Cleo's Progress

One Cat's Struggle with Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How to force feed your cat

If your cat stops eating and develops feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, by the time you realize she is sick she won't have any appetite at all. Since hepatic lipidosis is treated by feeding high protein foods to your cat, you will probably need to force feed her for a month or two before she is ready to start eating on her own.

Here is what I learned when I force fed Cleo back in November of 2005:

1. Choose a food that has a high protein content, but a thin consistency. My vet sold me wet food that is usually used for elderly animals who can't chew because of bad or missing teeth. With a little bit of water added to the food, it was thin enough to pass through the tip of a large syringe.

2. Use a syringe or a spoon to force feed your cat. Your vet may be able to provide you with plastic force-feeding syringes for free (mine did), or you can buy them at a pet store. There is also a way to force feed a cat using a spoon and your finger to open the cat's mouth, which I discovered more recently.

3. Wrap your cat up in a towel so that she can't struggle as much. I also wonder if this makes her feel a little safer, even though it puts her at your mercy. Fussy babies are often soothed by being swaddled tightly; maybe this works for cats too. In any case, force feeding my cat was not the traumatic experience that leads many vets and websites to recommend a surgically implanted feeding tube.

4. Insert the tip of the syringe (or your finger, depending on the method you are using) in the corner of the cat's mouth. The cat probably won't open her mouth if you go at it from the front, but by putting a little pressure in the corner you should be able to get her to open up. Also, she'll swallow better if the food is deposited on the back of her tongue.

5. Feed small, more frequent meals. Don't try to force feed your cat too much at once, as she'll probably just throw it up. When Cleo had feline hepatic lipidosis, I usually divided the cans into sixths and fed her at 2-3 hour intervals.

Despite what the vet may tell you, force feeding really isn't that difficult — and personally, I think it's much less traumatic for a cat than going into surgery when they are already that ill. At the very least, try force feeding before you decide to have a feeding tube surgically implanted!



  • At September 26, 2008 at 2:12 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

    I love your blog. I foudn it today by endlessly searching the web for more info to save my poor little kitty. The vet told me 2 weeks ago he has fatty liver. I have some questions that i would love being answered by someone who has dealt with this before and reversed it.
    Was your cat driking on its own during the process??
    My cat is drinking VERY small amounts of water on his own right now but i feel it may not be enough.
    Did you cat look "really bad"?
    Its hard to tell if the force feeding is working because he is SO tired and sleeps and hides most of the day. He looks very rough because he isnt cleaning himself much.
    Thank you so much for your site!!

  • At September 29, 2008 at 11:42 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Hi Trevor! Sorry this reply is a few days late, but hopefully it will still come in time.

    Cleo was NOT drinking at all when I started force-feeding her, and yes, she looked awful! She was also not grooming, and her fur looked terrible. Her skin was very yellow, too.

    She did hide and sleep most of the time for the first couple of weeks, but gradually she started getting more energy and seeking out attention.

    I force fed her for about 4 weeks before she recovered. I gave her water intravenously -- the vet sent me home with an IV bag and a bunch of needles -- every other night for about 3 weeks before she started drinking on her own.

    If your cat is drinking a little on his own still, I would perhaps try giving him a little by mouth to supplement what he's getting on his own. Perhaps mix some extra water into his food, or just give him a syringe full of water (go slowly to give him time to swallow and keep it down) just like you would force-feed him.

    Good luck, and let me know if you have any other questions!

  • At October 23, 2008 at 5:51 AM , Blogger Teaser said...

    too have a very sick cat, Patsy. She was diagnosed with fatty liver 3 years ago and recovered but it has re-ocurred, only much worse. My vet has basically given up on her but I haven't. I have been force feeding her now with Hills AD for 10 days. She has gained 1/2 kg in that time but is still very sleepy and has now started to vommit a lot. She looks ill and does not react to anything, my voice, my strokes. I do get some reaction when I comb her but that is all. I would like to know was your cat vommiting while you were force feeding? I am going to try some anti-vommiting medication. What do you think?

  • At October 23, 2008 at 9:36 AM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    Cleo was indeed vomiting while I was force-feeding her. I found that if I fed her smaller meals more frequently, and took my time feeding her, she was less likely to throw it up.

    The anti-nausea medicine did not work for us. It actually seemed to make Cleo vomit more. I think it was hard on her stomach. If I were you, I would first try feeding her a little less at a time -- but if that doesn't work, then anti-nausea medicine is probably worth a try.

    Have you had your vet check for other problems? The extreme sleepiness sounds worrisome. Also, according to my vet fatty liver does not often reoccur, so I wonder if you should look into other possible illnesses that could have caused your cat to get sick with it again.

    In any case, I think you are doing the right thing by not giving up on her!

  • At November 11, 2008 at 8:00 AM , Blogger Teaser said...

