What to Feed a Sick Cat That Won't Eat: A Comprehensive Guide

icon September 14, 2023

Cats are known for their finicky appetites, and when a feline friend refuses to eat, it can be a cause for concern. In cases of illness, a cat's appetite may decrease, making it essential to find ways to entice them to eat and provide the necessary nutrients for recovery. This article aims to guide cat owners through the challenging task of feeding a sick cat that won't eat, offering insights into potential reasons for their lack of appetite and providing a variety of strategies and foods to encourage eating.

Understanding the Reasons for a Cat's Decreased Appetite

Before delving into what to feed a sick cat that won't eat, it's crucial to understand why a cat might lose its appetite. Various factors can contribute to a cat's reluctance to eat, including:

1. Illness: The most common reason for a cat's refusal to eat is an underlying illness. Cats may avoid food due to pain, nausea, or discomfort caused by conditions like dental issues, gastrointestinal problems, kidney disease, or infections.

2. Stress: Cats are sensitive creatures, and stress can significantly impact their appetite. Changes in their environment, routine, or the introduction of new pets can lead to a decreased interest in food.

3. Medications: Some medications may affect a cat's sense of taste or cause stomach upset, leading to a refusal to eat.

4. Dental Problems: Dental issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, or mouth ulcers can make eating painful, leading to a decreased appetite.

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5. Age: Older cats may experience a decline in their appetite due to age-related changes in their sense of taste and smell.

6. Behavioral Issues: In some cases, behavioral problems like food aversions or anxiety can lead to a cat avoiding meals.

What to Feed a Sick Cat That Won't Eat

Now that we've explored potential reasons for a cat's decreased appetite let's delve into how you can encourage your sick feline friend to eat.

1. Consult Your Veterinarian

The first step in addressing a sick cat's loss of appetite is to consult your veterinarian. A medical professional can diagnose the underlying cause of your cat's illness and provide specific treatment recommendations. If your cat is not eating, your veterinarian may also recommend fluids to prevent dehydration or suggest appetite-stimulating medications.

2. Warm and Palatable Foods

Cats often prefer their food at a warmer temperature than what you might serve them straight from the refrigerator. Try warming their food slightly in the microwave, being careful not to make it too hot. Warming the food can enhance its aroma and make it more appealing to your cat's senses.

3. High-Quality Commercial Cat Food

High-quality commercial cat foods are formulated to meet a cat's nutritional needs. If your cat is uninterested in their regular food, consider offering a variety of flavors and textures. Some cats may prefer wet food over dry food or vice versa. Experiment with different options to find what your cat finds most appealing.

4. Gently Hand-Feeding

Sometimes, a little extra attention and care can go a long way. Try hand-feeding your cat small amounts of food. This not only provides them with the necessary nutrients but can also create a bonding experience between you and your pet.

5. Appetite Stimulants

Your veterinarian may prescribe appetite stimulants to encourage your cat to eat. These medications can be particularly helpful when dealing with a sick cat that won't eat due to an underlying medical condition. However, they should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.

6. Syringe Feeding

In severe cases where a cat refuses to eat entirely, syringe feeding may be necessary. This involves carefully administering a liquid diet or a blended cat food mixture through a syringe into the cat's mouth. It's crucial to learn the proper technique from your veterinarian to prevent injury to your cat.

7. Baby Food

Unseasoned baby food, such as plain chicken or turkey, can be a tempting option for a sick cat. Ensure it doesn't contain any onion or garlic, as these can be toxic to cats. Mix it with water to make it easier to consume, and offer it in small amounts.

8. Cat-Approved Supplements

Consider adding supplements like fish oil or powdered L-lysine to your cat's food. These supplements can help improve appetite and provide additional nutrients that support overall health. However, consult your veterinarian before introducing any supplements to your cat's diet.

Common Recommended Supplements For Cats Don't Eat:

  1. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Vitamin B12 supplements are often prescribed for cats with gastrointestinal issues, as they can help improve appetite and digestion. These supplements are typically administered by injection but can also be given orally under veterinary guidance.

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  2. Fish Oil: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can be beneficial for a cat's overall health. They may help reduce inflammation, improve skin and coat condition, and support joint health. Fish oil supplements should be specifically formulated for cats and administered according to your veterinarian's instructions.

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  3. L-lysine: L-lysine is an amino acid that can be used to support a cat's immune system and help manage certain viral infections, such as feline herpesvirus (FHV-1). It is available in various forms, including powder, gel, or treats. Always follow your veterinarian's recommended dosage.

  4. Probiotics: Probiotic supplements can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria in cats, especially if they have gastrointestinal issues. These supplements can be beneficial for improving digestion and may indirectly help with appetite. Choose a probiotic specifically designed for cats.

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  5. Appetite Stimulants: While not a traditional supplement, appetite-stimulating medications prescribed by a veterinarian can help boost your cat's desire to eat. These medications are used in cases of severe appetite loss due to underlying medical conditions.

  6. Nutritional Supplements: Your veterinarian may recommend specific nutritional supplements to address any deficiencies your cat may have. This could include vitamins, minerals, or amino acids tailored to your cat's needs.

9. Homemade Cat Food

If your cat has specific dietary restrictions or allergies, you can make homemade cat food under the guidance of your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. Homemade food should be nutritionally balanced and tailored to your cat's specific needs.

Here's a simple recipe for homemade cat food that you can consider, but please consult your vet before introducing it to your cat's diet:

Homemade Chicken and Rice Cat Food Recipe:


  1. 1/2 cup boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh, cooked and shredded
  2. 1/4 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
  3. 1/4 cup cooked and pureed carrots or sweet potatoes (cooked without seasoning)
  4. 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (low-sodium and no onions or garlic)
  5. 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (such as olive oil)


  1. Start by cooking the chicken thoroughly. You can boil, bake, or pan-fry it without any seasoning. Once cooked, shred it into small, easily digestible pieces.

  2. Cook the rice according to the package instructions. Make sure it's plain rice without any added seasoning or spices.

  3. Steam or boil carrots or sweet potatoes until they are soft. Then, puree them until smooth.

  4. Combine the shredded chicken, cooked rice, pureed vegetables, chicken or vegetable broth, and vegetable oil in a bowl. Mix them well to create a balanced and palatable mixture.

  5. Serve the homemade cat food to your cat while it's still warm. If your cat prefers it a bit warmer, you can gently heat it in the microwave, but be sure it's not too hot.

10. Hydration is Vital

In addition to encouraging your cat to eat, it's crucial to ensure they stay hydrated. If your cat isn't drinking water, consider offering ice cubes or using a syringe to administer water slowly. Dehydration can worsen a cat's condition, so monitor their water intake closely.


Feeding a sick cat that won't eat can be a challenging and stressful experience for cat owners. Understanding the underlying reasons for your cat's loss of appetite is the first step in addressing the issue. Consultation with a veterinarian is essential to diagnose and treat any underlying medical conditions.

Once you have identified the cause, you can use various strategies to entice your cat to eat, such as warming their food, offering high-quality commercial cat food, hand-feeding, using appetite stimulants, or even syringe feeding in severe cases. Additionally, consider supplements and homemade cat food options under the guidance of a veterinary professional.


Remember that patience, care, and consistent monitoring are key when nursing a sick cat back to health. Always consult with your veterinarian for personalized guidance, as they can provide the best advice based on your cat's specific condition and needs. With the right approach and support, you can help your sick cat regain their appetite and embark on a path to recovery.

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