Feeding Techniques
If your cat will not eat on its own

When cats stop eating for some reason and lose weight too quickly, they can develop fatty liver disease. It is very, very important to get food in kitty to not only give strength and maintain muscle, but also to fight off fatty liver.


Absolutely every cat and owner has their own special techniques. Every cat and situation is different and you will find your own special way to assist feed your cat. Assist feeding will actually take your relationship with your cat to a higher level than you’ve ever imagined. You will develop a deeper bond and connection.

Assist feeding takes a huge amount of patience and love. You will be tested. Take care of yourself, try to get enough rest and read as much as you can about other people’s experiences so that you may fine tune your technique. The day that Bubba curled up next to me right after a feeding instead of hiding in his spot under the antique dresser was quite a blessing and this told me that he knew I was trying to help him.


Preparing to Feed a Cat that Won’t Eat


Relaxation Techniques
Before starting an assist feed session, please make sure your cat is relaxed. Trying to assist feed your cat during high stress will surely create more stress. For example, if you just tried to give a pill to your cat and it didn’t go so well, attempting to syringe feed next probably won’t go so well either. You want each feeding session to be as peaceful as possible so that it will be healing both nutritionally and mentally.

Comb, brush or stoke your cat in it’s favorite manner. Talk in a soothing voice and explain how much you love your kitty.


Know your kitty’s habits and discover the calmest times of the day . You will have better success feeding during those times. Just like children, cats get wound up around the same time each day – it’s predictable.

Location – a quiet location is essential. Just you and your cat with no distractions such as people coming and going, children running, crying, or arguing, jealous spouses interrupting a million times to ask questions, and so on. Assist feeding actually becomes a very intimate process… a time of bonding. Bubba sits in a chair as I feed him and he can see out a window. Every once in a while he will take a moment to watch a bird on a branch and then we get back to business. At times… very peaceful. (It has taken months to get to this!)


Towels and Sheets – You can never have too many towels and sheets. With increased nutrition and calories, you cat will get stronger and suddenly the best way to take care of the blob of food on the side of the face is with a good head shake… and the food does fly!


Bibs – A cloth baby bib is great to keep the chest and front legs clean and is also a signal to your cat that feeding in now in session… “please do not move.” When finished feeding, remove the bib and say something like “all done!” and your cat will soon learn the routine. If you need more restraint, try a hand towel with a clothes pin behind the neck.


Supplies all Together
Try to get in a routine and have all your supplies together that you will need during your assist feeding schedule. You will not want to interrupt the feeding to get up and retrieve something… your cat will think the feeding session is over. If necessary, have a checklist you can refer to as you are getting things ready.


Positioning of you and your cat
This topic is VERY interesting because EVERYONE has their own special technique that works! Please email with what you do (pictures if you have them) and I will post it on this page! Email me at: Kathy(at)

Constraining Kitty: Sometimes it really helps to put a towel around kitty’s shoulders and securing at the back of the neck with a clothes clip… like if kitty were at the barbershop getting a haircut. They feel that they really can’t go anywhere and it’s easier to assist feed. If kitty backs up, wrap the towel around the back and secure the towel near the base of the tail so backing up will no longer feel like an option! Also, you might try having kitty sit on the kitchen counter or bathroom counter with the door closed for minimal distractions and kitty will know there isn’t an escape route! Or, sit on the floor with kitty in your lap… whatever works for kitty and you.


Cleaning Up: After you have assist fed… With kitty still secured, wipe any extra food off of the face and mouth. Praise kitty and then take the towel off and let kitty go bathe in a favorite location.

Note: You may need to wash the food off kitty’s mouth if kitty doesn’t bathe well to prevent acne or sores caused by food remaining in contact with the skin. Be sure to dry the skin and fur thoroughly. Remember to talk to kitty and explain why you are doing this. Cats are smart and will understand. Toss the towel in the wash.


Finger Feeding Cats

Use a smooth pate canned food (NOT chunky, not fillet nor shredded). 


Something smooth like Friskies Salmon or Hill’s a/d (an emergency recovery food high in protein and calories… very digestible and most cats like the taste. It is only available from the vet and is a very, very good food.)


With finger feeding, you use your index finger (pointing finger) to scoop up a little canned food about the size of a pea. Next open kitty’s mouth like you are going to give a pill… or better yet, just by pushing up kitty’s lip under the nose with your index finger that has the food. Then either place the food on kitty’s tongue or put it on the roof of the mouth by drawing your finger and food out against the top teeth. (Be sure that your finger nail is either cut short or at least smooth so that it won’t hurt kitty’s mouth, gums or roof of mouth.) Many times, just getting that first little bit of food in the mouth will peak interest and get kitty to eat on his or her own. Have a little plate of the canned food ready for kitty to eat.


You will want to finger feed at least 3 times a day. Feed as much as kitty will accept. Don’t force kitty to eat… encourage and try to get ‘just one more bite’, but don’t force too much. If you talk to your kitty while feeding, kitty will understand what you are doing and may be more accepting.