    Patsy has now been force fed for 4 weeks and gained .8kg in that time. She still looks bad and is feeling very sorry for herself and has not started to eat for herself. She did become de-hydrated but we are now giving her more fluids. How long did Cleo need to be force fed and when did she start to look and act like herself again? I am finding it very hard to keep on forcing her to eat although I do think she was quite bad to start with as I blame our vet for not suggesting force feeding earlier. Anyhow, I would appreciate your thoughts as to how long it took with Cleo as I am sure you can appreciate that it is heart wrenching to look at your cat and know that they don't want you to feed them or give them medication.

  • At November 19, 2008 at 10:06 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

    I just wanted to repost and let you now my Buddy is all good!!! running around back to his old self. The yellow is completly gone also!!! I thank you SOOO much. This is the only site in all the world wide web that i came across that gave me the most hope for my little guy. Thanks again and all the best! and Teaser don't give up, my thoughts are with you through this hard time.

  • At November 19, 2008 at 6:45 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Trevor, I am so glad to hear Buddy is doing so well! It took a while for the yellow to go away on Cleo, so Buddy must be doing really well indeed. :o)

    Thanks also for the compliments on my site. That's exactly what I wanted my site to be -- HOPE for other cat owners who are dealing with fatty liver disease. There is definitely a lack of it on the Web!

  • At November 19, 2008 at 6:50 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    I'm sorry I didn't respond to you earlier. How is Patsy? It took me about four weeks of force feeding Cleo, but what I read online said it could take as much as eight weeks or more. Let me know how you and Patsy are doing with it.

    Even with all the medical advancements, I think feline hepatic lipidosis is still quite often overlooked and/or misdiagnosed by vets. Infuriating but all too true. Which is another reason why I started this blog -- in the hopes of raising awareness somewhat!

  • At December 28, 2008 at 3:50 AM , Blogger D said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At March 1, 2009 at 2:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    My female 11 year old cat "Dinky" has the same liver problem. She stopped eating and because she was fat to begin with, it hit her harder. The vet says force feed her, which is no fun, but I am using plastic syringes ans Hills A/D also baby food chicken and rice. She wants to eat on her own, but won't. I also am giving her Pedialyte.
    Thank you for giving us some hope. I was going to have her put to sleep :(

  • At March 1, 2009 at 5:04 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    I'm sorry I never responded to your comment, and now it looks like you've deleted it. Luckily I still had the email (I have blog comments emailed to me). Please let me know how Apollo is, and if you ever got it figured out.

    I think it's worrisome that you recently lost another cat the same way. Are you still feeding the same food? Perhaps you should change what you feed them, or look into what else could be causing the same thing to happen to different cats in your care.

  • At March 1, 2009 at 5:08 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    I'm glad you are sticking with it! I know force feeding sucks, but it works so frequently that it IS worth it! Try wrapping her up in a towel so she can't fight you, and be sure to feed her more frequent, smaller meals. Also, check the nutritional content for the baby food -- it may not have enough protein, which is what Dinky needs right now!

    Let me know how it goes!

  • At March 1, 2009 at 6:42 PM , Blogger D said...

    Thanks to those asking about Apollo. He has made a full recovery.

    It appeared that he was not doing well - then in desperation I took him to an Emergency Pet hospital Christmas Eve. He was badly constipated and ill from a rabies shot a week before.

    They removed an obstruction close to his anus..dried up feces.
    Gave me LACTULOSE to give for 3 days and LAXATONE everyday too for a month. Also an antibiotic and Hills A/D and one dose of appetite stimulant. That same night he ate like a gluten. Then I had to force feed him for a few days after. He gained strength a week later. First bowel movement was a biggy and a relief.
    Now he will only eat the Hills A/D its a bit more expensive but he is so happy and active on it now. It is very watery and I hear cats dont drink enough water anyways.

    As you may recall I had told you that I had lost my other cat Samantha. She had stopped eating and I did not get any advise for force feeding etc and she eventually had to be put down. She had arthritis in a hip and a tumer in her chest and was in pain so thats why she stopped eating I guess. The only thing is since I had her put down a year ago I think of her everyday and it makes me really sad but Apollo and I are very close now he's really a great buddy and very comforting.

  • At May 20, 2009 at 7:44 PM , Blogger LESLIE said...


  • At May 21, 2009 at 12:10 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    D, I'm glad to hear Apollo made it!

    Leslie, I don't know why you wouldn't be able to give the A/D to your cat every day. I gave it to Cleo every day, and so have most people I've talked to who force fed their cats. It sounds like you need to ask your vet for some clarification!

  • At September 29, 2009 at 7:33 AM , Blogger kevin said...

