HEALTH & CARE

How to Syringe Feed a Cat: Help Them, Not Choke Them

A man feeding a kitten with a Syringe
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Every cat owner wants to keep their feline friend well-fed and looking healthy, but that simple wish might seem like an unachievable dream when your cat starts to lose his appetite. Loss of appetite in cats could be caused by a number of reasons. The first thing you need to do when you notice this problem is to take your cat to the vet. Once the vet has devised a treatment plan, the recovery process could start. But no matter how good of a treatment plan it is, your cat won’t get better if they don’t eat. During these trying times, you might have no choice but to resort to learning how to syringe feed a cat.

Syringe-feeding a cat might look like the simplest task in the world when a professional such as the vet is the one doing it, but when the role falls on your shoulder, you suddenly realize that it’s not as simple as it seems. You start to wonder: How does the vet do it? How did they manage to get your cat to swallow the injection without choking? What should you do to make sure the food won’t go down the wrong channel? This article aims to help you be confident and secure in your approach so that you’ll help your cat recover instead of making things worse.

Kitten being fed with syringe

In this article, you’ll find the exact steps that need to be followed in order to successfully syringe-feed your cat. We’ll explain everything starting from the supplies that you need to prepare beforehand right down to how to read the signs that your cat has had enough.

Steps Involved in Syringe-Feeding a Cat

To syringe-feed a cat successfully, a set of steps need to be followed. You need to know exactly what you’re doing before you even attempt to syringe-feed your cat since if the food or water goes down the wrong way, into their lungs, for example, it could cause them to develop illnesses like bronchitis.

Step #1: Make Sure It is Not a Health Problem

Your cat’s lack of appetite might be caused by external issues such as:

  • The introduction of a new type of food.
  • Stress caused by a change in their routine or environment.
  • Placing the food bowl too close to the litter box.
  • The food bowl is too small or too deep.

If it were any of the above, then the problem is a simple one because all you’ll have to do is make sure everything conforms to your cat’s delicate taste, and they will start building a healthy appetite right away. On the other hand, as we’ve mentioned early on in this article, one of the reasons why your cat is not eating is because he or she might be sick.

kitten at the vet

There is no way to determine whether your cat is sick or not on your own; cats are usually adept at hiding their discomfort. You have to take your pet to the veterinarian to get checked out. This way, you will get to know the root cause of him avoiding his food. Your vet may then diagnose that your furry friend is suffering from one of these conditions:

Reason #1: Dental Problems

There are a number of periodontal problems that can make your furry friend avoid eating his or her food. These include inflamed gums, broken tooth, abscess, and oral tumors. These can make chewing difficult and painful.

Reason #2: Gastrointestinal Issues

Various health problems that could be making it impossible for your cat to eat include the presence of any of the following conditions in his or her gastrointestinal tract:

  • Parasites
  • Colitis – This is the inflammation of the membrane lining the colon.
  • Gastroenteritis – This could be an inflammation or an infection of the cat’s GI tract.
  • Pancreatitis – Infection of the pancreas.
  • Changes in the intestines’ bacterial environment.
  • Foreign bodies being present in your cat’s stomach or intestines. These could cause blockages and pain.
  • Intestinal lymphoma – This is a type of cancer that affects the intestines.

Reason #3: Kidney Diseases

These usually affects older cats. Kidney diseases are usually characterized by your cat feeling nauseous all the time, so it becomes impossible for them to eat. If there is an underlying health condition, the vet will prescribe medication for your cat which will help ease the symptoms.

kitten-looking-at-camera

Only after the root of the problem has been revealed will syringe-feeding your cat be effective. If your cat is prescribed an outpatient care, you might be asked to syringe-feed them as you care for them at home. Below we’ll explain how to do that successfully.

Step #2: Determine How Much Food Your Cat Needs

It is essential that you give your cat just the right amount of food. You can ask for advice from your veterinarian, or you can calculate the optimum calorie intake yourself. The first step in calculating the number of calories yourself is to weigh your cat.