How to Syringe Feed a Cat

If you haven’t done so yet, please read the article: Preparing the Cat Food

Gently place the syringe in the side of the mouth and squeeze the plunger so that the food “shoots” across the tongue and hits either the back half of the tongue or the roof of the mouth. If you can get it on the tongue, that’s the best because it’s a more natural eating scenario.


CAUTION: It is very important to NOT shoot to the back of the throat or your cat may accidentally breathe the food into his or her lungs. This is called aspiration, is very dangerous and an cause pneumonia which may lead to death. Take care not to tilt the head back to prevent aspiration. There is a greater chance of aspiration when administering liquids, but it can happen with food, too.


Make sure that you don’t tilt your cat’s head back, try to keep the head in the natural lying or sitting position. You cat may feel out of control and panicky otherwise.


Small or Large Squirts? – Some cats eat fast… some eat slow. Some swallow large amounts… others require just 1ml at time. When I first started, I fed maybe 1/2ml at a time! When my cat and I adjusted to the assist feeding routine, the amount squirted into the mouth increased.

CAUTION: If your cat is sick with a clogged up nose, feed smaller amounts to prevent choking and to keep your cat from experiencing the feeling panic. It’s very difficult to eat with a clogged nose.


Catch the Food – Bubba eats sitting up in a chair. I place a dish on the chair in line with his chin and manage to catch the majority of the spills. I reload the syringe with the spills to make sure I get all the calories and medicine in him.


Cleaning the Face as you Feed
Some cats are neat eaters and some not so neat. Some cats don’t mind a messy face, others are quite particular. Use your finger to catch and reuse as much food as possible – especially if you add medications to the food. You may want to have a tissue or cloth (wet or dry) to wipe away food as you go, too. At the end of the feeding, clean away as much food as possible to prevent skin problems. 


See Cleaning Up After Feeding.


Immediately After Assist Feeding
Sometimes, getting a little food in the belly is all it takes. The stomach may not feel upset anymore, or just a fuller belly is comforting. Offer some warm food after you assist feed and see if your cat will eat more.


How Long Should Feeding Take?
It may take you 45 minutes to feed when you are first getting started, but as you and your cat get more comfortable with assist feeding, you will probably be able to feed about 40cc in about 15 minutes on average. Some cats eat fast, some eat slow so every case is different.


Tip: If you go too fast or overfill your cat’s tummy, your cat may vomit and there goes all your hard work. Watch your cats for signs of stress and slow down or quit if you think you’re reaching a danger zone. Smacking Lips are a true sign of what’s to come. Watch the whiskers… sometimes fully erect whiskers can mean stress.


Tip: If you cat enjoys a particular food, don’t use that food as the assist feed food. Your cat will soon associate the favorite food with the trauma of assist feeding.


Talk to your cat as your feeding. Explain why you are feeding and be as soothing as possible. Cats can learn an array of words and phrases so being consistent with certain words/actions will provide an extra level of comfort to your cat.

Use words and phases like:


  • “It’s time to eat” (be excited!)
  • “Open” (as in open your mouth)
  • “What a Good Boy/Girl”
  • “Here, let me get that” (as in the blob of food on this side of the mouth before the head shake!)
  • “All most done”
  • “All done!”
  • “There ya go!”

Seriously, phrases such as those listed above accompanied by consistent actions will be learned very quickly. You cat is playing close attention!

Different Feeding Techniques


Please email me your special feeding technique and I will include it on this webpage! Email me at: Kathy(at) with “How I Assist Feed” in the Subject Line.


Linda and Mittens
Garry and Lewie

Linda and Mittens
I’ve been syringe feeding Mittens since January 2002. He didn’t like it at first, but now it is routine for both of us. Although most feeding sessions are easy, we still have a few difficult ones when he really doesn’t want to be fed.


I feed Mittens a blend of prescription cat foods (at the present, mostly Waltham’s renal formula pouches with some Hill’s K/D), blended with peas, cooked chicken breasts, cooked egg whites, safflower oil, and supplements. I created a spread sheet so I can keep track of calories, protein, fat, phosphorus, and the phosphorus/calcium ratio.


I used to make it every two days using my powerful Vitamix. I recently bought a food processor and can now make 4 or 5 days worth at a time. I keep out 2 days worth, and freeze the rest in containers each holding about 1 days worth of food. When the processor is fairly full, it mixes the food but does not puree it well, but that’s OK since I reblend it in a mini-processor after I thaw it. I have found that the thawed food ends up being thinner than it was before freezing. I usually have to add extra water to the food which I don’t freeze.


The supplements are not added to the food which is frozen; they probably could be, but I feed safer adding them after the food is thawed. After I thaw the food, I add the supplements when I reblend it.


I feed Mittens on the couch, with his left side against the back of the couch and his butt against the arm of the couch. I sit between him and the edge of the couch with my left arm around him. I use my left hand to lift his head and open his mouth, and my right hand holds the syringe. I have a towel under him, another one over my lap, and a velcro-closure bib on him (he looks so cute). He usually only spills a few drops which land on the bib, but sometimes food does get spattered. I use 1-cup Pyrex glass containers for the food, and use the microwave to heat it to room temperature. I’ve tried several sizes of syringes, but he always prefers the 5-6ml size. At the present time we are using Monoject Long Nose syringes — very smooth, and they don’t stick.

