6 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating and What To Do

Jennifer Grota, DVM
By Jennifer Grota, DVM. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM on May 13, 2024
close-up of a brown tabby cat lying on the floor in a sun spot

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Your cat’s eating habits give you some insight into how they’re feeling, so it’s important to pay attention.

If your cat’s not eating, you need to find out the cause. Here are some of the more common reasons why a cat won’t eat and some recommendations to get your feline family member back on track.

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Why Is My Cat Not Eating?

Loss of appetite in cats can have many causes. If your cat won’t eat, some causes may be evident through a physical exam, while others may require diagnostic tests like blood work or imaging such as X-rays or an ultrasound.

If your cat has had a poor appetite or simply won’t eat for more than a day or two, take them to the veterinarian to find out the cause.

This is considered a medical emergency. Many serious consequences can occur in cats that go without adequate nutrition.

Here are some possible reasons why your cat is not eating.

1. Your Cat May Be Sick

Upper respiratory infections can cause loss of appetite in cats.

When your cat has a stuffy nose, it’s harder for them to smell their food, and they may not eat as a result. If this happens, you may need to rely more heavily on wet foods, especially those that have strong aromas.

If your cat won’t eat their usual wet food, try switching the flavor or texture to see if that helps. Heating up canned food can also make it tastier for a cat that might not be feeling their best.

Call your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

While some infections are viral and may not need medication, antibiotics are sometimes needed to resolve a bacterial infection and help your cat feel better.

Other nasal diseases can impact your cat’s sense of smell and appetite as well, including nasal polyps or tumors. Tumors affecting the nose can also be painful and make your cat reluctant to eat.

2. Your Cat May Have a Dental Issue

Similarly, many diseases of the mouth can make cats stop eating altogether.

Cats can develop tartar and gingivitis, as well as inflammation in other tissues of the mouth that can be painful. Cats can also develop cancerous tumors in the mouth.

Clues to watch for include:

3. Your Cat May Have a Gastrointestinal Issue

There are many gastrointestinal issues that can cause decreased appetite in cats, including:

Nausea may also be caused by diabetes or kidney disease (both of which can also cause vomiting and changes in thirst and urination) or medications (such as antibiotics or chemotherapy).

Cats that are nauseous may seem interested in food, but then refuse it. They may also drool, drop food while eating, and lick their lips often.

4. Your Cat May Have Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure can result in coughing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing, both of which can make your cat less interested in eating.

In addition, medications or a new food that’s prescribed for heart disease may affect your cat’s appetite, especially if the new food is a different flavor profile or texture than what your cat is used to eating.

5. Your Cat May Be Recovering From an Illness or Hospital Stay

Some cats will develop a food aversion, most commonly after an illness or hospital stay. Such cats associate a particular food with feeling sick or with the stress of hospitalization, and then refuse to eat that food.

It may require some ingenuity and trial and error to discover what your cat is willing to eat if a food aversion develops.

You can also ask your vet about a recovery or urgent care diet, which densely packed in calories. These diets are fed in small amounts so your cat gets the nutrients they need to recover.

6. Your Cat May Be Experiencing Stress, Anxiety, or Depression

Cats have emotions, too, and there can be several emotional or behavioral causes of loss of appetite. For example, losing a family member can cause some cats to stop eating due to anxiety or depression.

Stress or anxiety can also be caused by changes in the home environment. These changes may seem insignificant, but they can cause a lot of stress for cats and stop them from eating normally.

Such changes include:

  • Construction inside or outside the home

  • Adding a new family member

  • Rearranging resources (food, water, litter boxes)

  • Social conflict with other animals in the household

  • New smells or odors

Why Is My Kitten Not Eating?

Kittens are normally weaned and eating solid food between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Here are some reasons why your kitten may not be eating their food.

1. Your Kitten May Still Be Learning What They Like to Eat

Once they start transitioning to solid food, kittens should be exposed to different food types and textures so they learn what they prefer. If your newly weaned kitten won’t eat, the solution could be as simple as switching kibble or adding liquid to soften the food.

Offer wet food and dry food with different textures and shapes (pate, stew, broth, triangular kibble, round kibble, etc.). You can also try to make the food more appetizing so that the transition is easier; a cat’s appetite is strongly driven by their sense of smell.

Make sure that any wet food that you feed your kitten is room temperature or slightly warmer; warming wet food up increases its aroma and appeal.

2. Your Kitten May Have an Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory infections are not unusual in kittens and can cause decreased appetite due to nasal congestion, fever, or fatigue. Just like with adult cats, contact your veterinarian if your kitten is sneezing or has runny eyes or a runny nose.

3. Your Kitten Might Have Eaten Something They Shouldn’t Have

A kitten’s natural curiosity sometimes gets them into trouble. Kittens have been known to eat stringtinsel, hair ties, and other objects that can get stuck in their stomach or small intestines—a serious medical emergency.

Never let your kitten play with any objects they could eat. Surgery is sometimes needed to remove the item, so call your veterinarian right away if you suspect that your kitten has eaten an object or if their decreased appetite is accompanied by vomiting.

4. Your Kitten May Be Intimidated by Another Pet

While many kittens are outgoing and resilient, some shy kittens may be intimidated by other furry family members during mealtime. Give your kitten a safe place to eat where they won’t be chased or bothered by other cats or dogs in the family.

If your kitten won’t eat for more than one day, call your veterinarian to schedule an exam. The sooner you determine the cause, the sooner your little one will be back to normal.

How To Get a Cat To Eat

Because cats as a species are quite good at hiding when they are in pain or not feeling well, it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your cat’s habits, especially when it comes to eating.

There are many treatment options for the loss of appetite in cats, but the treatment depends on the cause.

If there is a health issue, your cat may need:

  • Antibiotics

  • Surgery (in the case of disease)

  • A diet change

  • Hospitalization and fluid therapy

  • Medication to treat nausea or to stimulate the appetite

If your vet determines that your cat is healthy, but is just a picky eater, follow these tips:

  • Try feeding your cat foods with different textures, flavors, or shapes

  • Warm up wet foods if they have been refrigerated.

  • Buy only as much dry food as your cat will eat in a month, as some foods will go stale or become rancid if the package has been open for more than a month.

  • Adding a small amount of water or low-sodium chicken broth to dry food to help make it smellier (and therefore tastier)

When To Go to the Vet

Contact your veterinarian if your cat hasn’t eaten for two days or if your kitten has not eaten for one to two days.

All cats, especially those that are overweight, can develop a serious disease called hepatic lipidosis if they stop eating, so prompt action is important.

Hepatic lipidosis occurs when the body does not have enough fat or calories in the diet. The body will then use fat from the liver for energy. Hepatic lipidosis is very serious and is often life threatening.

Take your cat to the vet immediately if their loss of appetite is accompanied by:

It’s always best to know what is normal for your cat and to watch for signs that your cat is not eating so you know when to seek help.

References

Case LP, Daristotle L, Hayek MG, et al.Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals. 3rd  edition. Mosby Elsevier. Maryland Heights, Mo. 2011

References


Jennifer Grota, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Jennifer Grota, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Grota decided at an early age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. A native of Indiana, she grew up in a home where animals were...


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