HOW TO FORCE FEED A CAT:
When Emily, our polydactyl female cat, a tabby with a cream collar, got very ill with liver failure, our veterinarian loaded us up with four different medications and syringes and instructions to force feed her food and water, as much as we could, around the clock, in small, frequent meals. He gave our Emily only a ten percent chance of survivial at this first visit. What he did not do was tell us how, exactly, to force feed her. "Just feed her anyway you can," was his advice.
Well advice is only as good as it can be practiced! It turned out that Emily still had a lot of fight in her and did not want to be force-fed. We didn't have a clue as to how to do it properly without hurting her or ourselves. She did survive to become as healthy and happy a cat as she has ever been, but I know now that the learning process for us all in getting her there was a lot more uncomfortable and messy and time consuming than it had to be. If someone had only told us exactly what to do, things would have been so much easier for all of us! Here is what I now know about the process if you have a sick kitty and don't know how , exactly, to force-feed it. Please note that my article is for the care of adult cats only. Kittens need special foods and handling, and you should talk first with your veterinarian anyway first before you start caring for any cat or kitten.
So here it is: Exactly what ti do to force-feed a sick cat: Have the veterinarian clip your pet's claws before you leave the office. You can also obtain plastic syringes at the veterinarian's office; you'll need about six or eight of them to start with because the cat's teeth will eventually mangle the ends. Scrounge up some old towels, clean newspapers, unscented baby wipes, and hydrogen peroxide (3% solution). Cut out some little kitty bibs from scraps of fleece or toweling, or buy small baby bibs from the drugstore.
For milk or water feedings, leave the syringes alone. For food feedings, cut off the tip of a regular plastic syringe, and make the hole twice as big or three times as big with a barbeque skewer or whatever. Again, the syringes will eventually be destroyed by your kitty's chomping on them with his or her teeth, and you'll want to throw the mangled syringes away before plastic bits can get into the food. Rub a tiny bit olive oil on the pusher part of the syringe if it does not push easily, or else it will squirt all over you and the rest of the house.
Start feedings of the wet cat food with about 15 cc at first. Increase gradually to 20 cc or more as the kitty tolerates it. You will have to mash the food with some water with a spoon until it is a bit looser than toothpaste consistency. If you heat it in the microwave, always check the temperature first, as a mother would do with a baby's bottle. You don't want to scald your kitty's throat. Don't even try tuna. It is impossible to squirt through a syringe in any form. Ordinary wet cat food will do.
Put the cat into a pillowcase and have a partner hold the cat on his or her lap until the cat trusts you enough for one person to do the feeding alone. Wrap the pillowcase a bit around the neck of the cat but not so tightly it cannot swallow. Watch your fingers. Gently pull down the cat's lower jaw by pushing your fingers into its front teeth. Don't squeeze the cat's jaw from the sides as this is painful for the cat and can injure its jaws. Work the syringe tip into into the side of the cat's mouth as you hold its head tilted slightly.
You DO NOT WANT TO CHOKE THE CAT! Try to push pills especially to the side of the tongue and down the throat. Do the same with water and food: Put it, solid or liquid or semi-liquid, in the side of the mouth. Do not listen to pathetic meowing. The cat will struggle, growl, and try to bite and scratch at first, and things might be a bit messy, but be patient. It will become calmer eventually, and you will not need the pillowcase anymore. When that happens, you will need to use the kitty bibs and have it sit on clean newspapers on a pillow in a chair or on a table. Keep trying. Don't give up!
Praise the cat verbally each time it does well with the swallowing things. Stroke it's throat gently each time it swallows at first. Try to do the same routine exactly the same each time you feed the cat. Say "food," when you give food. Say "milk" or "water" when you give milk or water. Say "pill" when you give a pill. Say "sit" if the cat gets wiggly. Give the cat time to swallow each bite. What I do is to push a little food in with the syringe and count, one, two, three, four, quickly, and then I push a bit more in and count again. If you do this consistently, the cat will lose a lot of its fear in eating this way and will start to swallow in tiem with your counting! Makes it easier on everyone!
Expect mess. Cover the area where you are feeding the cat, usually a chair and the surrounding floor, with newspapers. If the cat is skittish at first, you may have to use cloth towels instead, pay the increased water bill, and gradually accustom it to the newspapers alone. Wear an old tee shirt or apron or something you don't mind having cat food spattered on when you feed the cat. Again, make or buy little bibs for kitty. I made mine out of scraps of fleece. These were a huge help in keeping my kitty's throat fur cleaner.
Keep a damp cloth handy to wipe kitty's mouth and chin and bits of food out of his/her fur elsewhere when you're done. Emily fussed over the wiping part, and so I was not particular. She was not infectious to the other cats, and they helped with the cleanup. If she had been infectious, I would have kept her isolated and would also have been very careful to disinfect my hands and shoe bottoms after each feeding. The baby wipes and hydrogen peroxide will be a big help in picking up damp cat food from carpets. Paper towels are worthless. Test the hydrogen peroxide first to make sure that it will not fade the carpet. It doesn't on mine.
The main thing, again, for you to remember, as you feed the cat, is to focus on getting food into the cat. Don't worry about the mess. Don't think about the pathetic yowling and growling and struggling of the cat. If the cat spits the food or pills out, try, try again. If the cat throws everything up, try, try again. Don't feed pills with the food, at first. Do the pills separately in between meals. Allow extra time for the feedings, and use gentle, slow movements when handling the cat. Make sure you have more than enough food to start with for each feeding. I kept the extra food in the icebox.
If you get scratched or bitten, clean the wound well with running water and antiseptic soap. Then I soaked my one scratch in hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes. I do this when I get punched with needles or scissors when I sew, and it will protects well against infection. Keep the wound open, and keep re-soaking it in hydrogen peroxide.
You may have to force-feed your cat about six times a day or so with additional feedings of milk or water as your veterinarian advises. It is easier for the cat if you can spread the feedings evenly out through 24 hours. After you get up a few times at 2:00 a.m. to feed a now-grateful little kitty, you will find it isn't so hard to get up after all. Our Emily quickly made the connection between the force-feedings and feeling better. She soon settled down and accepted the feedings and even started cooperating with us. Within four days, I was feeding her by myself with no restraints. She was even lifting her head and relaxing her mouth so I could get the syringe in!
It was a joyful experience to be able to watch her grow steadily stronger and healthier and happier as the days went on. And it was also immensely satisfying to me, personally, to know that I had learned, at last, how to properly feed really sick kitty and to know that my own care of her had played such a bit part in restoring her to health.