Sadly, many of us have faced a situation where a kitty loses his/her appetite. This usually happens when they suffer from a disease that makes them feel nauseous, or sick in some way. It is very common for cats with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF), to not want to eat. Even in acute situations, if cats go off their feed, they will often completely lose all interest in food. The longer they go without eating properly, the less they seem to respond to food. It is critical to not let a cat get into this downward spiral.


With some cats, there is no way they will tolerate assist/force-feeding so they may need a feeding tube.

However, if your cat will tolerate assistance in feeding or assist-feeding as it is often referred to, it can stimulate his/her appetite enough to want to eat on his/her own. It's akin to "priming the pump" because in some cases cats really are hungry but just don't feel well enough to eat. Once they taste food, they realize it is something they like.

Or maybe they get tired of well-meaning humans like me shoving food down their throats, and decide it's best to just eat on their own!Embarassed

Note: Please do not let your cat go more than 24 hours without any sort of food. Caution is warranted because cats can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) from not eating. Obese cats are especially susceptible to developing this problem.

Below is the technique my husband and I used (very successfully) with our first cat Boo Boo in 1998 and later with Hunny Bunny in 2002 the last 6 weeks of her fight with breast cancer. We assist-fed Booey for 1.5+ years, and wish we had started sooner. He lived for 20 months after his diagnosis of CRF and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (read Booey's Story); we know in our hearts he would have left us sooner had we not syringe-fed him.

Assist-feeding procedure

Equipment needed:

  • Hand or face towel or gentle/soft nap microfiber cloth
  • Lots of paper towels
  • Bowl of tepid water (can put a drop of lavender hydrosol (NOT essential oil!) or a drop of Bach's Rescue Remedy in it)
  • Small (5ml = 1 teaspoon) plastic syringe from the pediatric section of the drug store. In the U.S. there is a brand called "Four Paws" which is my favorite. It holds about 15ml or 1/2 oz, and is available at pet/feed stores or from amazon - I like the tapered one which I snip off at about 1/2 way down the tip to make the opening larger. Do not get the ones from the vet or vet supply stores with the wide opening. They stick, and do not hold up well at all.

We had 2 problems with the regular "pet" syringes -

(1) The rubber in them gets stuck more easily for some reason so that when you push on it, you never know if a whole lot of food will come spurting out or nothing at all,
(2) We found that even when it isn't acting up, it deposits too much food with each squirt so a lot of it ended up on us, on Booey's chest, and on the walls etc. This is despite the fact that he was extremely well-behaved.

Two non-syringe alternatives to syringes that have been mentioned on my forum are icing bags (experiment with various plastic tips) and droppers.

Steps in syringe-feeding:

  1. Blend some cooked or raw homemade food in a blender. Alternatively, you can use rx Hills AD (not for long-term use) or Carnivore Care (also not ideal but better than nothing). Even better are the newer all-meat formulas e.g. by EVO, Wellness, Wysong, Merrick, which are all smooth and easy to administer via syringe. In some cases, one can run it in the blender with some meat stock, then strain it if's still not fine enough. Ad some supplements (optional) - digestive enzymes, yogurt or probiotics - various strains of lactobacilli and bifido bacteria, and anything else relevant to your cat's situation.
  2. Boo Boo and Hunny Bunny both weighed around 7.5 - 8 lbs. We fed them 4 syringes each meal (morning, late afternoon/early evening, and night). Draw up the food into the syringes before you go in to feed your kitty.
  3. Extricate your cat from under the bed (poor baby!) with some sweet talk and petting. Put a 3-6 mo. infant-sized bib around his (her) handsome (pretty) furry neck.
  4. If you're doing this without another human to help you, straddle your cat so that s/he faces away from you, and cannot back away from the feeding. In our case, John just held Booey/Bunny in his lap, and I syringed the meat.
  5. Gently press down on both sides of the upper jaw to get the mouth open. Press down gently on syringe plunger. With Booey we found it worked best to not squirt it from the side; instead we would lift his chin a bit and squirt down at an angle but from the front of his mouth. Be careful because kitty can gag or choke if you try to squirt the liquid straight down his throat. Some cats e.g. Bunny, do better if you come at them from the side. Cats can be susceptible to aspiration pneumonia, so always take it slow and easy and when in doubt stay toward the front of the mouth and squirt from the side, not front.
  6. Give kitty time to swallow the food, then squirt again. We squirted each tiny syringe 4-5 times or so, with breaks in between. During breaks, if you spot any food on kitty's lips or mouth, dip the washcloth in water, and wipe away. Dry, so as to not make kitty any more uncomfortable than s/he already is.
  7. Give your kitty his/her favorite treat(s), and lots and lots of pets and cuddles. Handsome devil Boo Boo loved being combed so we had a petting session afterwards, and he purred for us.

That's it! Ha, how easy I made that sound. And to tell the truth, it was easy as could be because we were dealing with a special, darling fluffy black kitty and a proper purrfect queen mum cat. I doubt it would be this easy with their naughty sister Missy or current bratty brothers. But if I ever have to save them from the brink of death, better believe I'll be assist-feeding again! At the risk of overstating it, I'll say assist-feeding is a lifesaver.

Syringe-feedings gave Boo Boo an extra 1.5 years of life, and gave Bunny the strength to fight cancer. Neither seemed to mind the inconvenience. Both were getting herbs and supplements twice a day anyway, so we tried to make the process as seamless as possible. Over the years, John and I have assist-fed countless kitties, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Good luck, and best of health to your felines from me and mine.