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Q&A: What Can I Feed a Picky Cat Who Won't Eat Enough?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

Unlike dogs, cats will starve themselves to death, so finding food that picky cats will eat is critical.

Unlike dogs, cats will starve themselves to death, so finding food that picky cats will eat is critical.

What Do You Feed a Cat That Won't Eat?

"I am currently living with my mother. Her cat has allergies, and when I moved in a year ago, he was having sinus issues so bad, there was snot covering the walls. He got shots at the vet, but he still has a bit of a runny nose. He is underweight, and I am trying to help him gain weight, but not being able to smell food is affecting him.

I give him wet and dry food. He will cry for food in the morning, even though he still has dry food, eat about two bites of wet, then leave. All he wants to eat are treats and dairy (mostly milk and butter). I tried expensive food, cheap food, dry, and wet. I even bought a tube of high-calorie supplement that he won't eat.

I know treats are the equivalent of feeding him twinkies, but right now, just to get any food in him is a win. And the whole "just leave it down and he will eventually eat, he won't starve" is not working. Due to the weather, I have had to throw out so much food from breakfast that has spoiled by afternoon. Any suggestion as to people food/cat food that picky eaters will accept?" —Sue

What to Feed a Picky Cat

It sounds like that cat is fortunate that you are living with her.

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Read More From Pethelpful

  • Baby Food: Chicken, shredded beef, and turkey baby food are go-tos for people with picky cats. (Be sure to read the labels and make sure there are no additives, as some things that are okay for babies can hurt your cat.) If you warm it up in the microwave for 15 seconds or so, it releases some of the odors and is more likely to be enjoyed. (Stir it up and then test it first to make sure it is not too hot.)
  • Cooked Chicken Breast: The second thing is a little more work but is sometimes more effective. Take a chicken breast, slice it in lengthwise so that it is thinner, and cook it in your skillet. The aroma is strong when warm, and many cats like the texture of eating whole meat.
  • Kitten Milk Replacer: Warm the KMR up or just add a few tablespoons on top of her moist food to get her to taste the food underneath. Unlike the normal dairy products that you have been giving, this does not have lactose (which can cause diarrhea or loose stools in your cat).
  • Wet Food for Hospitalized Pets: If the grilled meat or KMR does not work, there are also canned diets that are used for hospitalized pets. A/D is only available by prescription, but there are several canned alternatives depending on where you shop. (They are usually sold in very small quantities, less than regular canned food. Ask for one of the fancy small-portion canned foods at your pet store.)
  • Specialized Food for Kidney Disease: Cats can be picky a lot, and the most common picky cats are those with kidney disease, so the canned diets made for those pets are the most palatable. You can try one of those diets and see how your cat does.

Try Feeding More Often Throughout the Day

If your cat only eats a few bites at a time, try feeding him more often during the day and into the evening.

Avoid Dry Food and the "Leave It and Wait" Method

Stay away from dry food. Do not leave the food down and let him go hungry, since cats can become sick and die from liver disease when they do not eat. A good diet can even stop hepatic lipidosis from starting. (1) Unlike dogs, cats will starve themselves until they die.

Visit Your Vet for an Examination

Finally, at that age, you really should take him in to a veterinarian to be examined, checked for feline leukemia, and have bloodwork done to evaluate his kidneys. There may be a medical reason that he is not eating much, and kidney disease is common in senior cats.


  1. Center SA. Feline hepatic lipidosis. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2005 Jan;35(1):225-69.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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