Home Medical Care: force-feeding


Since lack of appetite (anorexia) accompanies many feline illnesses, coaxing or force-feeding is often necessary to insure that sufficient calories and nutrients are consumed and to maintain the nutritional health necessary to the vital functions and repair of injured or diseased tissues.

The effects of one day without food, of course, are not irreversible, but prolonged refusal to eat forces the cat’s body to draw upon its own vital tissues to obtain the calories necessary for survival. If this process is allowed to continue for too long it can itself result in death although the original disease would not have. Water is also very important to your cat’s health and recovery, since dehydration begins as soon as water intake does not meet daily water need. (For more about dehydration).

Water can be administered by the techiques used for force-feeding liquids, and since most foods used for force-feeding contain a high proportion of water, hand administration of food helps meet the cat’s daily water need. Use the following information about hand-feeding whenever your veterinarian suggests that it is necessary and to help stabilize a sick cat’s condition until veterinary help can be obtained. Do not, though, use hand-feeding in lieu of a diagnosis; unless proper treatment is given, hand-feeding alone cannot usually bring a cat back to health.

Liquid diets can be force-fed to a sick cat in the same way liquid medication is given. It is easier to feed solid or semisolid diets by using your finger or a tongue depressor (available in drugstores) to wipe the food onto the roof of your cat’s mouth. (Grasp the cat’s head as if giving a pill.

Insert your finger or the tongue depressor full of food and wipe it against the roof of the mouth.) Solid food can also be given rolled into small pellets like pills.

You can use any nutritionally complete commercial food for hand-feeding a sick cat; just remember to take the time to feed enough to supply your cat’s daily caloric needs (about 30 to 40 calories per pound, 65 to 85/kg daily for an adult). Multiple small feedings will be necessary in most cases.

Strained baby foods are often easier to administer than the usual commercial foods. Strained egg yolk is best because of its high calorie content and high digestibility, but if your cat finds meat flavors more palatable, you can use strained chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef baby foods, adding two egg yolks per 3-ounce jar (for a high-protein, high-calorie diet) or 1 tablespoon corn oil and 1 tablespoon corn syrup per 3-ounce jar (for a high-fat, high-calorie diet) or a combination of egg yolks, oil, and/or corn syrup. Corn syrup and corn oil may also be added to egg baby foods to liquify them while increasing the calorie and carbohydrate or fat content.

Feed an adult cat at least four jars of plain strained egg yolk or two jars of baby food or egg yolk mixture daily. If necessary your veterinarian can supply you with special dietary products designed specifically for hand- feeding sick cats. In addition to foods, you should provide a balanced vitamin-mineral supplement as recommended by your veterinarian while your cat is sick to meet his or her daily vitamin-mineral needs and any increased requirements caused by the illness.


Feed no more than 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls (1/2 to 1 ounce, 15 to 30 ml) food or liquid per pound body weight at each feeding, or vomiting is likely to occur. Maintain your cat’s proper hydration by measuring his or her water intake and supplementing it by hand as necessary to provide about 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoonfuls per pound body weight (65 to 80 ml/kg) daily. (You can use milk if it doesn’t cause diarrhea.)

Don’t forget that water or other liquids mixed with foods to liquify them for force-feeding contribute to meeting the cat’s daily water need. If you find that your cat has signs of dehydration and is not improving as expected with hand-feeding and your other treatments, be sure to consult your veterinarian. Sometimes only the specialized techniques available in veterinary hospitals can fill the needs of a sick cat.