When might you feed your cat baby food?

It may surprise some cat caregivers to know that you will find veterinary recommendations under certain strict conditions to try feeding your cat human baby food. It can be useful. I discuss its use in this article.

Sometimes unspiced , meat-based baby food can come to the rescue for sick cats who've lost their appetite
Sometimes unspiced, meat-based baby food can come to the rescue for sick cats who’ve lost their appetite. Image: MikeB

Restrictions

Perhaps the first point to make is that your cat should be given baby food for a restricted period and as Jo Singer (a colleague of mine) says on the quora.com website, “Human meat baby foods – as long as they don’t contain garlic, onions or any spices should be safe for kittens WHEN it is needed”. Agreed.

RELATED: My cat has an upper respiratory infection and loss of appetite, please help

Loss of appetite

And I can refer to my excellent book on veterinary care for laypeople written by four veterinarians, which states that if a cat is suffering from a bad cold due to a herpesvirus infection (for example) and has become perhaps anorexic (loss of appetite) and dehydrated, you can encourage a cat to eat by feeding “highly palatable foods with a strong smell such as tuna-flavoured foods or strained baby food (make sure it doesn’t contain onion powder), diluted with water.” The added water will help to rehydrate.

So, under certain strict conditions providing meat baby food without any spices can be beneficial, even medicinal.

Gerber in the US – recommended

Jo Singer also states that, “ham, beef, chicken or turkey [baby foods] can help restore an appetite, or keep a sick kitten eating”. She adds that baby food can be useful and she keeps “several jars of Gerber Baby Ham and Gravy on hand for emergencies”. She believes that particular variety in America “seems to be very popular with folks living with kitties” ๐Ÿ™‚ .

RELATED: Easy to Administer Drug Gives Cats Their Appetite Back

Short-term remedy

But there’s a big caveat which I would like to stress namely that it should only be used for a short time as an incentive to regain their appetite. That’s because baby food is not a balanced, complete food for a cat. As you almost certainly know cats have particular nutritional requirements and these requirements are met in a well-prepared commercially available cat food.

Jo Singer says that her veterinarian has advised that “human meat baby food should only be fed for no more than a month”. That may be ta generous time frame but I will bow to better knowledge.

Warm up

The baby food can be warmed up to make it even more palatable by placing an unopened jar in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes. Warming up the food makes it smell stronger which in turn makes it more palatable because domestic cats rely heavily on their sense of smell to decide if a food is tasty or not.

The baby food cannot be presented cold to a cat because this dampens down the natural odour of the food which is so important to cats.

Running out of cat food?

Separately, there is a question on quora.com which asks what would you do if you run out of cat food? What kind of substitute can you provide for a short time? And one answer would be strained meat-based baby food without spices, onions and flavourings.

Another would be cooked chicken for a day or two or cooked prawns for a day or two and canned tuna but it is a very short-term measure because they lack the essential added nutrients of a complete food.

Broth to drink more

When my now passed female cat developed idiopathic cystitis, I fed her with boiled fish with added water which encouraged the drinking of water. It was a kind of soup or broth. The point made here is that this kind of feeding can be a form of health treatment for a short while.

I think it’s almost impossible to run out of dry cat food and so you could add the treats I mention to a diet of commercially made dry cat food as a stop gap or if a cat is anorexic.

The book that I have referred to is the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Third Edition

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Is baby food safe for cats?

Baby food is safe for cats for a very limited time or as a treat as directed by your veterinarian. In fact, on occasions veterinarians recommend that you feed your cat baby food. For example, if your cat has diarrhoea for a short duration without excessive fluid loss it can be treated at home. You withhold food for 24 hours and provide small amounts of water. As your cat recovers you introduce food gradually and provide four small meals a day beginning with a high meat protein diet. This may include a strained meat baby food.

Feral kitten eating baby food to help socialise him
Feral kitten eating baby food to help socialise him. Photo: the Kitten Lady on Facebook.

However, the point that needs to be made is that cats have a higher requirement than many other species for arginine. It is a key intermediate in the urea cycle. If a cat is not fed sufficient arginine they become encephalopathic within hours (Morris and Rogers 1978). Here’s the problem: “diets such as baby foods are arginine deficient for cats, as are some of the liquidation foods designed for use in dogs” (K Sturgess and KJ Hurley in Nutrition and Welfare in The Welfare of Cats Edited by Irene Rochlitz). Kittens require a minimum of 1.25% and a dog cats 1.04% of arginine in their diet on a dry matter basis (DMB) (Anderson et al. 1979).

The conclusion is that baby food is not safe for cats if it is fed as a standard diet. Cats might become attracted to it to their detriment.

An interesting little story from 2017 highlights this. A cat owner wrote in looking for advice on the internet (post-gazette.com) saying that their 19-year-old cat was in very good condition but had become almost addicted to Gerber baby food – the various meet varieties of it. She wanted to know whether there was sufficient nutrition in baby food for a cat. Well, you can see that I’ve answered her question.

I know that baby food is attractive to some domestic cats. But it must be limited to a a treat or provided under veterinary supervision for a treatment. The consequences of doing otherwise may be severe as mentioned above.

Example of use of baby food

The Kitten Lady on Facebook says that a trick of hers with respect to kitten rescue is baby food. She says that meaty baby food is a kitten favourite and she keeps it on hand as an irresistible snack for kittens who have lost their appetite. Interestingly, she also uses it to help socialise feral kittens. In the photograph on this page you see one of her cats whose name is Douglas eagerly eating Geber baby food which he adores. While he is eating it, he is being held and petted which teaches him that humans are kind and safe, she says. A neat idea which I like a lot.

Note: “encephalopathic” means a condition which diseases or damages the brain. Clearly it is a very serious condition.

Some pages on cat food ingredients

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