How To Syringe Feed a Cat
Respect the Kitty!
Syringe Feeding an Exercise in Planning and Execution
“Why Do I Have to Put Myself and My Cat Through Syringe Feeding?”
Sometimes the difference between life and death for an unwell cat is nutrition. Syringe feeding is the slow, gentle administration of soft, soupy food through a feeding syringe, into your cat’s mouth in such a way that natural swallowing is encouraged.
Planning: Gather Your Supplies
6cc Oral Feeding Syringe From the Veterinarian
An oral feeding syringe is much like any other syringe, except, instead of a tiny opening where a needle attaches, there’s a gentle cone-shaped tip with an enlarged opening for thicker-than-water food to pass through. They come in various sizes, but the best size for cat feeding is “6 cc.” (5 cc is a teaspoon.)
Syringes are prescription items in the United States. Since an oral syringe cannot be used for Drug administration, your vet, medical supply stores, feed stores, or sometimes a pharmacy are sources for oral dosing syringes.
High Calorie, Soupy Food
Soft, soupy cat food. Your veterinarian can provide maximal calories per volume cat foods like Recovery formula, AD formula (alimentary diet), Maximum Calorie formula. Depending on your cat’s needs, you can also blend fresh meats with pure water in a blender to make a gruel consistency. Your veterinarian can help you calculate your sick kitty’s daily caloric needs.
Many visitors to VirtuaVet have been searching the terms: “How much to syringe feed my sick cat.” While Doc Truli always advises to see your animal doctor professional, some people live in countries where there is no veterinarian! In the interest of saving cat’s lives, here’s how your vet determines how much you should feed:
- Weigh your cat. Estimate your cat’s true body. Do not count rolls of fat. For example, a fat 14 pound cat might have a 12 pound body structure of metabolically healthy cat.
- Your cat’s resting to slightly recovering metabolic needs for kilocalories are approximately 30 kcal/pound cat/day. So, a ten pound average cat needs about 300 kcal/day. (It so happens, maintenance water needs to replace what you breath out and sweat, etc. is also 30 mL/pound/24-hr day.)
- You need to estimate, or know the kilocalories per unit, preferably milliliter (same as “cc”) rather than teaspoon. If you are using a commercially available food like Science Diet AD, Eukanuba Max Calorie or Royal Canin Response Formula, then the kilocalories are available on the website, your vet has a reference book from the company, or you can call the 1-800 tech support number on the package.
- Now, just because the calories are there, does not mean you can get the stuff through a syringe and into your cat! You may need to thin the gruel with water. Do not assume a thin gruel has similar calories per syringe to the original mix or you’ll be underdosing your kitty.
- You’ll find a can of Recovery/AD/Max Calorie has 300-325 calories or so. So, a can watered to administer, slowly with 2-3 cc into the mouth and then wait for a swallow and then continue until the needed amount (which is usually 40-60cc per meal) is delivered, 4-6 times a day if you want to prevent your cat from vomiting right after the meal.
- When you’re starting, for the first day or two, give 50%, or 1/2 can, or about 150 calories if your cat is very ill. You need to restart the digestive system gradually.
- See why you probably need the veterinarian? There is much calculation and subjective, experienced-based judgement involved in syringe-feeding a cat!
If you truly are in a country with no vet, you probably have no canned food either. But you’re probably crazy dedicated to be syringe-feeding a cat. So, take the food the cat would eat in a day, whatever it is puree, blend, grind, render it down to a gruel consistency. Give 1/2 the first day and increase over 2 days until you get it all in. High calories foods like meat help a cat recover, usually (they are obligate carnivores). The volume a cat can take is 3-6 cc at a time, every 1-2 hours maximum, for a total of about 40-60 cc to fill the stomach at any one sitting. In a sick cat, it may take 3-6 hours for the food to leave the stomach enough to get a new batch in there! Good luck!
Use a towel for wrapping your kitty in a “kitty burrito.” Control of your cat’s body is a key to success. Claws and squirming will facilitate kitty escape and your failure in your endeavor. Choose a medium size towel for a 10-12 pound or less cat and a thin, but sturdy beach towel for a bounder-sized kitty. Thick, fluffy towels do not work well, because they limit your ability to feel where your cat is in the towel and they limit your holding ability. Thin, small towels do not work, because paws and arms start slashing at you from under the towel, not fun!
Planning Tru Tips
Gather your supplies. Blend the food. Have fresh water to rinse your cat’s mouth after the feeding. Measure the food intake by proportion of a can used, not by the cc’s of liquid given. You will vary amounts of liquid or water with the food each day, depending on the need at the time. If one meal is 30% water and another meal is 50% water, then cc’s fed will not help tell you caloric intake from the actual nutritious food.
If you use a brand like Fancy Feast, it may be too thick to pass through the opening on an oral dosing syringe. If you have a blender, or a coffee grinder you would like to sacrifice for cat food preparation, mix in some water or low-salt or homemade chicken broth and make a semi-thick slurry. If you have access to an animal hospital, get Recovery or AD (alimentary diet) or Maximum Calorie prescription recovery foods. In Doc Truli’s experience, the Recovery diet goes down and stays down the best of the three.
