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My Cat Isn’t Eating! What Can I Do?

Not eating is almost always a clear indicator that something is wrong. In both humans and animals, a lack of appetite is often one of the first symptom of illness, disease, and emotional instabilities. As a cat lover, it can be an incredibly scary thing to witness the stagnant state of your cat’s food bowl as it sits untouched for days.

Why Is My Cat Not Eating?

There are a several reasons your cat may not be eating:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies
  • Dental problems or mouth pain
  • Your cat may not like his or her food
  • Your cat may be stressed out due to travel, change of circumstances, etc.

Loss of appetite in felines is medically referred to as anorexia and can sometimes be due to a serious disease.

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Causes of cat anorexia include medical issues such as kidney disease, gastrointestinal blockage, flu, fever, diabetes, pancreatitis, and dental problems.

Stress, depression, anxiety, a new unfamiliar environment, and other psychological reasons could also be the reason why your cat is not eating.

When Should You Be Concerned?

Loss of appetite is fairly common for all pets but can be a more serious or even dangerous problem for cats.

If your cat doesn’t eat enough, it will be forced to depend on fat reserves for sustenance. This over-reliance on stored fat over-works the liver because the fat must first be processed by the liver before it’s used as reserve fuel.

The processing also requires an adequate intake of protein.

When your cat doesn’t eat, it suffers from rapid weight loss and depleted protein reserves. The liver becomes overwhelmed by the process of converting fat to energy which can cause a condition known as hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease.

Hepatic lipidosis causes liver failure and death. Obese cats can easily develop hepatic lipidosis when they stop eating for several days.

The liver is an important organ in any animal and if it doesn’t work as it should, your cat can easily develop other liver-related complications. You should, therefore, be seriously concerned when your cat is not eating for more than a day, as this is often an indication of illness.

If the problem persists for more than a day or two, you may need to consult your veterinarian for professional diagnosis and treatment. The quicker you respond to the problem, the easier it will be to treat your cat.

Why Your Cat is Not Eating

There are diverse reasons why your cat isn’t eating. The causes of anorexia can broadly be classified as health issues, food issues, and psychological problems.

cat eat, closeup image of domestic cat eat food

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Here are some health issues that can cause anorexia in cats.

Health Issues

Illness or health-related problems are some of the most common reasons for cat anorexia. You should pay special attention to your cat if it suddenly stops eating.

Here are some of the common illnesses that may cause your cat’s loss of appetite:

Gastrointestinal Problems

Problems in the gastrointestinal tract are some of the common reasons why your cat isn’t eating. Any issue affecting the cat’s digestive system will cause it to lose appetite.

Some of the problems likely to be affecting your cat’s GI tract include the following:

  • Presence of parasites
  • Colitis – either acute or chronic inflammation of the membrane lining the cat’s large intestines.
  • Infection or inflammation of the cat’s gastrointestinal tract (gastroenteritis)
  • Infection or inflammation of the gut pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • General changes in the bacterial environment of the cat’s intestines
  • Foreign bodies in the cat’s stomach or intestines such as strings and pieces of polythene can cause blockages, pain, and loss of appetite
  • Intestinal lymphoma or cancer

Some of the common symptoms of digestive system problems in your cat can include vomiting, signs of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Loss of appetite will always be the first sign of a problem in your cat’s digestive system.

Other common problems associated with the cat’s GI tract include tumors, acid reflux, irritable bowel disease and much more. These problems can range in severity from mild to really serious.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice any sign of gastrointestinal tract distress in your cat. The veterinarian will diagnose the problem and recommend an effective treatment plan.

Most cat owners tend to believe that changing the cat’s diet will solve GI issues, but without a proper diagnosis by a qualified veterinarian, you may not know what the real problem is and probably put your cat in more danger of further complications.

Any problem in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract can result in anorexia and should be addressed by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Respiratory Problems

Respiratory diseases adversely affect your cat’s ability to breathe and smell causing it to lose appetite and stop eating. These diseases can clog the cat’s nose and eyes with excessive discharge making it difficult for the cat to see and smell.

Respiratory diseases on the lower section of the cat’s respiratory tract can affect the lungs and result in breathing difficulties.

Fortunately, most respiratory problems can be solved with simple antibiotics. However, some cases can be severe and life-threatening such as cancer.

Whichever the case, if you notice your cat is unable to smell its food and unable to eat, your best option is to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Ingestion of Foreign Bodies

Some cats have a habit of nibbling and eating everything they come across. These foreign bodies may get stuck or develop hairballs in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract causing an obstruction. The obstruction blocks food from passing through the digestive tract and makes your cat vomit or develop diarrhea and loss of appetite.

Like with every other health problem, consult your veterinarian if you suspect your cat isn’t eating because of foreign bodies stuck in its intestines.

