My cat, Shaka, has been having some recent ups and downs with his lymphoma remission. Over the past year or so I have been working to solve his “picky eater” issue and have previously written about this and how I had to succumb to lower quality cat foods to keep him interested in eating. Over the past year, I have been through about 20 different types of canned and dry foods, so I guess all these manufacturers have a market for some finicky feline!

A couple of weeks ago Shaka started exhibiting signs of backend weakness, loss of appetite and lethargy. I started him on some appetite stimulants, but on them he was really was only eating a couple of bites of food. I tried the most commonly used appetite stimulants in cats – Remeron (mirtazapine) and Periactin (cyproheptadine) – with disappointing results.

I knew I was in trouble when he started refusing his favorite treats. I ran a large array of diagnostic tests including blood work, X-rays and ultrasound that failed to uncover a specific cause of his signs and then consulted with a couple of my other veterinary specialist friends. I decided to increase his steroid treatment and hoped that that would make him feel better and get him back to eating.

Anorexic cats are a challenge because a lack of adequate nutrition starts a potentially dangerous chain of metabolic events in a cat’s body. When I couldn’t offer Shaka anything he was interested in, I proceeded to feed him with a syringe. Syringe-feeding cats can range in difficulty from easy to impossible depending on the kitty’s temperament and skills and the owner’s perseverance. Fortunately, I have a lot of skill with this type of thing, and Shaka was fairly cooperative. With patience and coaxing, I was able to syringe-feed Shaka some special canned food. I was hoping that I wasn’t going to have to resort to placing a feeding tube, but was willing to do so if I wasn’t successful.

One of the challenges with syringe-feeding is getting food to pass smoothly through a syringe. When we recommend syringe-feeding at my clinic, we equip owners with 35-milliliter syringes called “catheter tipped” so that there is a large opening that does not clog like the typical type of syringe used to give injections. Food consistency is also important to success with syringe-feeding. Human meat baby foods (without onions or garlic powder) can be used, but either Prescription Diet a/d or Royal Canin Recovery Diet works extremely well through a syringe. These diets are only available through your veterinarian. You can blenderize and puree other canned foods, too, but that can be messy and more work.

If a cat is not eating, the initial goal is to get 5-6 ounces of food – about 140-150 milliliters – fed daily. This works out to four feedings of 35 milliliters or more frequent feedings of a lesser volume. Most cats won’t tolerate more than 35 milliliters at a feeding and generally need to be started out with 20-milliliter meals until their stomachs stretch a bit. You need to shoot the food toward the back of the mouth and not overfill the mouth. You want the kitty to lick and swallow but not choke or drop food out of his mouth. Shaka wanted to be done when we reached the 20-milliliter mark, but I gave him a little rest and was able to feed 35 milliliters each meal. Along with the food, I mixed in a combination of some supplements and stool softener. Anorexic cats need extra B vitamins, amino acids and minerals. They can also become dehydrated, and this can lead to constipation.

In addition to increasing Shaka’s steroid treatment, syringe-feeding him and giving him supplements, I administered subcutaneous fluids at home for several days. I wanted to be sure he was not getting dehydrated. After a couple of days of syringe-feeding, Shaka started licking the food from the syringe tip, and I didn’t really need to put the food in his mouth. I offered him some other flavors of foods he had liked in the past, and he started to eat these out of his bowls, too.

I alternated chicken and turkey baby food and Royal Canin Recovery Diet in bowls, and he is licking these bowls clean. Of course I am thrilled not to have to continue syringe-feeding him and that he is feeling better. He is stronger and more alert and begging again for attention and treats.

Was this dip in his condition a relapse of the lymphoma somewhere in his brain or spinal cord? I don’t know for sure, but keeping him eating and increasing his prednisolone – the steroid – dose is working for now. An MRI might be his next test.

If your kitty becomes anorexic, don’t wait more than a day or so to intervene. There are several options for getting nutrition into cats, and this is crucial for keeping them healthy. Be sure you have the proper food and syringe at home so you have the best chances for success.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2013 The Cat Care Clinic