Categories: diet

What should I feed my sick cat?

The question in the title (a Google search term) implies that a cat owner is having problems ensuring that their cat eats enough because they have lost their appetite due to sickness. Therefore the question is really, “How can I get my sick cat to eat?”.

Cat eating wet cat food. Image is here to illustrate the page. The cat is not sick as far as I know. Picture in the public domain.

This leads to another question about what an owner is currently feeding their cat. It may well be that the current food is poor quality. Or it might be exclusively dry cat food i.e. one type of food. The point I’m getting at is should a cat owner change their cat’s diet in order to get them to eat? My answer is, yes, and the switch should be to a high quality wet cat food. There is a caveat because some veterinarians might argue that it takes time to switch to a new cat food. If the cat is unwell there may not be enough time to carry out the switch in the interest of the cat’s health.

Switch to super-high quality wet food

However, I would still argue that, in my experience, domestic cats can switch foods quickly if the switch is to a high-quality food. I believe that cats can tell when their food is high quality. They will eat poor quality cat food because they’re hungry but will migrate towards a higher quality version if available. I also believe that cats should be given a varied diet to keep up interest in their foods. This would make them more flexible in accepting a change.

There is a second caveat which is that if a cat is feeling unwell and nauseous and is presented with a new cat food they may associate their nausea with the food. This might put them off for a long time eating the new food.

However, I would still introduce a new food. On this basis, I would recommend encouraging a sick cat to eat by introducing the best possible quality wet cat food. For instance, yesterday I bought my cat a box of Hills wet cat food in pouches (very expensive from a vet – don’t buy stuff from vets). He wasn’t sick but I wanted to buy him some high-quality food of a different variety. He’d never eaten it before but dived in and devoured it. He demonstrated that domestic cats are quite flexible as to what they eat provided it’s good quality. In the UK, Encore is also excellent.

Treats

Also, it goes without saying that a favourite treat at this time in limited quantities might prove invaluable to encourage eating.

Frequency and quantity

The next question is how much and how to feed sick cats. The advice is to feed this new highly palatable, highly digestible, nutrient-dense foods in small quantities. I am talking about frequent feeding of 4 to 6 times per day and uneaten food should be removed 20 to 30 minutes after being offered.

Cats often like to eat at night when they are active which makes them hungry. This presents another slight problem because in warm climates wet cat food goes off very quickly and might become unappealing to a cat. It nullifies the idea of presenting highly palatable food. Under these circumstances I would suggest a high-quality dry cat food for grazing at night and then back to wet during the daytime.

Supplements to the standard diet might be considered in order to improve the outcome. Glutamine supplements have been shown to improve recovery rates in a study by Klimberg and Souba in 1990.

Glutamine is important for the normal stress response of many tissues, such as the kidney, white blood cells and fibroblasts. – K. Sturgess and KJ Hurley in The Welfare of Cats edited by Irene Rochlitz.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • One of the worst things about loving cats is trying to help them when they need it most, and failing. When they're off their food and they get worse due to lack of caloric intake, it's panic time. I remember crying over trying to get my past sick cats to eat as they became weaker with every passing day. Appetite stimulants can even fail to work, but having gone through these tough times is part of what it takes to get good at it. Your attitude, calm encouragement, patience and tactical skill is an artistic as well as technical endeavor. Read up on it before you need to, in order to be somewhat prepared. Everything Michael said is crucial too.

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