Appetite Stimulants for Cats: 5 Vet-Recommended Picks

Appetite Stimulants for Cats: 5 Vet-Recommended Picks

It’s always concerning when your cat isn’t eating enough. And while changes in eating habits could signal illness, stress, or serious health concerns, it’s also possible your cat is just excited, bored, or not thrilled about what’s on the menu — cats can be picky like that! 

If you’re worried about your cat’s loss of appetite, it’s important to consult a veterinarian, who can screen for illnesses that might be causing the change. Depending on what they find, your vet may recommend appetite stimulants for cats to get your kitty back on track. These medications, which are often prescription-only, boost hunger hormones to reignite your cat’s interest in food. 

Here’s a handy guide to help you understand what you need to know about appetite stimulants for cats and how they’re used. 

What Are Appetite Stimulants for Cats?

If your cat isn’t eating, appetite stimulants can be a great way to help them feel hungry again. “Appetite stimulants work by increasing the production of hormones that stimulate hunger,” explains Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM, co-founder of CodaPet. “Some stimulants signal the brain to increase hunger. Others can also increase the release of dopamine that can make food more appealing to cats, encouraging them to eat.”

Appetite stimulants for cats come in a variety of forms, including oral tablets, liquids, and even topical gels. Many appetite stimulants are prescription-only, meaning you can only obtain them directly from your veterinary clinic or from veterinary pharmacies with a current prescription. 

There are also over-the-counter appetite stimulants for cats that may help boost your kitty’s appetite. However, instead of targeting hunger hormones, these non-prescription alternatives usually entice cats to eat with appealing smells and flavors — which can be particularly effective if you have a picky eater on your hands.

Why Your Cat Might Need an Appetite Stimulant

If you’ve noticed that your cat isn’t eating as much as they should, the first step is to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. According to Dr. Hsia, there are several reasons why cats can lose their appetite, including stress, illness, or even excitement.

For cats experiencing stress, vets may recommend changing their diet or trying other strategies to stimulate their appetite. However, prescription appetite stimulants are more commonly suggested for sick cats. 

According to Dr. Kim DiMaio, VMD, owner of Main Street Vet, in Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, “The most common use of appetite stimulants in cats is when they have a chronic illness that may decrease their desire to eat.” This is to avoid prolonged inappetence, which can lead to serious and even fatal health complications.

Best Cat Appetite Stimulants: Our Picks

All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the Great Pet Care editorial team and do not reflect a direct endorsement by the author.

  • Best Overall Appetite Stimulant for Cats: Cyproheptadine
  • Best Tablet Appetite Stimulant for Cats: Mirtazapine
  • Best Liquid Appetite Stimulant for Cats: Elura
  • Best Topical Appetite Stimulant for Cats: Mirataz
  • Best Over-the-Counter Appetite Stimulant for Cats: Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Supplement

5 Best Appetite Stimulants for Cats

Best Overall Appetite Stimulant for Cats

Our Pick: Cyproheptadine

Cyproheptadine is a prescription medication that your veterinarian may use to increase your cat’s hunger. “I typically recommend cyproheptadine for my patients because it is effective in stimulating appetite, has few side effects, and is relatively inexpensive compared to other prescription medications,” says Dr. Hsia.

This medication is actually an antihistamine that’s used to treat allergies, but it’s also effective as an appetite stimulant. Cyproheptadine comes in easy-to-administer tablets. But there are also compounded options, including liquid and powder forms, as well as transdermal pens. Ask your veterinarian about compounded options that might be suitable for your cat, such as sugar-free liquid medication, or chicken or fish flavoring to help make the medicine more palatable. 

Highlights

  • Prescription medication
  • Minimal side effects
  • Available in both liquid and tablet form
  • Flavored for easier dosing

Things to Consider

  • Could take a few days to reach full effect

Best Tablet Appetite Stimulant for Cats

Our Pick: Mirtazapine

If your cat is experiencing loss of appetite due to stomach disease or renal failure, your veterinarian may prescribe Mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant and anti-nausea medication. It works by blocking signals from the intestine and stomach to the brain, helping to increase your pet’s appetite.

Mirtazapine comes in tablet form, which is usually given to cats twice a week. The medication is also available in a wide range of compounded options, including capsules, mini-melt tablets designed to disintegrate quickly, and liquid form. 

“The most common side effect of Mirtazapine is drowsiness, though hyperactivity can occur,” says Dr. DiMaio. “There can also be a transient drop in blood pressure.” Because the medication can cause hypotension, it’s not usually recommended for pets with cardiac or cerebrovascular disease. 

