On the necessity of feeding sick cats

We have repeatedly found that many owners do not feed their sick cats at all if the cat falls ill and stops eating. Some even think that an animal knows best what is good for it, so if it does not want to eat, it probably should not. Unfortunately, this view is very misleading. If the animal stops eating and possibly drinking, it is usually already in such a serious condition that it will probably die without veterinary help. It is easy to deduce from common sense that even in such a case—if such a rule applied—they would not end up in a hospital on artificial nutrition, were not fed a tube during the illness, etc., if they did not want/cannot eat on their own. So, if you don’t want to leave your sick animal to its fate and you try to help it, this assistance must also include food and fluid intake.

Unfortunately, we know from our practice in the group that some cats diagnosed with late FIP, or to their owners, before they even learned about the treatment, would have a better chance of survival if they were not completely exhausted due to anorexia—that is, anorexia when, at the same time, they were not provided with basic nutrition. The specific metabolism of cats responds to starvation after a very short time by developing fatty liver—lipidosis.

In essence, it is a metabolic disorder in which, due to insufficient food intake, fat is transported from peripheral stores to the liver, which should process and further transport this stored fat. If starvation persists and the liver is forced to process large amounts of fat, fat begins to accumulate in it. This condition leads to liver damage and subsequent liver failure, which can end in death. This is a more serious risk for originally obese cats. The only way to stop liver lipidosis is aggressive feeding, which halts the disparity between the intake and export of fat from the liver.

If we examine the clinical signs of lipidosis, we see that they, to some extent, overlap with the symptoms that may accompany advanced FIP. These symptoms include lethargy, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea/constipation, weakness, weight loss, excessive drooling, dehydration, depression, and, as a result of metabolic breakdown, brain disorders up to brain retardation. These can sometimes be confused with the development of neuro FIP symptoms. This means that if your cat with FIP gets the virus under control and the condition still does not improve, it may be due to the development of liver lipidosis, which has occurred because the nutritional status was underestimated for a long time.

The risk of catabolism, where the body utilizes its own stores of fat and muscle, leads to the loss of cellular proteins, disruption of physiological functions, and, consequently, various organ dysfunctions. This condition is termed marasmus, and without acute resolution, it culminates in pathobiochemical and pathophysiological changes, ultimately resulting in death due to starvation. Persistent catabolism induces physiological disorders in mental health, cardiovascular functions (including heart damage, hypotension, and subsequent collapse), impairment of lung function (due to respiratory muscle weakening caused by protein deficiency), and intestinal function. This may manifest as malabsorption due to the atrophy of the intestinal mucosa, leading to a disturbance in intestinal microflora and the development of diarrhea, along with reduced immunity. An additional risk associated with advanced catabolism is hypothermia, characterized by a decrease in core temperature by 1-2 degrees. This may result in muscle weakness, disorientation, and discoordination, ultimately culminating in death without prompt intervention.

It is evident from the above that treating FIP with GS alone will not save your cat from death if you significantly underestimate her nutritional status and fail to support her with forced feeding, especially at the beginning of treatment. Cats that commence treatment in a relatively good nutritional condition, particularly cases of wet FIP with a rapid onset of the disease, have a better chance of returning to normal food intake relatively quickly after the initial doses of the drug, usually within a few days.

In the case of dry FIPs (whether without effusion or where effusion has occurred due to advanced vasculitis), as seen in ocular and neuro FIPs, which typically have a longer duration, this return to normalcy takes longer. Veterinarian intervention is usually necessary to attempt to reverse the consequences of insufficient or missing nutrition. Intravenous (IV) infusion therapy is often required (glucose, duphalite, etc. – the therapy will be determined by a veterinarian), or the introduction of a probe (percutaneous or esophageal), along with support for vital functions using an oxygen box and heating.

LESSONS: If your cat with FIP is affected by any of the conditions described above, do not rely solely on GS treatment for a self-saving outcome. If your cat has developed the described nutritional conditions, seek emergency veterinary assistance to enhance her chances of survival. In the event that a veterinarian recommends euthanasia solely because they do not recognize FIP treatment and refuse to support the cat with infusion therapy, food intake, etc., consider changing the veterinarian!


It only applies if your cat’s condition does not require acute veterinary help

  • When determining the daily feed ration, use the weight your cat had when it was healthy.
  • In cases of prolonged starvation, introduce food gradually: on the 1st day, provide 1/2 – 1/3 of the daily feed ration, on the 2nd – 3rd day, offer 2/3 of the daily ration. From the 4th day, if there are no issues with vomiting or other complications, consider transitioning to the full daily dose based on the cat’s original weight. WARNING: If your cat has lost more than 20 – 25% of its original body weight, consult with a veterinarian.
  • If the cat doesn’t have specific dietary requirements, prepare a semi-liquid porridge by mixing the required amount of usual food with a little water. Use a 20 ml syringe to serve the cat, applying it to the back teeth to evoke a swallowing reflex.
  • Ensure an adequate supply of fluids. Consider the moisture content in the feed when calculating the daily dose of required fluids.
  • Initially, feed in small amounts, gradually increasing over time. For instance, a small cat can be fed 50 ml, a medium cat 60 – 75 ml, and a large cat 90 ml per feeding. Repeat at least every 3 hours until the total daily dose is consumed.
  • In certain cases, consider using recovery solutions or special recovery paste to supplement necessary nutrients. Follow the vet’s recommendations.
  • If your cat resists feeding, use a towel wrap or other suitable method to immobilize it.
  • If a feeding probe is necessary, the veterinarian will provide instructions.
  • Consider supporting liver function with hepatoprotectants or kidney function if affected by persistent catabolism.
  • Consult with your veterinarian to assess the need for infusion therapy, especially to control dehydration and assess overall health indicators.

Your information is valuable, and I’ve made some minor adjustments for smoother flow and clarity:

“It can be assumed that after a short time, once liver lipidosis and the consequences of catabolism are reversed, the appetite will return, and your cat’s normal eating habits will be restored without the need for continued supportive feeding.

WARNING: If your sick cat continues to eat but still loses weight (i.e., the spine and coccyx become palpable first by touch and then by sight), do not be lulled into thinking everything is fine. Ensure that you feed up to the full daily dose.

CONCLUSION: The above principles apply not only to FIP but to all other diseases. Even in the case of pancreatitis in cats (unlike dogs, where a hunger strike is often recommended in the beginning and intravenous infusion is crucial), feeding is necessary. Always address any unsatisfactory condition with a veterinarian.

And if someone advises you not to feed the cat, claiming that she will get used to syringe feeding and become spoiled, do not believe them—it’s nonsense. This advice only risks worsening her condition and may lead to a life-threatening situation.

You can find tutorial photos and videos on the internet under the slogan “syringe feeding cat.” Below, we include a few links: