What to Do When Your Cat Won’t Eat

People joke about cats and their finicky eating habits, but it’s actually a serious issue if your cat won’t eat.

Although a refusal to eat is concerning for all pets, it can be more dangerous for cats.

When animals don’t eat enough, they must rely on their fat reserves for energy. Before stored fat can be used for fuel, it must be processed by the liver. This step requires adequate supplies of protein.

With rapid weight loss in a cat that stops eating, protein supplies are soon exhausted and the liver becomes overwhelmed by all the fat. This results in a dangerous condition known as hepatic lipidosis, which can lead to liver failure.

A cat's loss of appetite often indicates illness, so you should consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice a change in your cat’s eating habits. The more quickly you respond to the problem, the more able you'll be to do something that will help.

Why Your Cat Won’t Eat

Illness. Loss of appetite is one of the key indicators that something is wrong. So be sure to pay attention if your cat suddenly stops eating. A number of different conditions may be responsible, including infections, kidney failure, pancreatitis, intestinal problems, and cancer. But it isn’t always serious -- something as simple as a toothache can make your cat stop eating.

Recent vaccination. Did you notice your cat’s loss of appetite shortly after you took it to the vet for routine vaccinations? If so, the reason your cat won’t eat may be an adverse reaction to the shots. Although vaccines have been lifesavers for millions of animals, they do cause side effects in some. Loss of appetite is among the more common of these side effects, which are usually temporary and mild.

Travel and unfamiliar surroundings. Like many people, many cats are creatures of habit. So a change in routine can result in a loss of appetite. Additionally, some animals experience motion sickness when traveling by car or plane, which can lead to nausea and a refusal to eat.

Finickiness or psychological issues. If your veterinarian has determined that your cat is not physically sick, then anxiety or depression could be the reason your cat won’t eat. Changes in the household can be disturbing to sensitive cats, and sometimes new people or changes in familiar schedules can affect a cat’s emotional well-being. Or, your cat could just be a finicky eater. Keep in mind that cats, in general, take a long time to adjust to new types of food, so a recent change in diet could be the culprit.

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What You Can Do

Whether your cat is sick, anxious, or just plain picky, remember that a complete refusal of food can have devastating consequences. So, even if you’re trying to make your cat eat a doctor-prescribed diet, never starve your cat into eating a certain type of food.

If illness is the reason your cat won’t eat, work with your veterinarian to design the best regimen for you and your pet. This may include a change in food type or consistency; some cats may be enticed to eat by offering canned foods when they are unwell. In more extreme cases, veterinarians may prescribe medicines that act as appetite stimulants or recommend syringe-feeding your cat a liquid diet. Or the vet may recommend placement of a feeding tube to ensure adequate nutrition.

When illness is not the culprit, there are things you can try to encourage your cat to eat.

You may have discovered that certain foods, such as liver or canned tuna, can act as appetite stimulants for certain cats. Remember to only offer these foods in small amounts. Large quantities may harm your pet by causing deficiencies or an overabundance of certain vitamins.

Instead of relying on people food, try encouraging your cat to eat commercial canned food. You may find that heating the food or mixing in fish oil, broth, or cooked egg could entice your picky cat to eat. If your cat still won’t eat, take the food away and provide fresh food later in the day. If the food is left to harden and become stale, your cat may learn to avoid it in the future.

If your cat has been eating human food exclusively, be sure to transition your pet over several weeks by mixing together your pet’s favorite people food with cat food. Over time, you should be able to change the ratio until your pet is eating only cat food.

Many experts recommend rotating your cat’s diet among different brands two to four times a year by using a similar technique. This practice may help reduce finickiness and also minimize the development of food allergies and intestinal problems.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on 9/, 014

Sources

SOURCES:

Veterinarypartner.com: “Anorexia.”

Veterinarypartner.com: “The Cat Feeding FAQ.”

Fabcats.org: “Feeding your cat.”

American Veterinary Medical Association: “General Illnesses and Diseases.”

American Veterinary Medical Association:  “Feline illnesses and diseases.”

American Veterinary Medical Association: “What you should know about vaccinations.”

American Veterinary Medical Association: "Traveling with your pet.”

Healthypet.com: “My cat hasn’t eaten for four days. What should I do?”

Healthypet.com: “Can I feed my cat a can of tuna fish?”

Healthypet.com: "How do I get my kitten to eat cat food when he prefers human food?”

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