Why Your Cat Won’t Eat and What to Do

Katy Nelson, DVM
Jul 31, 2020
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You should always pay attention to your cat’s eating habits, as they can give you some insight into how your cat is feeling.

If you notice your cat’s eating behaviors change, you can get in touch with your veterinarian right away to figure out what the problem is.

And if your cat is 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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Reasons Why a Kitten Won’t Eat

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.

Your Kitten May Still Be Learning What They Like to Eat

Once they start transitioning to solid food, kittens should be exposed to different types and textures of food so they learn what they prefer. If your newly weaned kitten won’t eat, it could be as simple as switching from a round kibble shape to oblong.

Offer wet food and dry food with different textures and shapes (pâté, 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.

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.

If your kitten has a stuffy nose, it will be 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 kitten won’t eat their usual wet food, try switching the flavor or texture to see if that helps.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian:

  • Lots of sneezing

  • Runny eyes

  • Runny nose

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

Your Kitten Might Have Eaten Something They Shouldn’t Have

The natural curiosity of kittens sometimes gets them into trouble. Kittens have been known to eat string, tinsel, hair ties, and other objects that can get stuck in their stomach or small intestines. Never let your kitten play with string, balloon ribbons, hair ties, plastic grass used in Easter baskets, tinsel, or other objects they could eat.

Surgery is sometimes needed to remove the offending item, so call your veterinarian right away if you suspect that your kitten has eaten something they shouldn’t have or if their decreased appetite is also accompanied by vomiting.

Your Kitten May Be Intimidated by Your Dog or Other Cats

While many kittens are outgoing and resilient, some shy kittens may be intimidated by other furry family members when it comes to 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 a day or two, call your veterinarian to schedule an exam. The sooner you determine the cause, the sooner your little one will be back to normal.

Why Is My Adult Cat Not Eating?

Loss of appetite can have many causes in adult cats.

If your cat won’t eat, some causes may be evident through a vet’s physical exam of your cat, while others may require diagnostic tests like blood work or x-rays.

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

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

Your Cat May Be Ill

As in kittens, upper respiratory infections can cause loss of appetite in adult cats.

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 therefore make your cat reluctant to eat.

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 quite painful. Sadly, cats can also develop cancerous tumors in the mouth.

Clues to watch for include:

  • Bad breath

  • Drooling

  • Bleeding from the mouth

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 kidney disease (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, or they may drool and lick their lips often.

Your Cat May Be Suffering From Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure can result in 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 less palatable than what your cat is accustomed to eating.1

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.

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.

Losing a beloved family member, whether animal or human, 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, which can cause your cat not to eat.

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

What to Do if Your Cat’s Not Eating

Since 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.

Contact your veterinarian if your kitten has not eaten for one to two days or if your adult cat has not eaten in two days.

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

If your cat stops eating and also has these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately:  

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Lethargy

  • Difficulty breathing

Treatment Options for Loss of Appetite

There are many treatment options for loss of appetite, 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, and make sure to 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.

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.

Resources:

  1. 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

See Also:

 

Featured Image: iStock.com/1001slide

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