Highlights

  • Prescription medication
  • Helps to prevent nausea 
  • Used for cats with stomach disease or renal failure
  • Available in tablet form, or compounded liquid, mini-melt tablets, and capsules

Things to Consider

  • Can cause drowsiness
  • May not be suitable for cats with cardiac or cerebrovascular disease

Best Liquid Appetite Stimulant for Cats

Our Pick: Elura

Many felines are somewhat finicky about taking tablets or capsules, no matter how expertly you try to give your cat a pill. So if your tabby is known for spitting out tablets, a liquid formula like Elura could be just the perfect solution. “Elura is a liquid, which in some cases can be easier than a pill to administer,” explains Dr. DiMaio. This prescription medication is designed to help manage weight loss in cats with chronic kidney disease. In addition to increasing appetite, it can also stimulate weight gain. 

Elura is safe for long-term daily use, and it should be given to your cat on an empty stomach, generally 30 minutes before you feed them. However, this medication isn’t suitable for all cats: “It should not be used in diabetic cats because it can cause a transient increase in blood glucose,” says Dr. DiMaio.

Highlights

  • Prescription medication
  • Easy-to-administer liquid formula
  • Safe for long-term daily use
  • Often stimulates weight gain

Things to Consider

  • Should be administered on an empty stomach
  • Not suitable for diabetic cats

Best Topical Appetite Stimulant for Cats

Our Pick: Mirataz

If your cat puts up a fuss for appetite stimulants in both tablet and liquid form, never fear. Mirataz is a topical prescription medication that can help stimulate their appetite. “For cats that will not take an oral medication, Mirataz gel can be applied to the skin of the ear and is absorbed transdermally,” says Dr. DiMaio.

Mirataz generally results in weight gain in as few as 14 days, but it shouldn’t be used for cats with kidney or hepatic disease. Additionally, you’ll want to wear disposable gloves when applying the gel to your cat’s ear to prevent accidental topical exposure. And you’ll need to avoid touching the cat for two hours after application.

Highlights

  • Prescription medication 
  • Topical application  
  • Easy to administer
  • Recommended to help stimulate weight gain

Things to Consider

  • May not be suitable for cats with kidney or hepatic disease
  • Disposable gloves should be worn for application

Best Over-the-Counter Appetite Stimulant for Cats

Our Pick: Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Supplement

For cats who don’t necessarily need a prescription appetite stimulant, a product like the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Supplement is a tried-and-true over-the-counter option. “I often recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements because they can help improve overall health and may also help stimulate appetite in some cats,” says Dr. Hsia.  

This liquid formula contains essential fatty acids EPA and DHA from wild-caught fish. The supplement is non-GMO and gluten- and dairy-free, and it doesn’t contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. (Note: This means you will have to refrigerate the liquid after opening.) In addition to potentially increasing your cat’s appetite, the supplement may also promote skin, joint, heart, and coat health.

Highlights 

  • Available over-the-counter
  • Liquid formula is easy to administer 
  • Benefits skin and fur health
  • Third-party purity tested

Things to Consider

  • May not be effective for all cats
  • Requires refrigeration after opening 

Other Ways to Stimulate Your Cat’s Appetite

If you’ve ruled out illness as the reason your cat isn’t eating, you may want to try some non-medicine solutions for stimulating your cat’s appetite. These tactics may also benefit cats who are sick, but should only be used with your vet’s approval and in conjunction with any medicine they have prescribed.

“You can try to stimulate your cats’ appetite by offering a variety of foods with different textures,” recommends Dr. DiMaio. “Heating up wet or soft food for a few seconds in the microwave will boost the taste and smell. You can try adding toppers to the food, which can include low-sodium chicken broth or tuna juice,” she adds. 

Another option is offering several small meals throughout the day to tempt your favorite feline. If you have a busy household, you’ll want to provide a quiet, secure space that’s free of distractions, so your cat will feel comfortable eating. 

Dr. Hsia says you can also try playing with your cat for several minutes before feeding them, which can help them work up an appetite. 

Appetite Stimulants for Cats: Tips and Precautions

When giving your cat an appetite stimulant, it’s essential to follow your veterinarian’s directions, especially if it’s a prescription medication. 

“Pet parents should always follow their veterinarian’s instructions when giving an appetite stimulant to their cat,” says Dr. Hsia. “They should closely monitor their cat for any vomiting or diarrhea. Additionally, pet parents should never give more than the recommended dose of any medication or supplement without consulting their veterinarian first.”

By working closely with your veterinarian, you can find the best appetite stimulant for your cat’s health needs. That will make it much easier to ensure your cat the nourishment they need to thrive, regardless of what’s causing their loss of appetite.  

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