Your veterinary hospital may also have a pure liquid diet like Clinicare. While this food is intended for use through a tiny naso-gastric feeding tube, it may also be appropriate for your cat. Your veterinarian can guide you.
Warm the Meal
Warm the food before serving. Use warm water, or place the dish or syringes of food into warm water or a vegetable steamer before serving.
If you have a microwave oven, you now they can be time-saving and help you cope with a chore of warming food when you have many other things to do for your sick cat. If you must use the microwave, be sure to mix thoroughly to prevent hot spots in the food which could burn your cat’s tongue. In the comments, you will see a critical reader’s feedback. They called me into question on my opinion about microwaves and indeed, I cannot quickly find National Institutes of Health evidence that microwaving degrades nutritional quality of the food. I have edited this paragraph to be more mainstream-factual so that the readers can trust my advice and help their cats.
I personally am not a fan of microwaving or electric stoves. I attended classes on macrobiotic cooking and practice this cooking. The Kushi Institute in Massachusetts has a well-respected program in macrobiotic studies. Their website (http://www.kushiinstitute.org/what-is-macrobiotics/) accessed July 2, 2016 says:
Avoid using electric cooking devices (ovens and ranges) or microwave ovens. The use of a gas or wood stove is preferred.
Bribe Friends and Family to Help
Gather your supplies at a feeding location you can manage. Get a helper if needed to hold your cat.
Gather Your Cat: Get This Right the First Time
Ready, Aim, Blanket!
Gently burrito your kitty on the blanket. Start at the neck, just behind the ears and wrap the towel around kitty medium loosely. Include paws and claws under the blanket. Tuck kitty-in-blanket under your non-dominant arm (left if you are right-handed.)
Zygomatic Arches=Kitty “Handles”
With kitty tucked under your left elbow and forearm on your lap or a sturdy tabletop, grasp your cat’s head by placing your left hand (your eight hand if you are left-handed), up over the back of kitty’s head behind or just over the ears. Your thumb should be resting on your cat’s cheekbone (zygomatic arch) on the inside toward your body and your fingers should ne resting on the cat cheekbone facing away from your body. If you have cheekbone control, you have head control.
“If you have cheekbone control, you have head control,” says Doc Truli.
Execution: the Best Way to Get the Food Into Your Kitty
Approach from the Side
Lift preloaded syringe of food to kitty’s left side of the mouth. Approach from underneath and the side. Do not approach straight on from the front! The sight of your hand and the syringe coming straight into the front, frightens most cats and triggers then to bring a paw up to bat you away. Do this with your dominant hand, as the most dexterity is needed to guide the syringe and slowly push the plunger to feed your kitty without frightening him or her.
Wiggle the Syringe Tip Against the Lips and Teeth 1/2-Way from Front to Back
Come from the side, and slightly underneath the side of the mouth. In between the sharp canine (eye) teeth and the back of the mouth, the premolars are small and short. Nudge the tip of the feeding syringe into the space between the front and back and between the jaws. Wiggle the syringe up and down and/or give a slight quarter turn at the midway location. This movement on the midway spot causes the jaw to open.
Slowly Inject Tiny Amounts of Food Upward to the Roof and Slightly to the Back of the Mouth
Slowly inject the food into the center of the mouth. Aiming at about a 15 degree angle for the roof of the mouth also promotes swallowing and helps prevent choking on the food.
Many first-time cat nurses give food too quickly, or too much at a time. Give tiny amounts of the food at a time. Approximately 1/2 teaspoon, or 2-3 mL blobs of food. Going too fast will cause kitty to spit up or fight.
Plan on Three-four Times Daily: Do Not Overwhelm Your Cat
About three ounces of canned cat food with water times maybe 6 to 9 of these syringes in a sitting. An average 10 pound car might need 3-4 feedings a day. Your veterinarian can accurately weigh, figure our the caloric content in the prescribed diet, and give you a starting calorie point for your cat. Every cat, disease, and diet presents a unique combination of caloric needs; follow your veterinarian’s advice.
Did you notice the big, black, shiny pupils in this cat? Especially in the first picture? Even under the bright treatment room lights, her pupils did not constrict. Why?
This seventeen-year-old cat has chronic, long-term kidney disease, which caused secondary hypertension (which also makes the kidneys worse), and the high blood pressure caused the retinas in the back of her eyes to up and detach all of a sudden, making her just, well, suddenly blind one day last week.
There’s no reversing this. If your cat looses weight, changes urination habits, starts eating more or less, get him or her checked out. This kitty’s mom waited six months and her kidney disease was so advanced, she went blind in spite of medications, and she comes to the hospital twice daily for subcutaneous fluid administration ands syringe-feedings to supplement her poor appetite at home. On the bright side, she has gained weight, and purrs, and has started playing again!