    We found this information last Friday and started to force feed our cat Onyx with a syringe. We fed her a half a can of 5 oz. Ad for the first two days and a whole can the last two. She still has not had a bowel movement. I am wandering if we are giving her enough food. Our vet is kind of vague about the proper amount. If we give her more than the 10cc syringe at one time she ends up throwing up.

    Thank you for posting this information as we were lost without it. I will update Onyx's progression.

  • At October 9, 2009 at 10:42 AM , Blogger toripaulman said...

    Hi! Thank you so much for your blog it's amazing! My cat Blade was just diagnosed with fatty liver disease and after a day and 1/2 in the hospital was sent home to me with a case of Science Diet A/D, an IV bag for subQ, and a number of meds. I'm not having too much trouble with the medicine, and the force feeding (albeit fairly miserable for the cat is going ok too) but I have one question. We did the subQ last night around 6pm and by 10pm the fluids were moving down the side of her body and we brought her to bed with us. She normally sleeps between us but I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed she was at the end of the bed. I figured that she was just mad but when I woke up this morning I noticed that she had peed in two spots at the end of the bed. It seemed like she was still sitting in the larger puddle. I'm thinking that maybe the subQ fluids were pressing on her bladder but I was wondering if this ever happened to anyone else.

    Thanks in advance!

  • At October 9, 2009 at 11:05 AM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Hi Tori,

    Don't forget that the subQ is a lot of fluids all at once. My guess is that it made her have to pee several times overnight, and she didn't feel well enough to get up and go to the litter box. You might consider putting a litter box a little closer to where she spends the night, so it doesn't seem to her like so much of an effort to get there.

    Also, make sure you're not giving her too much fluid in the subQ. The vet should have given you some instructions -- make sure you're following them exactly!

    Other than that, it sounds like Blade is doing well with the force feedings and everything. Glad to hear it! Don't be surprised though if she starts fighting you more once she regains her strength. Also, I noticed when Cleo was sick that she had a lot of setbacks -- don't get too discouraged by the bad days, what you're doing is helping more than you can sometimes tell.

  • At October 9, 2009 at 1:46 PM , Blogger toripaulman said...

    Thanks for the advice. We force fed blade 35ML of food from a syringe at 7:30am and another 20ML at 9:30am which amounts to about 2oz of food total. We were just about to heat up the next 35ML batch when she threw up a batch of watery food, about 1/4 of a cup, along with the liver protector pill we gave her this morning. I've called the vet but i'm waiting for a call back, is this a normal variant while she's getting used to this diet?

  • At October 10, 2009 at 1:08 AM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Tori, I'm sorry my response took a few hours, and I hope you haven't been anxious all day!

    The vomiting is TOTALLY normal... insofar as you can call FLD normal, I suppose. What I mean is that it is to be expected that the nausea caused by the liver failure will make it hard to keep food down, especially if you feed too much at a time.

    In this case, it sounds like you were feeding small amounts more frequently, which is exactly right. While nothing is going to make her stop throwing up entirely (except for getting well again), if it keeps happening you might consider skipping the pill for a few days and seeing if that works. Technically it's not the pill that gets cats with FLD well again -- it's a consistent force-fed diet of lots of protein.

    I have to admit, I'm a little bit anti-medication -- at least I'm not big on it unless it's truly necessary -- but part of it is because I could never get Cleo to keep down her anti-nausea medication when she was sick. The anti-nausea medication made her throw up more, what a hoot! I suspect that the medication is too harsh on their stomachs when they are this ill, but it might just be my own personal experience because several people I've been in contact with had their cats on medication and they did just fine.

    In any case, don't worry TOO much about the vomiting, except to try to figure out what might minimize it a little bit. Don't expect it to go away entirely until she's close to being well again -- there was a few weeks there when Cleo threw up nearly every day. She still got well, though, so I believe that it's getting the food into them that's important, even if it comes back up again later on.

  • At October 19, 2009 at 8:34 AM , Blogger klycette said...

    Onyx is starting to show signs of getting better. She is no longer hiding in the closets all the time and actually hangs out on the couch with us at night and goes to bed with us again. We also heard her purr for the first time since this whole thing started. She started eating on her own a couple of days ago but got sick and didn't continue eating so we are force feeding her again. She will eat 5 or six of her treats on her own a few times a day.

  • At December 3, 2009 at 10:13 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    Sorry I am so late responding to your comments. I'm glad to hear Onyx was getting better last time you posted. How is she now?

    It's actually not uncommon (as I've found from talking to people) for a cat to start eating on their own, but not eat enough, requiring their owners to continue force feeding at least part of the time to prevent them from worsening.

    Let us know how Onyx is!

  • At December 25, 2009 at 8:28 PM , Blogger Lexie said...