If you have any questions, let me know.



Bill & Linda Fischbach (home)
King George, Va


Garry and Lewie

Hi, All:


I made a comment or reference to the way I feed Lewie (when I feel that he’s being a finicky eater), and Kathy has asked me to make those procedures available. I will, certainly, and I wish I had some fantastic new discovery to offer, some innovative technique, but I do not. My approach is based on common sense, backyard logic, and simply knowing Lewie as I do….knowing and respecting his likes and dislikes. But if some of you may gain something from what I do, then I’m more than delighted to take the time to share it, so here we go:


First of all, you need to understand that Lewie is a ham of the highest order, an actor. To be perfectly honest I think he enjoys all the hoo-hah and the attention it brings. Especially the cleaning-up when we’re done: He actually poses for me, head in the air, like: “Look, I’m all gooey, get this gunk off me!”


But regardless of that….


His medication regimen is 3ml of Alternagel daily, 1ml of Pet Tinic, and the food itself is Eukanuba (at least for now). I run the food in the blender, mixed with purchased Spring-water (not tap water), until the mix is about the consistency of pancake batter, and I keep a small pitcher of that in the Fridge. Sometimes I put a little of the water from a can of tuna in the mix, too, for variety. I like variety, don’t you? Why do we think a cat shouldn’t?


Beforehand, I get everything ready, whatever I decide he gets at this feeding. Lewie, like most cats, needs 5-6 ounces of food daily, and I tried giving him too much at one time once…and only once. I’d tell what my reward was for that clever approach, but I’m sure you already know what my reward was. Anyway, Lewie gets no more than two 10ml syringes at one time (see pix at the bottom). If it’s just food this time, then I have two syringes of food ready to go, along with a paper towel or two. (Vets say that cats like warm food, but someone forgot to tell Lewie about this; he prefers it cold or cool.) If it’s a feed with meds, then I do it this way: I suck a little food into the syringe (maybe a couple of ml’s, then the med, then some more food until it’s full. So now, I’ve got one syringe of just food and one that is “food-meds-food”.


I set him on the edge of a counter, pointedly, where he can escape if he wants to, and if he really wants to, I let him. Never, ever do I back him into a corner, wrap him in a towel, that sort of thing. I want him to know that he’s part of this thing, too, but only if he wants to be. If I make it a scary, forced, traumatic experience, that would alienate him and I’d have trouble every time. So I talk to him for a bit, rub his nose, pet him, move around the kitchen a little bit so he knows he’s not “trapped” in any way. All of this takes maybe 30 seconds or so to make him feel comfortable, which I figure is a pretty wise investment of my time.


I pick up a syringe, let him sniff at it, keep talking to him. Then I sort of hold his head from behind with my left hand and put the end of the syringe in the side of his mouth, back toward the rear, where he can chew on the tip (which he does, believe me!) – much like you or I would rip off a tough piece of beef jerky. About halfway through a syringe, I stop, take it out, and make all kinds of silly noises: “WOW, are you ever a slob, Lewis!”. I wipe his mouth off even when it doesn’t need it, but the object here is twofold: One, he has time to swallow naturally, and two, I’ve showed him he can stop whenever he wants. But he rarely does “want”, and in fact, there are times that he sits there when I think we’re all done, staring down at the empty syringes and looking back up at me…he wants more! So he gets more. I’m doing binders (the Alternagel), which presents the issue of possible constipation, so using my backyard logic again to ward off that possibility, he gets about 1ml of Lactulose every 2-3 days. Lewie hates this stuff with a passion if given directly, so I embed it in a syringe of food and nobody’s the wiser…unless you tell him, and I ask you not to, please. My reward for being so tricky is that his stool is perfectly normal; not hard and dry, not “loose”.


Throughout the day:
If he gets hungry between these feeding experiences (and he does), I feed him something, a treat. Sometimes it’s little strips of deli roast beef (rare), or sliced chicken breast, maybe a few (not many) pieces of Tender Vittles, whatever he likes. This may not be the ideal thing to do because of the protein in beef, chicken, etc., but for one thing, it’s never more than a few tidbits. And two, I think it’s a reasonable tradeoff for the benefit of keeping his appetite tweaked and excited.


So there you have it. Probably far less than what you were expecting, but it’s a process I figured out through trial and error, he’s getting food down and gaining weight. Whether or not a vet would approve, this works for Lewie and I’ll continue doing what I feel is right until someone shows me a better way that’s equally effective. I’ve had vets –several of them over the years– say, in reference to some idiotic, tasteless food they tried to sell me: “Just put the food in a dish; if they get hungry enough, they’ll eat.” I think these people should be a cat for a while, don’t you?

Disclaimer: Kathy Fatheree is not at all a medical expert. Contents of this web site are a collection of Kathy’s assist feeding experiences as well as the experiences of other cat owners who have assist fed their cats. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, Kathy Fatheree or anyone associated with this web site cannot be held responsible for anything that may happen as a result of using the information on this site.