If your cat has not eaten in 24–48 hours, is vomiting, has diarrhea, or is lethargic, seek veterinary care right away.
If your feline friend isn’t eating as much as they usually do, or they are not eating at all (anorexia), this is often a sign that they’re not feeling well.
Occasionally, cats will stop eating because they are no longer enjoying their food, but a medical issue should always be considered, especially if the decrease in appetite lasts longer than 24 hours. Many conditions can affect a cat’s appetite including stress, dental disease, kidney disease, pain, environmental changes, pancreatitis, or cancer.
Only a veterinarian can tell you for sure what’s going on and prescribe the proper treatment. This may include an appetite stimulant. However, if your cat has not eaten in 24–48 hours, is vomiting, has diarrhea, or is lethargic, seek veterinary care right away. If you don’t see these other symptoms, there are many natural appetite stimulants you can try at home to encourage your cat to eat while waiting for a veterinary appointment.
Here’s what you need to know about prescribed and natural appetite stimulants for cats, from how they work to how to administer them and potential side effects.
Does My Cat Need an Appetite Stimulant?
Your veterinarian can decide whether your cat’s treatment involves an appetite stimulant.
If a cat is not eating at all, it’s particularly concerning because they can develop a condition that affects their liver. When a cat doesn’t eat, the fat in their body must be processed in the liver to meet energy needs. Unfortunately, the feline liver is not designed to handle this well and will start to fail, causing a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease.
This is why when your cat is not eating well or stops eating, it is important to visit your veterinarian first before thinking of ways to get your cat to eat on your own. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and may want to run bloodwork, x-rays, and/or an abdominal ultrasound to try to get to the root of the problem. To aid in your cat’s recovery, your veterinarian may also prescribe an appetite stimulant.
Prescription Cat Appetite Stimulants
Here’s some info on the most commonly prescribed appetite stimulants for cats and why your veterinarian my prescribe them.
This information is for reference only; always follow directions from your veterinarian for administering these medications.
Mirtazapine was originally developed as an anti-depressant in humans. It works to increase serotonin in the central nervous system. It also decreases serotonin activity in the gastrointestinal tract, causing increased appetite and decreased nausea.
These pleasant side effects are useful in veterinary medicine for sick cats that are not eating well or are nauseous. Your veterinarian may choose this medication for your cat to help with decreased appetite or nausea associated with kidney disease, liver disease, or stomach/intestinal issues.
Form: Tablet or transdermal gel (Mirataz)
Frequency: Mirataz gel: Applied to the inside of your cat's ear once daily; tablet: as directed
Side Effects: Well-tolerated with the most common side effect being drowsiness
Cyproheptadine is an antihistamine but is most commonly used in cats for its ability to increase appetite. It does this by interfering with serotonin in the brain.
Form: Tablet or syrup
Frequency: Usually given twice daily
Side Effects: Tolerated well but can cause drowsiness or, conversely, excitement in some cats
Capromorelin (Elura) is a new appetite stimulant that is the first drug approved specifically for cats with chronic kidney disease. Capromorelin mimics the action of a hormone called ghrelin, which makes cats feel hungry.
Form: Liquid given by mouth
Frequency: Once daily
Side Effects: The most common side effects include vomiting, hypersalivation, and lethargy.
While maropitant citrate is not technically an appetite stimulant, it is very good at treating nausea, which is a common cause of decreased appetite or anorexia in cats.
Maropitant citrate (Cerenia) is a centrally acting anti-nausea medication. It works by blocking substance P, which acts as a neurotransmitter that helps trigger vomiting, from binding to receptors in the brain that are responsible for vomiting.
Because of its mechanism of action, Maropitant citrate is currently being studied for its potential to treat conditions such as chronic respiratory infections in cats, inflammatory bowel disease, and feline idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder).
Form: Tablet and injectable
Frequency: Once daily for vomiting
Side Effects: Not very common; cats may vomit from being pilled with the tablet form. You can try to give your cat a small amount of food with the tablet to reduce this side effect.
Natural Appetite Stimulants for Cats
NOTE: These suggestions do not replace medical advice. If your cat is not eating and you have not seen your veterinarian, you should make an appointment to rule out serious underlying health issues that are causing your cat not to eat.
Catnip is an herb in the mint family. It contains an oil in its leaves called nepetalactone, which is responsible for the behaviors associated with catnip, including affection, relaxation, and increased activity.
Catnip can also help reduce anxiety and pain. In cats where pain, stress, or anxiety are the cause of their decreased appetite, catnip may be useful. Catnip comes in many forms, such as fresh (more potent), dried, and spray. The downside to catnip is that not all cats respond to it and too much can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and trouble walking.
Acupuncture can be a useful tool for many conditions that cause decreased appetite in cats, such as pain, intestinal issues, immune issues, dental disease, and nausea.
Some cats, including kittens, older cats, or thin cats, may not tolerate the needle well. However, most cats will allow needle placement when restrained by an experienced veterinary technician in a calm, quiet environment.
There are specific acupuncture points for cats to help relieve nausea and decreased appetite. An experienced, holistic veterinarian that is trained in acupuncture can help determine the best treatment plan for a cat experiencing these symptoms.
Canned Food and Toppers
For sick cats that are not eating well, offering a very savory canned food is often a good first step.
Canned food can be offered alone or mixed with kibble. Purina’s Fancy Feast and Friskies have many flavors and varieties, including shreds, chunks, and pâté canned food options. Sometimes offering a novel variety of food is enough to get a cat to start eating. If not, you can try mixing tuna juice or low-sodium chicken broth with your cat’s kibble.
Mar’s Temptations treats are well-liked by many cats and nutritionally complete. This means that in cats that will not eat anything else, this treat can be used as their main meal.
The next step would be to try an especially tempting treat such as tuna, canned chicken, chicken baby food, or a cooked egg.
Other Ways to Encourage Your Cat to Eat
Sick cats prefer to eat in a quiet environment at their own leisure. Set up an area that is free from other pets that may bully or distract your cat. Clean your cat’s food bowls daily to avoid odors that may deter them from eating.
Some cats will eat better when their food is served on plates rather than bowls. Keep kibble down at all times to allow your cat to eat alone at night. You can also try lightly warming up canned foods to increase the aroma.
Featured image: iStock.com/D-Keine
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