Assist Feeding / Syringe Feeding

How Much to Feed * My Favorite Videos * Pre-Filled Syringes

The Assist Feed website has some great links and information on how, when, and why to assist feed a cat. They also have handy resources about the supplies needed and where many of them can be purchased (and some where they’re free!).

Tanya’s CKD site also has a lot of helpful information about getting your cat to eat and tips on assist feeding.

Willows Veterinary Centre has answers to some common questions about feeding tubes.

If you are working with a feeding tube you can skip to that page.

Key Points

  • Never, ever, under any circumstances force food, liquid, or medications into the mouth of an unconscious cat, or a cat who cannot swallow
  • Cats who are assist fed, particularly those who are syringe fed by mouth, can develop an aversion to the food used in this process. It’s best to avoid using their favorite food for assist feeding so that you don’t accidentally ruin that food for them. An exception to this is if your cat is like Jasper (in the first video below) and enjoys assist feeding
  • Have all your supplies ready to use before you start
  • This is a messy process, have more towels ready than you think you will need
  • A baby bib can be used on docile cats to help keep them clean in the syringe feeding process. Cats who fight against feedings may need to be fully wrapped in a towel to keep them clean and to protect you from any scratches they might try to give
  • Pre-filling the syringes with room temperature food is much easier than filling them with cold, refrigerated food
  • Some pharmacies will give you free oral medicine syringes in various sizes if you ask for them – no need to buy them!
  • If your cat is taking any anti-nausea or pain medications you may want to give those about 20 minutes prior to a feeding so that they have time to begin working before your cat needs them

How Much to Feed

Perhaps the most important part of assist feeding your cat is knowing how much food they should be getting.

Vet Calculators has a simple tool you can use for free to figure out how much food your cat needs. To use their calculator:

  1. Enter your cat’s current weight in either pounds or kilograms
  2. Change their BCS if you want to. BCS is their body condition score. This is optional so you don’t need to worry about it.
  3. Click the button that has a cat picture on it (this calculator defaults to dogs as the species to use)
  4. Select a value from the “Select Cat’s Criteria” drop down list.
    1. Neutered Adult assumes your cat is at their ideal weight and will give the amount of food needed for maintenance
    2. Weight Gain assumes your cat is underweight and will calculate a calorie amount to help them gain weight
    3. Weight Loss assumes your cat is overweight and will calculate a weight loss calorie amount
  5. At this point the calculator gives you the total number of calories to feed per day. To find out how many cans of food that translates to, enter the number of calories per can of food.
    1. If you are thinning your food with baby food instead of water you may need to adjust the number of cans you feed up or down

Once you know how many cans of food you have to feed the next step is figuring out how many milliliters of food it takes to get to that amount. There are two ways to figure out how much to feed:

  1. Blend up one day’s worth of food, fill your syringes, and see how many milliliters it amounts to.
  2. Use a calorie calculator to do all the math for you. This calculator is pretty neat because it will also calculate several foods for you and give you a list that you can print or save.

My Favorite Videos

This video is probably my favorite assist feeding video ever. Jasper and his mom make it look super easy.

This video is for syringe feeding a dog, but it has a really nice method for filling the syringe with food that you might like. Cat’s don’t pant, so the actual feeding method displayed may not work for you.

Here’s a vet tutorial:

And here are some videos with regular people showing how they feed their cats.

This next video also has a lot of great links in the description for different products and information. I really like this video because the person doing it says that this was very early on in the syringe feeding process with them and their cat. Since both of them were new to the process it is a fairly good display of what it may be like with you and your cat when you are just getting started.

Pre-Filling Syringes

The information in this section mostly applies to preparing food for use with feeding tubes, but can also be used for oral feedings.

Supplies you will need:

  • large bowl
  • fine metal strainer
  • a Magic Bullet or equivalent type of blender (if you are making very large batches you can use a regular blender)
  • as many feeding syringes as you can acquire
    • get them in various sizes and you will have more flexibility in your feedings
    • be sure to compare prices between your vet, online suppliers, and even local pharmacies
    • many local pharmacies will give you oral syringes in various sizes for free, so be sure to ask for them!
  • mini rubber spatula
  • all meat baby food – NO GARLIC, NO ONION
    • This will be used to thin the food to get the right texture
    • You can use plain water instead, but baby food will also add more calories, and calories are what we are after
  • a can of classic Coke (Coca Cola) soda (regular, not diet)
    • this can be used for dissolving any clogs in syringes or in a feeding tube
  • storage containers for holding the prefilled syringes
    • one for the fridge and one for the freezer
  • a narrow mug or glass for warming syringes
  • whatever food you’ll plan to use and whatever supplements need to be added
    • If you are also giving medications you will add those during the meal, not during this preparation step

Making the food:

Empty the cans of food you are using into your blender and then add enough baby food to get the food into the right liquid consistency.

I used the baby food instead of water as it sufficiently liquidizes but, unlike water, also adds calories

If you are adding any supplements or medications to the batch of food you can add them now and blend until consistent, pausing and using your mini spatula to clean the sides of the blender as needed.

Once the food is blended, put your mesh strainer over your bowl and pour the contents of the blender through it. Use the spatula again to clean out the blender into the strainer, and to push the food through the strainer as needed.

Once the food is strained you can fill all your syringes with it.

Put some of the filled syringes into the refrigerator, but no more than 3 day’s worth. Put the rest of the syringes into the freezer.

After you have used up the syringes that were in the refrigerator you can start using the ones from the freezer. Before going to bed you can move syringes from the freezer to the refrigerator for the next day’s feedings. Sitting in the fridge overnight is enough time for most syringes to thaw completely. Just before feedings you can warm the syringes by putting them in a narrow mug with hot tap water for about 5 minutes.