a syringe after it is blended with water to make it flow through the nozzle of the syringe. Sheba perfect portions is a tasty cat food that will encourage your cat to eat. It has a great consistency that is easy to mix with water.

Also, divide the food into several portions for the whole day (5 meals in total), and keep unused food in the refrigerator and warm it up before giving it to your cat.

How much can you force-feed a cat?

How much you should force-feed your cat depends on its age, size, and weight.

As a general rule of thumb, a healthy adult cat needs about 180-250 calories daily depending on their size, while a small kitten that weighs about 1 pound needs 40-50 calories each day.

If you’re using critical care, baby food, or commercial cat food, you can use the information on the label to calculate how much food your cat needs per day.

Do not feed more than necessary because you risk making your cat feel nauseous or vomit.

How long can I force-feed my cat?

You will often force-feed your cat as long as your veterinarian recommends it. But in principle, they are fed with this method until they start eating on their own.

However, if your cat has suddenly stopped eating and you can’t get to the vet right away, you can feed it with a syringe/meatballs or a baby bottle (kittens) for 2-3 days.

Force-Feeding Your Cat – The Steps To Take

Before you start feeding your cat hard, make sure you have everything you need ready:

  • a syringe,
  • liquid/mashed food or meatballs,
  • a towel to wrap your cat in,
  • paper towels, and
  • a lot of patience.

If you feed your cat with a syringe, you can wrap your pet in a blanket, like a burrito. This will ensure that the cat does not scratch or struggle.

Insert the tip of the syringe at the corner of its mouth and slowly push the piston to administer one mouthful, then let your cat swallow or massage its neck under the chin to activate the swallowing reflex. Repeat as many times as needed.

If you’re about to syringe feed your kitten or cat, take a look at our guides on How To Syringe Feed A Kitten and How to Syringe Feed a Cat.

Summing Up – Force-Feeding Cats

If a cat experiences pain in its mouth, has a systemic illness, suffers from acute pain, fever, or other medical conditions, it will most likely cause it to refuse to eat. In such cases, force-feeding (with a syringe) can help the cat get the minimum nutrients its body needs until you visit the veterinarian.

Force-feeding should only be a temporary solution until the cat begins to eat on its own. Two to three days of force-feeding is ok until you visit the vet, and it should help your cat’s body function properly.

Vet’s Comment

Having pets comes with great responsibilities!

It’s hard to watch our pets suffer, and it’s even harder when we feel helpless in the face of their suffering. Our cats can stop consuming food for many reasons. Force-feeding your cat is a temporary solution that will help your pet’s body to “endure” a little longer until you visit your vet.

You will do more harm in the long run if you leave your cat for 2-3 days without food than if you try to force-feed it.

Take the necessary steps, prepare everything in advance, and be careful not to rush. The cat will thank you later for taking care of it!

– Dr. Iulia Mihai, DVM

NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your pet’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.

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