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Why Isn’t My Cat Eating?

Cat Not Eating
Written by Elizabeth Italia, UW-AAB
—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸

Loss of appetite can be a very scary thing for cat owners. 

Although it doesn’t always mean something’s wrong, sometimes, it can be the first indicator that there’s a problem. 

We’ll take a look at the most common causes and what you can do to get your cat back on track.

Why Isn’t My Cat Eating?

Loss of appetite can be a very scary thing for cat owners. 

Although it doesn’t always mean something’s wrong, sometimes, it can be the first indicator that there’s a problem. 

We’ll take a look at the most common causes and what you can do to get your cat back on track.

Reason #1 Minor Nausea

Just like us, when cats have upset tummies, they tend to lose their appetite. 

While many things cause nausea, there are also a lot of unknowns. They could eat something off the floor or a bug that bothered them. If they recently vomited a hairball, their stomach might be off. 

They may have eaten too fast, vomited, and now they don’t want to eat. Constipation and diarrhea could be contributors to a loss of appetite.

What to Do: 

As long as your cat is acting normal, it’s usually safe to just monitor them. 

You can talk to your vet about giving them famotidine, an OTC human heartburn medicine, or even ask about getting a prescription of Cerenia, an anti-nausea med that works fantastic in cats. 

After stomach issues, cats may not want to eat, and it’s not unheard of to give them an appetite stimulant (called mirtazapine) to get them eating again. Just ask your vet.

Reason #2 Toxins or Obstruction

It’s more common in dogs, but sometimes cats eat things they shouldn’t. 

Different plants, foods, and chemicals can be toxic to cats, and often cause a loss of appetite. 

Additionally, a foreign body obstruction can get lodged in the intestines, causing loss of appetite and lethargy. If the foreign body isn’t removed, the outcome could be fatal.

What to Do: 

If you suspect your cat consumed anything they shouldn’t have, whether it’s a plant, food item, or object, call your vet immediately and if you can’t reach them, contact the closest veterinary hospital. 

Time is of the essence for an ingested toxin or foreign body obstruction, and it’s crucial they get care immediately.

Reason #3 Parasites

Parasites can cause discomfort in cats if left untreated. Mild parasite infestations will likely not have much of an impact, but some infestations can be severe, and parasites can travel from the intestines into the stomach, and even the lung.

What to Do: 

If you happen to see worms your cat vomited or worms in their poop, either save a sample or take a picture to show your vet. 

Dewormers are very safe for your cat, but your vet needs to know which parasite is the culprit to administer the right dewormer. 

If you don’t know if your cat has parasites but think they might, you can provide your vet with a stool sample for analysis, or ask them to administer a broad dewormer that will kill most parasites.

Reason #4 Gastrointestinal Diseases

Chronic stomach issues like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or colitis can impact your cat’s appetite, as well as cancer in the GI tract.

What to Do: 

If your cat is having consistent issues with their appetite and digestion, you’ll want to have them evaluated by your vet. 

You’ll need further diagnostics to diagnose IBD, colitis, or cancer. All are treated very differently, so work closely with your provider on a treatment plan.

Reason #5 Upper Respiratory Infections

Since cats originated in drier environments where water is hard to come by, they’re built to get moisture from prey. 

Indoor cats can get water from canned food, but if they eat dry food, they must also actively drink water to stay hydrated. 

When a cat has an upper respiratory infection, they often have congestion in their nose, which impacts their ability to taste (if you can’t smell, you can’t taste; just pinch your nose and eat something!). This puts them at risk for dehydration, which is a much bigger concern than not eating.

What to Do: 

You can use baby saline drops or even steam up the bathroom (a hot shower is fine) to try to decongest your cat’s nose. 

Once they can smell, they should show some interest in food, and you’ll want to give them canned food so they can get moisture. If they still don’t want it, try adding some water and heating up the food for a few seconds in the microwave. This can give it a stronger smell, and be more enticing. Also, call your vet to see if they want to check for a secondary bacterial infection that could require antibiotics.

Cat Behavior Issues

Reason #6 Infectious Diseases Like Panleukopenia

Panleukopenia (aka feline distemper aka feline parvo) isn’t very common in adult vaccinated cats, but it is more common in kittens and shelters. 

Most cats will conquer the virus without problems, but kittens are at the greatest risk of succumbing. Panleuk is a sneaky virus, but the most common symptoms are diarrhea, lethargy, and loss of appetite. 

What to Do: 

Kittens and cats with panleukopenia need immediate medical attention and supportive care, including fluids to keep them hydrated. 

If you suspect panleuk, call your vet immediately. Most kittens who get panleukopenia do not survive, and many don’t survive even with care. If they do survive, they will be immune to the virus forever. Make sure you get your cats vaccinated to prevent them from getting sick with this terrible virus.

