It can be a helpless feeling when we see our cat refusing to eat. Is something upsetting them? Do they not like the food they are eating? Do they feel unwell? Unfortunately, they can’t really tell us - which makes it harder to figure out why your cat isn't eating, and what to do about it!
Cats can certainly be a little finicky, and stop eating for no obvious reason, but it’s important to make sure there’s not a serious underlying problem, too. “All sorts of medical issues can cause cats to stop eating,” says Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS, a veterinarian based in the UK for CatPointers.com.
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“Some of the most common medical reasons for cats to stop eating are kidney disease, hairballs, cystitis, cat bite abscesses, and lymphoma,” says Dr. Woodnutt. Dental disease, funnily enough, rarely causes cats to stop eating. They generally carry on chewing through the pain — although some types of dental disease can cause cats to refuse to eat hard food.
If your cat stops eating, one of the reasons could be because of the food. “Occasionally, a manufacturer will change a recipe causing a cat to turn its nose up at the reformulated food,” says Dr. Albert Ahn, Veterinary Advisor for Myos Pet. Sometimes a cat will become finicky and need to be offered a different flavor of food.
There are some important medical reasons that can affect your cat's appetite. For example: “In young cats especially, upper respiratory infections can cause a temporary loss of smell which can impact interest in food,” says Dr. Ahn. Having your veterinarian diagnose and treat the infection can help to restore your cat's sense of smell and appetite.
“Kidney disease is a common disease in older cats and is associated with chemical changes that over time can cause a decrease or loss of appetite,” says Dr. Ahn. These cats will often need to be hospitalized and given fluids to regain their appetite.
Severe dental disease can cause significant pain, especially when chewing, says Dr. Ahn. Which can cause a cat to stop eating. In this case: “It is a good idea to have an oral examination and a dental cleaning which may also require extraction of diseased teeth,” says Dr. Ahn.
“A potentially serious cause of loss of appetite in cats may be seen with the ingestion of a foreign body, such as a string, which can be associated with vomiting, loss of appetite and potentially life-threatening complications involving injury to the intestines,” says Dr. Ahn.
Any time that your cat develops vomiting and loss of appetite, talk to a vet immediately. If the vet advises, an in-person visit may be necessary to perform a physical examination and additional diagnostics. By doing so, your cat's vet will be able to determine the underlying problem and propose an appropriate treatment regimen.
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If your vet hasn't recommended specific treatments for your cat's situation, there are a few basic things you can do to treat your cat refusing to eat.
Make sure they are getting plenty of water. “Dehydration is a result of the underlying problem but can make a recovery longer and more complicated,” says Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance.
If your cat is not freely drinking, you can try adding a small amount of low sodium chicken broth or tuna juice to the water, suggests Dr. Burch. If this trick is not working, try syringe feeding small amounts of water or Pedialyte every one to two hours.
Sometimes switching the type of food or texture can help your cat regain their appetite. However, be sure to incorporate the change gradually. “When switching from one food to another, try to put a little bit of the new food into the old diet and increase the amount of the new food everyday while decreasing the amount of the old food,” says Sakura Davis, Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Consultant at catpet.club. This will allow your cat's digestive system to adjust to the new food without causing any GI upsets.
Although your cat may not seem stressed, if you have recently moved into a new house or even brought a new pet home, your cat may not know how to cope with the new changes and may have a lack of an appetite. “If stress seems to be the reason, give them a space where they can feel comfortable (example: a room away from the new kitten for your cat to roam and eat),” says Davis.
Getting cats to eat is tricky. If there’s no medical reason, try swapping their food to something new — a pouch of wet food is often a good bet. “Try adding new flavors to the food,” advises Dr. Woodnutt, as well. A sprinkle of fish food flakes can really enhance the smell of the food and encourage your cat to eat.