Dental Problems

Cats also suffer from dental diseases and other problems. Painful teeth and diseased gums are quite uncomfortable for the cat and will make it not want to eat anything.

Dental problems in cats can be caused by fractured teeth, gum inflammation, lesions on the teeth, dental abscess, injury, and any other issues that can result in mouth pain.

Just like you and I, your cat won’t eat anything when its mouth hurts. However, dental problems aren’t easy to diagnose in a cat unless it has been sedated. This is why you should consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your cat is not eating because of dental issues.

Recent Vaccination

Your cat can also lose appetite shortly after undergoing a routine vaccination. The loss of appetite is usually due to an adverse reaction to the works in shots.

Vaccines have over the years saved millions of animal lives but they do come with side effects in some animals. One of the most common side effects of vaccines especially in cats and dogs is loss of appetite.

The good news is that this is usually a temporary or mild issue that will soon go away.

Food Problems That Result in Your Cat’s Loss of Appetite

There are several food-related issues that could be the reason why your cat is not eating.

These include the following:

Food Flavor

Cats are sometimes quite specific about the food they eat. For instance, some cats will willingly eat a specific flavor of food for a long time and then suddenly decide not to eat that flavor anymore.

young cat eating food from kitchen plate. focus on cat

This habit is purely a matter of preference although there are cases when the manufacturer of the cat food changes flavors without indicating the changes in the packaging.

Food Shape or Texture

Cats are naturally curious and sensitive to certain texture and shape of food. If you’ve been feeding your cat food that comes in triangle shapes, you may notice that the cat is not eating well when you switch it to round-shaped food. There are also other cats that only eat canned or hard food.

Expired or Spoilt Food

Another food-related why your cat is not eating could simply be that you’re feeding it expired food. Cats are naturally sensitive to the smell and taste of food.

Feed them expired food and then only give it a sniff to check if it smells rancid before walking away.

Psychological Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating

There are other psychological reasons why your cat is not eating as it used to. Psychological reasons include the following:

Travel

Cats are creatures of habit just like most people. Changes in the familiar environment or routine often lead to a loss of appetite.

And just like humans, cats also experience motion sickness while traveling by plane or car, which organ causes nausea and loss of appetite.

Unfamiliar Environment

If your cat isn’t happy with its new surroundings, they can be quite stubborn and even go on brief hunger strikes as a response to environmental stressors.

For example, the presence of guests in your home can easily send your cat into a temporary hunger strike but this shouldn’t be a cause for worry because the cat will soon be eating again in no time.

Other changes that affect your cat’s eating habits include the introduction of a new pet in the home and moving to a new home or to different climatic conditions.

Anxiety, Depression, and General Finickiness

If your cat is not eating and the veterinarian has determined that it’s not physically sick, then your cat is probably having depression or anxiety issues that have made it lose its appetite.

Some cats are quite sensitive to changes, new people, new pets, and general weather conditions. Your cat could just be finicky and a choosy eater.

Just remember that if the cat is in perfect health and not eating, it could be because it’s taking time to adjust to new food or surroundings and will soon be eating as usual again.

What to Do When Your Cat Is Not Eating

You’ll need to do something when your cat is not eating depending on the reason or cause for the loss of appetite.

Here are a few things you can do to make it start eating again:

Use Saline Drops

If the reason is an upper respiratory disease leading to blockage or congestion and an inability to smell food, you can help the cat clear its nasal passages by putting saline drops in its nostrils and taking it to a steamy bathroom.

This is a temporary remedy that will clear the nasal discharge, make the cat breathe more easily, and smell its food. You should then seriously consider taking the cat to a vet for treatment.

Heat the Food

You can also heat the food to make it more attractive and palatable for your cat. Canned cat food or tuna can easily be warmed within a few seconds in your microwave.

Change Food Flavor

Try to change the flavor, shape, and texture of your cat’s food every now and then to make it familiar with different tastes and shapes of food. You can always check for information about the flavor on the food packaging.

Also, check if the flavor of your favorite cat food has recently been changed and find a different brand with the same flavor if your cat doesn’t like the new flavor.

Vitamin B12 Oral Supplements

Give the cat Vitamin B12 oral supplements and other appetite-enhancing food such as kitten food, chicken, and tuna to rejuvenate its appetite.

Consult with a Vet

Most importantly, have your cat checked by a veterinarian if you suspect a serious health condition such as GI blockage by foreign bodies, dental disease, or severe respiratory problem to avoid bigger complications such as hepatic lipidosis and cancer.

Conclusion

Now that you know some of the health, behavioral, and food-related reasons why your cat is not eating and what to do to get your cat eating again, you should be in a position to help your feline friend recover from a loss of appetite at any time.

However, as a rule of thumb, always call your veterinarian any time you are in doubt as to what’s causing your cat not to eat. The vet will advise you on how you can stimulate your cat’s appetite and keep it in perfect health.

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