April 11, 2021
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Okay first lets start by taking a big deep breath and maybe even a nice loud scream for some relief. THE MOST FRUSTRATING thing I dealt with over the course of treating two cats with Kidney Disease is getting them to eat. My hearty eaters, I mean they would chow down first and then try to sneak their siblings food become fussy thing one and fussy thing two. I have been there trying to figure out how to get a cat with kidney failure to eat. Now after years of dealing with this on my own cats I am going to share my tricks of the trade below.

Get to the Root of Why Your Cat isn’t Eating

You may find yourself facing this issue at the beginning, when you first find out your cat has chronic kidney disease. In both of our cats with CKD it was a process to get them resettled and on a new diet. It certainly felt like there was loads of testing and retesting when our cat was first diagnosed. It’s always a good idea to have recent labs, most likely an ultrasound or x-ray and possibly other tests.

If this is a sudden change, and your cat hasn’t been to the vet in a bit, it’s time to go back and get new lab work done. You want to make sure of a few things when you are at the veterinarian.

First mouth sores, sores and stomatitis are very common in CKD cats as the toxins build up in their system in can affect them in some bad ways. This includes these sores that can develop in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. They are painful and can most definitely affect your cat’s eating.

Second, is your cat’s condition, aka kidney blood values, greatly declining. Your vet can advise based on the bloodwork where your cat is at and next steps.

Things like a kidney or urinary track infection may pop up as well as painful kidney stones. Each cat and each case if different. But these are painful things for your cat to go through and could cause you cat to eat poorly.

Get Your Cat Eating On Your Own

Assist Feeding

I absolutely hated doing this but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. And my boy was 100% refusing all food, yes even temptation treats, I tried those too.

Assist feeding is essentially when you syringe cat food into your cats mouth essentially forcing them to eat. It’s messy, you need to go very slowly, and via the side of the mouth so they do not choke.

Treat Toppers

Treats make everything taste better, right? Think of it like whipped cream for humans adding whipped cream always makes something more enticing! But don’t give your cat whipped cream the are lactose intolerance and it will make their belly hurt, not good when you are trying to get your cat to eat.

Treat toppers include something as simple as adding water, tuna or clam juice to your cats food. Of course, small amounts the sodium levels in tuna and clam juice aren’t the best for cats. But you can also use gravy treat toppers sold at pet stores. For more specifics on these options that are low in phosphorous check out our list of treats for cats with kidney disease.

Try New Foods Options

Often times with cats that have kidney disease they just get sick of their food. I would say every 3-6 months we are suddenly having to make a food change with our kidney cats. I never heard why this is such a common occurrence but learned to roll with the punches and come up with new food option for my cats with kidney failure.

Raw Food

Raw food was and still remains a hot hit in our house. Every time we make batches I have all the furry helpers in the kitchen and ready to lick the spoon when I am done.

It took me a bit to get over handling all the meat but I found a great workaround by using a meal completer. You can find how I make my cats with kidney disease raw food here.

Non Renal Prescription Food

If have been feeding perscription/therapuetic renal diets and find your cat has suddenly turned their nose up to it, welcome to this club. There are so many cat parents out there, just like you.

This is when I discovered the world of cat food nutrition and just how complex it is. I won’t dive too deep into everything here but we have a whole big list of store brands that you can pick up over here. This food still fall into similar guidelines as the therapeutic foods your vet prescribed. They are just a little higher in protein and have far better ingredients.

Fancy Feast

You will notice this isn’t on my list of food options above but sometimes our cats just won’t eat the ideal thing to help slow the progression of their kidney disease. This is when we always say an eating cat is best. And from everything I have heard Fancy Feast is irresistible to cats!

When the changed up their formula a few years back they shot up in high phosphorous levels. Now unfortunately all their flavors are 1% or higher on a dry matter basis for phosphorous.

Just to help you out here are a few Fancy Feast Flavors that are lower in phosphorous.

FlavorPhos.Protein
Fancy Feast Medleys Wild Salmon Primavera with Garden Veggies & Greens0.99%56.90%
Fancy Feast Purely Natural White Meat Chicken and Flaked Tuna Entrée in a Delicate Broth1.11%72.22%
Fancy Feast Purely Natural Wild Alaskan Salmon & White Meat Chicken in a Delicate Broth1.11%75%
Fancy Feast Purely Natural White Meat Chicken Entrée in a Delicate Broth1.11%80.56%
Fancy Feast Purely Natural Flaked Skipjack Tuna in a Delicate Broth1.17%77.78%

Baby Food

Yup! Human baby food. It’s one of the first things I commonly see recommended when cats give up eating. You can’t just give any baby food. The baby food should be meat only, without vegetables or fillers such as pasta. Gerber’s 2nd Foods Meats, Beech-Nut Stage 1, or Heinz Stage 2 Beef with Broth or Chicken with Broth. In a pinch I have been able to pick at least one of these flavors up at Walmart.

Baby foods is high in protein but surprisingly low in phosphorus. You will want to note that baby food is missing a lot of the essential vitamins a cat needs.

It’s fine to feed here and there as a treat or to jumpstart eating. But, if you plan on feeding this exclusively for more than just a day or two you will want to add a meal completer to it. This is a product like EZ Complete. Additionally, I would contact your vet if this is all your cat is still eating for more guidance.

Warm Things Up!

This is gonna sound gross, and trust me it smells gross too but warming your cats food up helps. Don’t overdo it and be sure to throughly stir and test your cats food once you have heated. Just like us we don’t want to.burn their mouth and create even more problems.

When you warm the food up your increasing the smell of the food making it more appealing to the cat. This is a trick that is very commonly used with cats who are experiencing any nasal congestion. Cat’s rely on their sense of smell that much!

Make Cat Soup

When my boy wasn’t feeling well gravy just was always a pleaser. He loved getting the runny stuff and would often leave the chunks of meat behind. So I decided to be clever and start pureeing his food on him making one giant plate of cat soup.

I would take some of his favorite cat foods, like Weruva BFF OMG QT Patootie! and just puree it so all the chunks are gone. This will make it a little thick so I always added in enough water to bring it down to a more soup like consistency.

Prescription Appetite Stimulant Options with Veterinarian

Mirtazapine

This drug has proven to significantly increase appetite, reduce vomiting, and promote weight gain in cats with CKD. It also has flexibility in administering doses, can be given orally or as a transdermal ointment in your cat’s ear.

There are a few side effects of vocalizing and restlessness. In my non medical opinion this seems to come from too large of dose. So I would talk to your vet about a lower dose before discontinuing.

Ondansetron

This a human drug that also goes by the name of Zofran®. It’s commonly used in cancer patients who are undergoing treatment and have severe nausea. Just like humans it’s treats severe nausea in cats.

This is a prescription you will need to go pick up at a regular pharmacy and I recommend making sure you get it in a pill format as the liquid medication has a lot of artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Cerenia

This is another drug we now also keep on hand in the house. This pill is typically the first recommendation to treat vomiting in cats with CKD. There is also an injectable of this medication your vet may administer. If you are dealing with issues of vomiting as your veterinarian about this drug. Many CKD get a dose of this medication daily.

Feeding Tube

When the above medication options just aren’t doing the trick you can surgically have a feed tube put in your cat. Long-term use of feedings tubes are useful for delivering food, extra water and medications to cats with CKD.

Vets have found that tube feeding can reverse progressive weight loss associated with CKD and cats can have extended periods of improved quality of life. Without a doubt using tube feeding to manage subcutaneous fluids, fluids and administering medication is much less stressful on you and your cat.

Other Ways to Help Your Cat with Kidney Failure to Eat

Vitamin B

Of course, as always, check with your vet before starting a new supplement but this is a common vitamin that helps with appetite among many other things.

Your vet can prescribe you an injectable version of B12. We had a battle giving it to our cats so we instead switched to a B Complex powder supplement we were able to put in our cats food.

Subcutaneous Fluids

On a hot summer day ever get super dehydrated to the point you feel nauseous? Dehydration is a common problem with cats with Kidney Disease which is why they recommend SubQ fluids once your cat is Stage 3 or higher.

Conclusion on Cats with Kidney Disease who are Fussy Eaters

I encourage you to fight the good fight of getting your cat to eat well again. We have been there on the journey of with our own cats with kidney disease and have gotten to enjoy extra years not weeks with them because of it. If you have additional tricks you would like to share please add them in the comment section.

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Robin Griffin

After adopting one two... well many cats I found myself newly dubbed the "Cat Lady." Now I take it in stride and share my favorite tips, tools, and products that we use in our cat household.

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2 thoughts on “How to Get a Cat with Kidney Failure to Eat

  1. I have two with kidney disease one he eats prescription food with treats on top pretty well he has maintained a size 13 lb so I’m doing okay with him but my newly diagnosed with kidney disease 19 year old she’s a little more trickier and she’s not even as far along in stages as he is she seems to be a grazer type eater wants to eat a little here in a little there but unfortunately it’s not enough to keep her weight on and she’s had several bouts with urine issues like UTIs I’ve had to take her to the vet many times for this so just trying to get her eat in general enough to keep her weight up has been a challenge and I have done most of the tricks that you’ve listed and then some that the vets recommend. She’s not crazy about the prescription food so I’ve given her all of her favorite foods including Fancy feast I have to add the phosphorus binder to it so I don’t know if the binder has a taste and that’s what she don’t like but then I’ll even try just putting anything down in front of her to get her to eat good and all she’ll do is eat about three or four bites then walks away and then about hour later she acts like she wants more food so I give it to her a few more bites but this is not working to keep weight on her and I’m worried they tell me on our last blood work that she’s a little bit anemic I’ve tried giving her fresh liver cooked and chopped up and even pureed in the blender and she doesn’t like it so I’m thinking to get her weight back up at least I need to syringe feed I’ve done this before with her a little bit and she does it well she doesn’t seem to mind it but I need to know which food I should do this with and maybe a schedule like how much I should be giving her a day cuz I don’t want to do too much and as far as the nausea the that’s tell me I can give her pepcid the 10 mg about a fourth of tablet only when she acts like she needs it like she acts nauseous she stays vocal a lot she walks around vocaling and usually what she does that is not far from being something with paying outside of her box and then I’m having to take her back to the vet for urine issues she’s been doing fairly well on that end for about 3 weeks so any advice you got would greatly be appreciated cuz I’m not sure what to do I’m just worried about her weight.

    1. If you are worried about her weight talk to your vet about Cerenia (appetite stimulant/nausea med) or Zofran anti nausea med. Mirataz is an appetite stimulant but a little goes a long way I highly recommend paying the extra and doing the transdermal as its easier to give a smaller dose and not over do it.

      You mentioned UTIs is she still on antibotics that can make their stomach feel yuck and should often be paired with probiotics.

      Lastly check her labs if her phosphorus isn’t under control it will be another key factor in not wanting to eat. Fancy feast is not low in phosphorous it would be great if you could see if she would take another lower phosphorous brand of food. I highly recommend looking into Weruva if you haven’t already.

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