Two black and white kitten eating milk with a syringe

Since a sick cat will have to rest more often throughout the day, they will need fewer calories than what they usually consume. The number is placed at approximately 30kcal for each pound of the cat’s weight every day. This means that if you weigh your cat and find out that he is exactly 12 pounds, then the number of kilocalories he needs each day is 12 x 30 = 360kcal.

Step #3: Preparing the Food

Now that you have determined the number of calories that you need to feed your cat, it is time to prepare the food. To successfully prepare food for the syringe feeding, follow the following steps:

  • Reduce the Size of the Food Particles: For successful syringe feeding, the particles need to be of the smallest size. You need to use every means available to reduce the food particle size—more often than not, this equals using a blender, a food processor, or simply mashing it up.
  • Strain or Sieve the Mush: After you have reduced the size of the food particles, you may need to strain the food in order to remove anything that hasn’t been finely processed.
  • Add Water and Oil: Water is essential—especially when your cat is sick since dehydration is the last thing you need. Also, this will help in making the food semi-liquid. Although, don’t add too much water. Instead, add acceptable oils. Water has a disadvantage as it may cause your cat to feel full so they won’t want to be fed anymore. Make sure that you don’t make the food too watery. Thicker food will allow you to get more calories into your cat’s system with fewer injections.
  • Warm the Food: Warm food is easier to digest and more palatable. Warm food is also comforting. Hence it will be easier for your cat to swallow. There are several ways to warm your cat’s food. You can use a microwave, or you can place it in a hot water bowl. Make sure that you don’t warm the food too much.

Step #4: Assemble All the Necessary Tools

First things first, you’ll need a 6cc oral feeding syringe. An oral feeding syringe resembles other syringes but with a small difference. The oral feeding syringe has a gentle cone-shaped opening that is enlarged so food that is thicker than water can pass through. Normal syringes usually only have a tiny opening where the needle is attached.

These syringes are available in various sizes, but the best size is 6cc. If you can’t get one from your veterinarian, oral feeding syringes are also available in medical supply stores, feed stores, and pharmacies.

6cc oral feeding syringe for feeding a kitten

Prepare a towel once you have the syringe. When syringe-feeding your cat, it is essential to make sure that he is properly secured. This can be done by wrapping your cat to create what most people usually refer to as kitty burrito.

Kitty burrito makes it easier for you to syringe-feed him or her since the towel restricts their movement and makes it difficult for them to struggle. Choose a medium-sized towel for a 10 to 12 pounds cat. For a bigger cat, you need to pick up a sturdy beach towel. Don’t choose thick and fluffy towels; these will limit your ability to hold your cat. Also, you won’t be able to feel the position of your cat in the towel.

Orange kitten sitting in a towel

Thin towels also have their disadvantages since your cat’s claws may be able to pierce through the material and right into the skin of your arm. You will agree with us that this is never fun.

Always keep extra supplies at hand. You don’t want to be rushing to the store to purchase something you can’t remember where you placed right before your cat’s scheduled feeding session.

Step #5: Loading the Syringe

If you have followed this tutorial properly, then you have everything ready. The next step involves loading your syringe with the food we prepared together earlier on in the article.

Kitten eating milk from a syringe

Loading a syringe is easy. Pull the food up into the syringe using the plunger, or use a funnel to fill it from the top of the syringe. If the food is rather thick in consistency, you can fill the syringe up using a spoon or a popsicle stick.

Step #6: Inject the Food into Your Cat’s Mouth

Now it is time to inject the food into your cat’s system orally. To do this, there are specific steps that you need to follow:

  • First things first, make sure that the syringe has no air in it. After you’ve filled the syringe with food, there might be some air present. You don’t want to fill your cat’s stomach with this air. To make sure that there is no air in the syringe, turn it up so that its tip is pointing upwards. Gently push the plunger to expel the air.
  • Manage the fur around your cat’s mouth. If necessary, get it shaved in order to allow you easy access to the cat’s mouth. You don’t want your cat to swallow fur together with his food as this can have a lot of negative side effects.
  • Place your cat in a comfortable position. You can do this by placing your cat on your lap, on a table, on a counter, or placing him in a sitting position between your legs on the floor. Pick a feeding spot and always feed your cat on this spot. Changing the environment can cause your cat to feel uncomfortable. Also, make sure that you feed him at the same time each day.
  • Once your cat is comfortable and you have his or her food ready in the syringe, it is time to feed them. Using a single hand, you will need to the hold the cat’s head by placing your thumb on one side of his mouth and the rest of your fingers on the other side. Your fingers need to be placed strategically in such a way that they are resting on the corners of his or her mouth.
  • For easier swallowing, you need to tilt your cat’s head upwards. Don’t overdo this; the tilting is supposed to be done gently. A slight tilt should be enough.
  • Now, get the syringe that contains food for your cat and insert its tip gently into your cat’s mouth. For the best results, you should insert the syringe into the corner of his mouth where you placed your thumb. Aim for the gap that exists between his or her normal teeth and sharp canines.
  • Start pushing the plunger. Do this very slowly while making sure that the tip is pointed down towards your cat’s throat.
  • To give your cat time to swallow and hence avoid choking, always pause after you have delivered 1ml of food into his mouth. This is a process that you will have to keep repeating until all the food in the syringe has been emptied into your cat’s system.
  • For optimal feeding process, observe the signs that your cat is giving to you as you feed him. If you notice that he has trouble swallowing the 1ml, reduce the amount of food that you deliver. If you notice that 1ml is too little, increase the amount of food per injection.
  • Make sure that you don’t overwhelm your cat by feeding him too many times in a single day. Keep the feeding to a maximum of 3 to 4 times per day.
  • Always flush the syringe after feeding your cat. Keeping the syringe clean will aid in keeping your cat healthy.

Step #7: Know When to Stop

When you are syringe-feeding your cat, it is essential to keep an eye on him in order to make sure that you are not hurting him.

kitten being fed with a Syringe

Some of the signs that indicate you might be hurting him include him:

  • Trying to pull his head away.
  • Drooling.
  • Gagging.
  • Coughing.
  • Repeated attempts to swallow (with difficulty).
  • Your cat chewing excessively although the food is in liquid form.

In case you see any of the above signs, you should stop feeding him immediately and identify the reason behind the above behavior. If you continue feeding him even after you have noticed the above signs, you could make things worse for your cat.

Wrap Up

Feeding a cat who doesn’t want to eat on his own for any particular reason is not hard. All you need to do is use the techniques that we have explained in this article. Syringe-feeding cats is a method that has worked for a lot of cat owners for years now.

You need to take your cat to the vet before you start feeding him or her through the use of a syringe. Uproot the reason as to why he is not eating so that he has an underlying health complication, you will be able to get it treated properly while keeping his strength up with syringe-feeding sessions.

kitten being fed with a Syringe in a shelter

You should never hesitate to ask your vet questions about feeding your cat. They will guide you on the best types of food that you should feed your cat and also how much you need to feed your cat. Overfeeding them while they’re weak and nauseous might cause them to vomit all the food you’ve injected into their system back up.

If you determine that your cat is refusing to eat his food because you have introduced a new type of food, then it is essential that you consider introducing that food in smaller bits. This you should do by putting a small amount of the new feed into his normal feed and increasing the amount gradually. Over time, your cat will eat it without any problem.

kitten being fed with a Syringe by a woman

Always comfort your cat if he or she is frightened during the feeding sessions. This will reassure him or her that everything is going to be just fine. This will improve his confidence and also allow him to remain calm as you feed him.

So, have you tried to syringe-feed your cat? How did it go? Why was your cat refusing to eat his food without your assistance? Let us know about all this in the comments section. Also, please leave any questions and suggestions that you may have in the comments section. We love your feedback.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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