What is a bland diet?
A bland diet is a short-term diet typically consisting of two or three easy-to-digest foods used to rest the gastrointestinal tract. It is the feline equivalent of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast). The bland diet decreases peristalsis, or the contraction of the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. The limited diet allows the digestive system to heal before introducing more difficult-to-digest foods.
Your veterinarian may recommend a cat be put on a bland diet after a recent bout of sickness affecting his gastrointestinal tract, has a medical condition that causes nausea, or another condition that needs easily digestible food.
The amount of time the cat will be on this diet depends on the underlying cause. Bland diets are not nutritionally complete and should not be fed to your cat long term. For chronic digestive upset, talk with your veterinarian about a limited-ingredient diet.
What medical conditions may require a bland diet?
Most conditions in which the gastrointestinal tract is affected and needs rest, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Other indications include:
- Acute gastrointestinal inflammation or infection
- During chemotherapy
- Gastric ulcers
What is the best thing to feed a sick cat?
There are several recommendations for bland diets, but the main goal is soft, easily digestible food that is low in fat and fiber. It should consist of one type of protein. The purpose of a bland diet is to ensure continued nutrition while giving your cat’s gastrointestinal tract a chance to rest and heal.
Most of these recipes consist of a protein source and a carbohydrate. The ratio should be one part protein to two parts carb.
Bland diets may consist of the following foods:
- Poached or steamed chicken breast alone.
- Poached or steamed chicken or turkey mince with or without white rice.
- Low-fat cottage cheese and cooked white rice.
- Poached or steamed chicken breast with cooked white rice.
Chicken and rice for cats
Poached chicken and rice is an ideal short-term bland diet for a cat with digestive upset.
Poached chicken and rice recipe:
- 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 1/2 cup white rice
- Chop a chicken breast into chunks and add enough water to cover.
- In a separate pan, cook rice as per instructions on the package.
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the chicken until cooked through (approximately 5-10 minutes).
- Place the chicken in a clean bowl with a small amount of the cooking water, letting it cool to room temperature.
- Once cooled, shred the chicken with two forks.
- Add rice to chicken at a ratio of 2 parts rice/1 part chicken. Mix well.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Feeding small quantities more often than typical meals—three to four times is ideal. Large meals can upset the already delicate gastrointestinal tract.
Other treatment suggestions
If your cat is experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, a bland diet isn’t the only at-home method for providing relief.
Pumpkin is high in soluble fiber. This means that the fiber in pumpkin absorbs water from the digestive tract, slowing down digestion and decreasing peristalsis. This can provide relief for cats with diarrhea.
Pumpkin also contains potassium which cats lose when they have had a bout of vomiting or diarrhea. To feed your cat pumpkin, poach or steam 1 cup of pumpkin, drain, and mash. Or, purchase plain canned pumpkin puree.
Slippery elm contains mucilage, a gelatinous substance that coats and soothes the intestinal tract. It also stimulates the production of mucus, which can protect the gastrointestinal tract and stomach. To add slippery elm to your cat’s diet for gastrointestinal upset, add 1 teaspoon per 2 kg (10 lbs) body weight to your cat’s food.
Probiotics add more good bacteria to your cat’s digestive tract. This helps break down food and regulate bathroom activity. Probiotics are especially helpful after the use of antibiotics to replace helpful bacteria which may have been lost.
Several commercial varieties of food are available to cats on a bland diet. These include Science Diet I/D (intestinal diet) and Royal Canin Intestinal HE (high energy). These come in dry or canned; it is recommended to feed canned food to replace fluids lost during sickness.
No other food sources or treats should be given to your cat while he is on a bland diet with the exception of probiotics, which some veterinarians will recommend to help with gut bacteria. Always check with your veterinarian before giving anything to your cat while he is on a bland diet.
What not to do
- Do not leave dry food out for cats on a bland diet unless it is designed to be fed to cats during this period (wet food is better).
- Do not fry or season food. The best way to cook is poaching or steaming.
- Buy the leanest cuts of meat possible.
How long will my cat need to be on a bland diet?
Most cats will be on this diet until stools return to normal, which usually takes a few days. This diet serves the purpose of resting the GI tract, but it is not completely balanced and should not be given for an extended period.
My cat won’t eat the food
Some cats can be fussy about dietary changes. If your cat refuses a bland diet, try these tips:
- Warm up the food to increase the scent.
- Try a different type of food, like baby food. When choosing a baby food, avoid ones with onion or garlic which are both toxic to cats.
- Add a flavored topper like a probiotic.
- Add a hydrating topper like tuna or sardine water without salt or olive oil.
If your cat refuses to eat or drink for 24 hours, medical care is needed. A cat going without food can quickly develop hepatic lipidosis where the body breaks down fat to use as fuel. The liver is not very efficient at breaking down fat and can become overwhelmed. Hepatic lipidosis is a serious and life-threatening condition.
Is it time to schedule a vet visit?
Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea can lead to serious health concerns including dehydration and malnutrition. It’s time to schedule a vet visit when any of the following is observed:
- Diarrhea lasts more than 2-3 days
- Vomiting lasts more than 12 hours
- If vomiting or diarrhea is occurring in a young kitten
- If your cat is displaying other symptoms
- Diarrhea which contains blood
- Vomiting blood
- Diarrhea that is accompanied by vomiting
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Extremely foul-smelling stool
How do I reintroduce my cat’s normal diet?
After two to three consistently normal stools, or a cease in vomiting, it’s time to begin introducing your cat’s normal diet. To reintroduce your cat’s normal diet, do so slowly. Over several days, mix a small amount of the old diet in with the current bland diet, gradually increasing the old diet and decreasing the bland or limited ingredient diet. Reintroducing the old diet too quickly can cause digestive upset.
Frequently asked questions
How fast will a bland diet help my cat with diarrhea and vomiting issues?
A bland diet should be given to your cat for three to five days. If diarrhea or vomiting persists, schedule a visit with your vet.
Does it help to also withhold food and water from my cat for a while?
If your cat just vomited, it may be beneficial to withhold food or water for four to six hours to let the stomach rest. After this time, your cat should have access to fresh water and be fed a small amount of a bland diet such as boiled chicken and rice.
How much chicken should I feed my cat on a bland diet?
To help with digestive upset, feed your cat three to four small meals a day of boiled chicken and rice. Depending on the severity of the gastrointestinal upset, start with a serving as small as a teaspoon of chicken and rice.
Is there a BRAT diet for cats?
Yes, a bland diet is similar to a human BRAT diet. By serving bland, easy-to-digest food like boiled chicken and rice, the gastrointestinal tract has an opportunity to rest and get back on track.