Miles, our half-deaf kitty will start pawing at us two hours before his appointed time to eat. His stomach growls louder than his purr. And he plays a courting game, which consists of bumping noses, and rubbing his face, until we feed him.
Meanwhile, Persephone watches from a distance as we plop wet food into her bowl. She yawns, blinks once or twice, and slips back to sleep. We ask ourselves, “why is my cat not eating,” but eating isn’t happening until she’s ready.
Many cats are like Persephone. They eat according to their own rhythm.
However, we can’t assume our cats will eat when we’re not looking. Because, unlike dogs, they might not eat.
In the off chance that a cat’s not munching chow we have to figure out what’s causing their lack of appetite.
Cat anorexia: when your cat just won’t eat?
Cats can be anorexic. It’s not the same as anorexia nervosa in humans. Cat anorexia means that a cat’s appetite has been significantly decreased.
It comes in multiple forms:
Pseudo anorexia is when your cat can’t eat due to some physical issue. Their teeth might hurt, so that they can’t swallow; or, they may not be able to chew. If your cat can’t eat for more than 2 days then you need to take them to the vet.
And true anorexia is when a cat refuses to eat.
Cats that don’t eat may develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis. It’s when fat gets into the liver, which can lead to liver failure and eventually death. Overweight cats are not immune either. In fact, they’re at the highest risk of developing hepatic lipidosis.
It is paramount that you seek help for your cat if they stop eating abruptly.
“He’ll eat when he’s hungry.”
In many ways cats are like young children. They can be stubborn, and impetuous, and picky beyond all belief.
But one way they’re different, they don’t give in to hunger as readily, no matter how often you lock eye contact and say, “You’ll eat when you’re hungry.”
If your cat refuses to eat for more than two days she might have an underlying health issue. Take it seriously. And take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible if it persists.
Don’t play games with your cat’s health!
So, now let’s dive into what could be causing your cats seemingly moody appetite. We’re starting with medical conditions first and then we’ll explore some other causes.
What Causes a Cat to stop Eating?
Underlying Health Problems Preventing Your Cat from Eating
If your cat refuses to eat it may be a sign that he has an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed ASAP.
If you’ve ever Google’d a health problem before you know there’s an endless list of possible diagnoses. Billions. Which is why it’s important to consult a veterinarian before drawing your own conclusions.
But for the sake of being thorough, here are a few possible causes:
- intestinal problems
- kidney failure
- adverse reaction to medication
- kidney disease
- immune system imbalance
Even a toothache might stop your cat from eating. I know when I had my wisdom teeth out food was not at the top of my priority list. Your cat may be negotiating similar pain.
Non-Disease Reasons your Cat won’t eat
But it’s not all disease that might be messing with your cat’s appetite. Sometimes changes in a cat’s environment can suppress their belly’s desire. You yourself might be able to relate; I know I can.
So let’s delve into some other causes for cat’s refusing to eat before we frantically scan CatWebMD for answers.
A recent vaccination might have sapped your cat’s appetite. That means your cat is having a negative reaction to the shot.
Protecting your cat from harmful infections is a small trade off for a loss of appetite, which is one of the most common side effects. Keep them away from carpet though. They may become nauseous.
If the lack of appetitie persists you should, of course, seek a vet. (We’re going to end up saying that a lot.)
Moving apartments freaked out Persephone. It was as if we shattered her universe. Even though the furniture and layout were virtually the same.
Her routine had been thrown out of whack.
And so for the first day or two she ignored her food, and then nibbled at it curiously—and then finally ate a normal portion (for her at least).
Heading somewhere by car or plane (or even train) with your feline? Well, if they’re not eating while you’re on the road, your cat may have motion sickness.
Yes, even cats can be motion sick.
There’s no barf bags for them though. So I hope you’re not wearing your Sunday best.
Introducing a new Cat
When we introduced Miles into our home, Persephone (always our troublemaker for care) decided to stop eating. It was her hunger strike, her philosophical protest for our daring to allow another feline to bask in her territory.
Her insistence only lasted a couple days, about as long as her curiosity. Then the days returned to normal. Persephone went back to displaying her typical birdish behavior.
Maybe her protest never really ended…
How do you Prevent your Cat from Becoming a Finicky Eater?
