Frederick Cat Vet 9539 Liberty Road, Frederick, MD 21701 (301) 898-4009
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Not Eating Well? How to Boost Your Cat's Appetite

Many cats have tremendous appetites, often eating too much, too fast. However, it is quite common for a cat to stop eating or eat too little at some point in their life. A loss of appetite for more than 12 hours is always cause for concern, and waiting for it to return can lead to a downward spiral. A complete veterinary exam is always necessary when this occurs, to address specific underlying medical issues. With almost every illness, a cat's appetite may suffer, but this is especially true with chronic conditions such as kidney failure, liver disease or cancer. An illness can only be turned around fully once the appetite is back, but in those situations where quality of life is the primary concern, the appetite is a priority too. If your cat has been eating a prescription diet, do not hesitate to abandon this diet temporarily in order to stimulate his appetite.

Here are the top ten tricks to restore normal hunger:

Variety: Try different varieties of commercial diets first, so that they continue to get a complete, balanced diet. Be sure to offer a variety of textures such as shredded, pate, or sliced canned foods as well as a variety of dry foods for those kitties who enjoy the "crunch."

Hot meal: Warm food in the microwave for about 10 seconds to boost flavor (be sure to stir well and check with your finger to avoid hot spots).

Make the sale: Get your cat excited about the meal you are about to offer. Open a fresh can and make sure they hear the alluring "pop" of the top. Try to imitate your cat's meow as boisterously as possible. Imitate the little licking noises that cats make when they drink or eat. Hold the dish a couple feet above the cat to build just a little anticipation. All of this is basically your way of letting your cat know how wonderful this meal is.

Massage: Physical stimulation can be very helpful as well. Very sick cats are often reluctant to play, but if you can get them going even a little bit, that will boost their blood supply, which in turns boosts hunger. If that doesn't work, try a massage. Inactive or less active cats are not getting normal use of their muscles. With your fingertips, gently work on the neck, back and hind leg muscles. This reduces stress while increasing systemic perfusion, which triggers the hunger center. Don't be afraid to work with a cat that is frail and bony -this won't hurt them, and they need that gentle attention more than any other cat.

Warmth: Inactive cats may be a little cold, so moving them to sunlight, heat vents or a heating pad can be helpful. A cloth bag of corn or rice heated in the microwave is even better than an electric heating pad because it retains heat for a considerable period of time without the danger of an electric pad.

Zen: Anything else that will increase stress must be avoided or minimized (loud noises, bothersome pets & people).

Sunny days: Give the inactive cat a change of scenery. Letting them look out a window, or carrying them outside when it is warm can be a big positive boost for a sickly cat that is staying in one place.

Home spa: Cats with poor appetites do often groom less because it takes additional energy reserves that they don't have. Use a fine-toothed comb to remove dandruff; use your fingernail to remove debris from the corners of eyes and chin; use a q-tip to clean out peripheral ear wax (don't enter the ear canal). Trim nails, which often grow too long and sometimes dig into paw pads.

Toppings: Cats love fat and salt, but a little can go a long way. Certain foods like bacon, CatSure, chicken broth, AddLife and DentaTreat can be poured on or sprinkled on food to make it taste better. The goal with these toppings is to entice your cat to eat the whole meal, and not just feast on the treats. Many cats readily lap up juice from canned chicken or seafood, so adding this to the regular diet can make it much tastier. Although we all envision the happy cat drinking milk from the ceramic saucer, the meat and seafood juices are better choices to supplement fluids. Milk can cause stomach upset in some cats.

Fresh meat: The smell of chicken or fish cooking on the stove may be enticing. Also tempt them with traditional treats and sandwich slices. Treats and packaged meat should be viewed as junk food since they are high in fat and salt, but here an exception can be made; they can be great for them to get a few calories, but should be seen as a bridge to getting them to eat their regular diet again. Press some treats into the moist food which may trigger your cat to continue eating.

-There are some appetite stimulant medications we prescribe for certain cases. These come in various forms including transdermal preparations which can be applied to the inside of the ear for systemic absorption.

-Regular vomiting is not normal. If vomiting is not under control, the appetite can't be improved, so this must be addressed first.

-Syringe-feeding works with some cats, but it is very difficult to get in the complete amount of calories needed per day. Syringe-feeding can only be done with a liquid diet such as Gerber stage 2: chicken, ham or turkey baby food or canned cat food with water. Gently push the food into the side of the mouth at a rate they can handle. Baby food can also be offered warmed in a bowl prior to attempting to syringe feed.