Sick cat refusing a few pieces of food

Getting a sick cat to eat can be extremely challenging. Cats can be very finicky eaters, and they can be even more finicky when they are sick. As a veterinarian, I often have to entice sick cats to eat again. This article will cover a few tips and tricks that I have learned during my veterinary career on how to get a sick cat to eat.

8 Ways to Get a Sick Cat to Eat

Cat eating canned food between two food bowls

1. Determine the Underlying Cause of Inappetence

The first step in getting your sick cat to eat is to determine the underlying cause of your cat’s sickness.1 I recommend taking your cat to the vet if they have missed more than 1 or 2 meals. Your veterinarian can determine and treat the underlying cause of your cat’s illness which will get your cat on the road to recovery faster. If you do not address the underlying illness, your sick cat will probably not get better.

2. Try Canned or Wet Food

Canned or wet food can be extremely enticing to cats. If your sick cat does not want to eat, you might try offering a small amount of canned food. Try purchasing many different flavors and textures to offer your cat some variety and options. Certain prescription veterinary cat foods are extremely gentle on the stomach and can be very beneficial if your cat is not feeling well.

3. Try Warming It Up

If you warm the food up slightly, this may interest your cat. Make sure the food is not too hot as this could burn your cat’s mouth. Gently warm up the canned food in the microwave, test to make sure it is not too hot, then offer it to your cat. Warming up the food makes it more fragrant and interesting to your cat.

4. Offer Treats

Does your cat have a favorite treat? Sometimes if you can get your cat to eat just a few bites of treats, they will become more interested in eating. Try mixing treats into their regular food to see if this piques their interest.

5. Sprinkle Food Toppers on the Food

Certain food toppers are extremely tasty and difficult for your cat to resist. Try sprinkling Purina Fortiflora on your cat’s food to see if this will get them to eat. You could also try sprinkling a tiny amount of tuna juice over their food to make it tastier.

6. Offer the Food By Hand

Sit down with your cat and try to offer their food by hand. While this can be messy, it often works. Place a small amount of food on your finger or in your hand and put it up close to their mouth. Often clients ask me, “Should you force-feed a sick cat?” I don’t recommend force-feeding your cat because this could make them more upset. 

7. Give Your Cat Extra Love

Good nursing care and love can be very beneficial when trying to get your sick cat to eat. Sit next to your cat and give them a gentle pet. Say soft quiet words of encouragement. When my own cat was very sick, this was the only way that I could get him to eat.

8. Appetite Stimulants

If all else fails, speak with your veterinarian about prescribing your cat an appetite stimulant. For cats with chronic diseases, there are several appetite stimulants available that may help to get your cat eating again.2

Why is my cat not eating?

There are many reasons that a cat may not want to eat. These can range from mild diseases such as a toothache to more serious or life-threatening conditions.3 Only your veterinarian will be able to determine the underlying cause of your cat’s inappetence. It is important to visit your vet sooner rather than later if they stop eating. Early and prompt treatment is often associated with a better prognosis.

The most common reasons that a cat would not want to eat include:

  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Dental disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Pain
  • Liver disease
  • Nausea

What can I feed a sick cat that won’t eat?

If your pet has been diagnosed with an underlying medical condition, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on feeding. Some diseases require treatment with special diets.4 Often, a sick cat that won’t eat might be interested in eating canned food or grain-free cat food.

Final Thoughts

If your cat is sick, the first and most important step in getting them to eat is to speak with your veterinarian about the underlying cause of their sickness. Your veterinarian will also be able to give you specialized dietary recommendations and feeding tips to help your cat eat again. Sometimes sick cats will eat canned food, grain-free cat food, or food that has been slightly warmed. Finally, one of the best ways to get a sick cat to eat is to give your cat plenty of tender, loving care.

  1. Memphis Veterinary Specialists & Emergency. My cat won’t eat – is this an emergency? Accessed May 2, 2021.
  2. Cook A. Dealing With Dysrexia in Dogs and Cats. Updated July 2020. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  3. Kruzer A. 8 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating. Updated February 17, 2021. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  4. Cornell Feline Health Center. Feeding Your Cat. Updated July 2017. Accessed May 2, 2021.