Oftentimes it’s our fault as caretakers. We turn our cats into finicky eaters. How?
- When we switch our cat’s food after feeding them the same brand for years.
- When we add table scraps or other morsels to our cat’s food bowl.
Cats are smart. If they think refusing their food will reward them with something tastier they’ll refuse to eat.
To prevent their cunning feed them a variety of foods. That can mean using different brands. Or, giving them different flavors.
What do cats look for in their food?
Cats are like us. They eat with their eyes as much as they do with their tongues—and nose.
They can get stuck on shapes. They might refuse to eat dry food in the shape of a triangle but gulp down a bowl of circular-shaped kibble.
There’s a little bit of Euclid in every cat.
What do you do if your Cat Refuses to eat?
Okay, let’s rule out the first possibility. If your cat is suffering from a condition or illness then you need to work with your vet to devise a plan that will best suit them. And stick to it!
Your veterinarian will help you come up with the best possible strategy. Or, hand you some stimulants to give to your cat to boost their appetite.
In the case that a condition isn’t responsible for your cat’s refusal to eat…
Have you been feeding your cat human food? Exclusively? And now you need them to eat cat food. Don’t make the transition immediately.
Gradually mix cat food with whatever people food you’ve been feeding your cat. By slowly adjusting the ratio over time you should be able to transition your cat to cat food.
If there are certain foods that send your cat scurrying to purr beneath your knees, like tuna or liver, then it might be a good idea to use these foods as stimulants. Perk up your kitty’s appetite by cracking that can of salt-free tuna. Give them a little, either on its own or mix it with cat food as mentioned above.
The idea is to get their stomach yearning to eat.
Give That Cat Food a Little Heat
Maybe your cat just doesn’t like cold food. And if you’ve been storing canned food in the refrigerator it’s certainly going to be a bit chilled.
Try heating up the cat food in the microwave. About 10 seconds will do the trick (although it will depend on your microwave’s wattage).
Infusing that food with some heat will release all those delicious cat food smells. The ones that linger in the kitchen long after your kitty’s finished their meal. That may just pop your cat up from their palace, summoning them to eat.
If the microwave isn’t cutting it you could also try adding warm water to cold food. Stir it up to chase away the cold and give your cats some water to keep them hydrated.
Maintain Good Bowl Hygiene
This one is entirely on you.
I hope you clean your cat’s bowl after they’ve finished eating (especially wet food). If not, now’s the time to start.
Nobody, cats or people, wants to eat off of dirty dishes.
Instinctually, cats will avoid the putrid smell of leftover food. And for good reason.
If you forget to clean you end up creating a mini-ecosystem for germs and bacteria to multiply.
Pro-tip: if you’re currently using plastic bowls trying switching them to ceramic, even metal. The latter materials are far easier to clean and keep in a healthy condition than plastic.
Try a New Bowl Shape
We all have aesthetic preferences. Some people like Bach; some people like Tame Impala. And some cats like to eat off of plates; others like to eat from deep bowls.
If you’re cat isn’t eating they may not like the experience of eating because of the bowl the food is in. Some cats with long whiskers don’t like to eat out of deep bowls: their whiskers end up grazing the side of the bowl. In that case a dish, or narrow bowl might work better.
Don’t constrict your kitty’s whiskers!
Do NOT hide Medication in your cat’s food.
Trying to hide medication in your cat’s food is likely to backfire. Especially if you grind up a pill, or some other form of medicine, and pour it into the food.
If you’ve ever tasted ground medicine (which I don’t recommend) it is unbearably bitter. And your cat agrees. If you keep trying to pair medication with your cat’s food they may associate the food with the bitter flavor.
Unless you’re vet recommends powdering a pill into your cat’s food it’s probably not the best course of action.
Wrapping up the Leftovers
What I’ve learned about my own picky eater is simply to pay attention. We have a fixed feeding schedule for our kitties and try to make sure that they’re actually eating their food—and that Miles isn’t eating all of Persephone’s food (which is also why we give them separate spaces to eat).
Noticing what Persephone likes has helped us figure out how to stir up her appetite. Typically a pinch of tuna will do it. Or, adding more water to her bowl.
When a cat won’t eat it can be frustrating. And if their appetite changes out of nowhere be sure to pay extra attention to make sure that there aren’t any underlying issues that might be adversely affecting your cat.