    We've been force feeding our cat, Rocky, for almost a month now. He's very good about it, but now makes this guttural, groaning noise when he is eating and swallowing what we give him. It's Christmas and our vet is away until Monday--I know we can call him if we need and we will, but was looking around and found this nice site. Thought I'd ask if anyone had experienced this groaning in their cat when force feeding.

    We're in Italy, so I'm not sure how to say what he has in English, but it's a bacterial infection in the liver--supposedly not fatty liver yet, but seems a lot like it. He had stopped eating and was jaundiced--which has seemed to have almost gone away. His second round of blood tests showed improvement and we go to the vet everyday for fluids and give him Ursacol and a liver support supplement at home. He already has DCM, which doesn't help.

    Needless to say, this isn't easy. Although we got good news with the most recent blood tests, he's still not eating and is now making that noise. He did start drinking a little this week, which felt like a small miracle. But, he's so lifeless and bony--I feel like I'm watching him die, so I'm here looking for hope.

    Thank you so much and my heart goes out to all of you who've been through this type of thing.

  • At December 25, 2009 at 10:10 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Lexie, if your cat is starting to drink on his own, that is a VERY good sign. We're pretty sure Cleo started drinking before she started eating -- though we never saw her actually drinking, we were pretty sure the water level in her bowl was going down, and not from evaporation.

    Cleo used to kind of growl or meow while she was being fed, but it was more of a complaint than anything. If that's what your cat is doing -- complaining -- maybe it's because he's starting to feel well enough to fight back. Most cats tend to fight the force feeding more as they gain strength. Perhaps he'll start eating on his own soon!

    The only thing I would suggest is making sure that you're giving him plenty of time to swallow between bites when you force feed him. Just to be sure he's not groaning because he's being fed too fast!

  • At December 26, 2009 at 9:28 AM , Blogger Lexie said...

    Thank you Katherine! Trying to stay positive and your blog has really helped!

  • At January 14, 2010 at 9:12 AM , Blogger kevin said...

    Onyx is back to her normal self and eating normally. The Vet suggested to try and give her kitten food to get her eating on her own. That worked great and she started eating kitten food normal but when trying to give her regular cat food she wouldn't touch it. In the last week she will eat both. It is great to see her playing and jumping up to her window perch to watch the birds.

  • At February 26, 2010 at 1:01 PM , Blogger cammie2269 said...

    I am currently force feeding my cat and have been for 2 days. I am not sure how much fluid to give her a day, she is dehydrated.

  • At April 22, 2010 at 8:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    My cat had some liver condition (high ALT count), but we are not sure exactly what. We started force feeding her 4 weeks ago. She is her normal self again in terms of appearance, energy level and behaviour, but still does not want to eat on her own. She gets excited about treats, and sometimes takes them into her mouth, but does not swallow them and spits them out. Have any of you experienced this? How long after the cat's behaviour/appearance is normal should they take to eat on their own?

  • At May 27, 2010 at 10:27 AM , Blogger lindsaysm said...

    We've started syringe feeding our 3 yr old cat Bozly about 4 weeks ago. He sleeps a lot and doesn't seem like himself. We've had all his blood work done and nothing shows up - I spoke to an online vet and she was pretty sure it's the fatty liver disease. I'm just wondering what is a good amount to be feeding him at one time. I usually give him 12ml's every few hours. Sometimes if I give him 24 ml's he throws it up (it's been REALLY hot too).
    And how much water?

    Thank you so much!

  • At December 30, 2010 at 4:35 PM , Blogger pamelab said...

    I feel a bit better after finding this. My cat Renegade lost a bit of weight (maybe 1 pound of 12) in October-I took him in to the vet and his bloodwork was 'phenomenal'-I suspected teeth and 2 weeks later they removed 4. Brought him home, he had an appetite-but was always a dry food cat. He tried to eat it off and on for about 3 weeks, but it clearly hurt his mouth and he has not eaten it since. He doesn't like wet food, and by Dec 11 he looked absolutely horrible-I decided to start syringe feeding him. I bought Wellness, and mixed it with fortiflora (he has gastric upsets from the one month of antibiotics) and catsure. It was staying down okay, but he never gained any weight, and in fact seemed to be losing more. One week later I upped it to 2 3oz cans (it had been 1), and again he seemed to be holding his own, but not gaining. On Christmas day I upped it to 3 3oz cans-he has started to vomit. I'm worried sick about him-he's a shadow of himself, thin, bony, crabby. I was giving him about 50ml every 3-4 hours-and he has vomited intermittitly for 3 days now. He had 24 hours vomit free, but then started up again this afternoon. He will drink water on his own, is urinating quite a bit-as of last night was having relatively normal stools. I fear he has fatty liver from losing so much weight. Every time I take him to the vet they tell me all the terminal illnesses he probably has-I don't want to drag him in AGAIN if they are just going to put him down-better he die at home. The vomiting has me sick with worry


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