Reason #7 Dental Disease

Dental disease is no laughing matter, and it often causes undiagnosed pain in cats, since they are experts at hiding pain. 

The two most common types of dental disease in cats are periodontal disease, which includes gingivitis and hard tartar or calculus, and resorptive lesions. With resorptive lesions, the tooth breaks down and holes appear that can be extremely painful. 

In addition to the loss of appetite, cats with dental disease may drool, have a hard time chewing, drop pieces of food, or even have stinky saliva.

What to Do: 

Schedule your cat for a dental. During the procedure, they will X-ray your cat’s mouth and determine the severity of the dental disease. They’ll then clean the teeth and extract any problematic teeth. 

Sometimes people get upset about tooth extractions but remember that indoor cats do not need their teeth to survive, and any tooth causing pain or discomfort should be removed. 

I fostered two cats from a hoarding situation that needed full dental extractions. They still eat everything and are much happier since getting their gross teeth removed.

Reason #8 Stress or Anxiety 

A sudden onset of loss of appetite is usually (but not always) related to stress. Stress could be related to a new family member or pet, a move, renovations—anything. Some cats don’t eat for a day or more after moving or even after being adopted.

What to Do: 

Monitor your cat and if you’re concerned, reach out to your vet. 

Typically, a stressed or anxious cat will start eating again after about a day, but it may take longer. If any pet is blocking your cat’s access to food, please adjust so your cat can easily and safely eat. This sometimes means putting them in a small bathroom or bedroom temporarily. 

If stress continues, you can talk to your vet about pharmaceutical options or reach out to a behaviorist about enrichment suggestions for the environment.

Reason #9 Liver Disease, Kidney Disease, and Pancreatitis

Liver disease includes hepatic lipidosis, which is when fat accumulates in the liver eventually causing liver failure. There are a number of causes, including poor eating related to stress or new food, diabetes, or a disease affecting the digestive system. 

Other liver diseases that can cause poor appetite include cholangitis/cholangiohepatitis or lymphocytic portal hepatitis, as well as any toxins or poisons that impact the liver.

Cats with chronic kidney disease struggle with nausea and appetite. It’s important to work with your vet on a treatment plan to help your cat get all the nutrients they need and keep them eating.

The exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown, and often the liver and intestines are having issues, which causes the pancreas to also become inflamed. Some possible causes of pancreatitis include exposure to poison or toxins, parasites, or trauma.

What to Do: 

For liver disease and pancreatitis, your cat may need to be hospitalized for treatment, and receive IV fluids, antibiotics, possibly steroids, and an appetite stimulant to get them eating again. 

With liver disease, liver supplements can sometimes help the liver heal itself and get back into shape. For kidney disease, your cat will need to be put on a special diet, receive IV fluids, and get anti-nausea meds.

Reason #10: New Food

If you switch foods, your cat may not be overly happy with the selection. Changing food can be a challenge even for cats with large appetites. This could cause them to smell the food and walk away, or look at you and meow, expressing their displeasure.

What to Do: 

To change foods, you want to slowly mix in the new food with the current food in greater and greater amounts to help your cat adjust over time. 

Another trick I’ve used is to mix a few treats I know they like into the new food. They’ll smell the treats and hopefully start eating. 

You want to be careful about how stubborn you are about a cat eating new food, because a big decrease in consumption could lead to hepatic lipidosis and liver failure, discussed above. 

If your cat really goes on strike, try to go back to the old food, and you can try a new food another time. 

Reason #11: Bowls

Your cat can smell things you can’t and may smell bacteria on their bowl. Another reason they might not eat is if their whiskers rub against the sides of the bowl. This can be extremely uncomfortable for them, and cause them to not want to eat.

What to Do:

Clean your cat’s bowl as frequently as possible with a mild dish detergent (nothing strong-smelling, and use stainless steel bowls or ceramic when possible. Make sure the bowl is large enough or the sides are low enough so your cat can eat with their whiskers free!

Conclusion

These are just the most common reasons for a loss of appetite. 

Keep in mind that missing one meal is worth noting, but in the absence of other symptoms or causes (i.e. you saw them eat something they shouldn’t; they’re having massive diarrhea, etc.), it may not be cause for alarm. When cats live outside and need to catch prey, their next meal isn’t guaranteed, and sometimes their hunting efforts leave them empty-handed (or pawed). 

They can miss a meal without ramifications to their health, and cats can in fact live for two weeks without food (but only three days without water). 

And although they are creatures of habit, indoor cats may sometimes skip a meal or not eat as much as they normally do, especially as they age. If you notice your cat is completely disinterested in eating, reach out to your vet to come up with a game plan.



Sources

Center, Sharon. MERCK MANUAL Veterinary Manual, Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Cats.
Cohan, Mindy. Hill’s Pet, Feline Pancreatitis: What You Need to Know.
Hillcrest Animal Hospital, 10 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating.

 

Article by  🙋‍♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist