Cats can sometimes require a liquid diet as part of either temporary or long-term management of some health conditions, ranging from different types of cancer to kidney diseases to care required following major surgery. There are a few products commercially made for this purpose, which are discussed in this article, as well as tips for managing liquid diet feeding and questions to ask your veterinarian.
Liquid Diet Basics
If your cat is ill, has difficulty eating or keeping down solid foods, or it has been recommended by your veterinarian, a liquid diet may be an important part of your cat's recovery and treatment. A short-term liquid diet may involve careful hand-feeding using a syringe; and long-term liquid feeding can be done through a tube placed either through the cat's nasal passage and esophagus (nasogastric tube, or n-g tube); an esophagotomy tube, which goes through the side of the neck into the esophagus and stomach; or a surgically implanted tube that leads directly to the stomach (called a PEG tube). Before starting a liquid diet, be sure to discuss your cat's individual nutritional needs with your vet and make sure you know any special techniques your cat may need when you feed her.
Commercial Liquid Diet Products
Some of the commercial products include CliniCare Canine/Feline liquid diet, Rebound Feline liquid diet, PetAg liquid diet products and RenalCare Canine/Feline liquid diet. These can be purchased from your vet or ordered from a variety of retailers online. There are also products specifically for cats in renal failure, including CliniCare RF. CliniCare seems to be the most commonly available product but is high in fat, so be sure to discuss your cat's specific needs with your vet. Hill's products A/D and P/D can be used for feeding similar to liquid diets, but need to be blended and diluted. Eukanuba makes a Maximum Calorie formula that may be appropriate for some cats.
If you can't afford the commercial products or would prefer to feed your cat home-made food, some good choices are chicken or beef broth, baby cereal, and milk that is specially made for cats, such as Cat-Sip (you can find this at a pet food store; cow's milk is difficult for cats to properly digest). You can also try blending soft cat food with broth or a product like Cat-Sip to provide better nutrition. If there is a particular kind of food your cat prefers, a blend containing some of her favorite tastes may get her to eat better. Eating and getting good nutrition is essential for your cat to heal from illness or injury, and especially so when there is a long term problem such as cancer. Make sure to discuss your home diet with your vet and ask if there is anything in particular you can add to make sure your cat gets all the vitamins and nutrients she needs.
Special Diet for Hepatic Lipidosis
Some vets have used liquid diets made for humans and added extra nutrition for cats. One such diet for hepatic lipidosis in cats consists of Pulmocare liquid diet (for humans) and some added nutrients like vitamin B-complex, Taurine, Choline, L-Citrulline and dry cottage cheese has been shown to be helpful. Hepatic lipidosis is a condition cats can develop if they do not eat for more than 48 hours, and is also called fatty liver syndrome. Most liquid diets designed for humans are too low in protein to be used in cats, or need to be supplemented with a protein source.
Proper Feeding Techniques
When feeding your cat a liquid diet using a syringe or bottle, make sure to go slow so that your cat can swallow what you are giving him. Food that is aspirated, or breathed into the lungs, can cause pneumonia and ultimately lead to death. For detailed information on syringe and tube feeding, see "How to Feed Your Cat" in Resources. If your cat requires a liquid diet or won't eat, and you have difficulty feeding her by hand, you may want to talk to your vet about a short-term or long-term tube option to ensure he gets the right nutrition to heal.