Why is my cat not eating

It can be a worrying time when your cat or kitten shows signs of a loss of appetite. Though cats are not generally as interested in food as their canine counterparts, your feline friend ought to be eating every day in order to stay well fed and healthy. Whilst cats can develop new tastes over time and may suddenly decide that they no longer like their favourite treat or food flavour, not eating anything for an extended period of time is not a good sign. There can be numerous reasons why your cat may have developed a loss of appetite, or anorexia as it is medically known.

When to worry

As has been stated, cats can develop new tastes over time, so, when should you be worried about your cat not eating? Cats can go without food for a few days, but the effects of not eating can have negative consequences for them within 24 hours. Lethargy and physical weakness caused by not eating can lower a cat’s immune response and make them more vulnerable to disease and infection. Additionally, if your cat continues to not eat, loss of appetite itself will eventually be fatal.

If your cat decides that a new treat or an old favourite meal is no longer for them, but they are happy to dig into something else you’re offering, then it is still worth mentioning to your vet, just in case. However, if your cat is refusing any food at all, or has significantly dropped their food intake, then a trip to the vets is in order- loss of appetite is unlikely to rectify itself without an action to help.

Could it be stress?

Yes- your cat could be stressed. And not just feeling a little bit ‘stressed’- your cat could be suffering from medically diagnosed stress, the same way some humans do. Often, a big change in a cat’s life might cause them to develop stress, such as a new person in the home (another pet, a baby, a new partner etc.), moving to a new house or a significant change in their lifestyle. Stress in cats can present in many different and worrying ways, one of which can be a loss of appetite. If you are concerned that your cat is showing any symptoms of a change in behaviour or apparent sickness, then you should contact your vet immediately. If your cat has experienced any recent significant changes in their life, then this may be worth mentioning to your vet as it may help with a stress diagnosis.

What else could be causing decreased appetite?

There are many things which could be causing your cat’s loss of appetite and a vet should be able to deduce what the problem is during an appointment. However, you can help your cat get their diagnosis by watching out for signs and symptoms yourself. There are two categories that cats can fall into when they show a decrease of appetite- cats that can’t eat and cats that won’t eat.

Cats that can’t eat

It may be that your cat wants to eat but is simply struggling to do so. Such cats may persistently try and eat but be unable to keep their food down or to swallow it at all. Reasons that your cat may be incapable of eating can include the following-

  • Facial/head injury – traumas to the face/head of a cat can prevent them from being able to eat food properly or at all. Cats suffering from injuries such as a broken or fractured jaw will struggle to chew their food and find it painful to even try, which could lead to them not eating. Additionally, an allergic reaction to a bite or sting in the facial/mouth area may cause uncomfortable swelling or pain in the area and this may cause your cat to have difficulty eating.
  • Dental/mouth problems – if your cat has a lost or broken tooth they may struggle to eat. Such wounds can also become infected and make the task of eating even more difficult for your cat. Dental diseases and other such infections which affect the mouth, such as feline chronic gingivostomatitis, can also cause major problems for cats. Cuts and scrapes inside your cat’s mouth could also be the culprit for why their appetite has suddenly decreased.
  • Stomach issues – it may be that your cat can eat, chew, and swallow but simply can’t keep their food down. Vomiting can be a sign of many things in a cat, including irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies or even contaminated or mouldy food. It is also possible that your cat may have a foreign object blocking their food from entering the stomach or passing through it.

If you think that your cat may be suffering from a loss of appetite but simply can’t eat then this might be worth mentioning to your vet. It may help them to narrow down the issue and find a more effective treatment for the specific needs of your cat.

It can also be important to note if your cat has significantly changed the way in which they eat. If, for example, you have noticed that your cat is only chewing on one side of its mouth or has switched to only eating soft foodstuffs then this could be useful information for your vet.

Cats that won’t eat

If your cat is simply refusing to eat, then this can cause a lot of worry. There are many, many reasons as to why this may be the case, ranging from physical to psychological. Some of the most common include the following-

  • Infectious diseases – infectious diseases in cats, such as the feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV, if left untreated, can commonly cause a loss of appetite in cats. Diseases like this are usually transferred via shared bodily fluids and can be spread between cats during fights, where deep bite wounds can transfer infected saliva into the bloodstream of the other cat. If you know your cat to have FIV, or any other infectious disease, then it is important to get them treated by a vet as a matter of urgency. Only effective treatment of the underlying issue will have your cat eating happily again.
  • Metabolic disorders – e.g. renal disease or kidney disease. These, again, are issues which need to be checked out by a vet. Treatment options are available for such health problems in cats and your furry friend should be able to eat again once their underlying disorder has been stabilised.
  • Respiratory infections – just like in humans, infections such as a cold or flu can cause a loss in sense of smell and taste. They can also just leave your cat feeling a bit rough in general. All these things may cause your cat to lose interest in their food or simply to not be able to smell and seek it out.
  • Other issues – if none of the above is sounding quite right then there are other things that it could be. Cats can suffer from stress, as mentioned above, and they can experience negative reactions to new medications or simply have a change in their food preferences. However, it is always best to ensure that you get a thorough check over for your cat from the vet, as loss of appetite can also be one of many symptoms associated with cancer, tumours, and other dangerous conditions in cats.

What will happen if my cat continues to not eat?

Not eating in itself is not an illness. Loss of appetite in cats is usually just one symptom of another problem. However, if your cat continues to not eat, then more negative consequences may occur-

  • Tiredness and lethargy – if your cat does not eat then it won’t be able to get the energy it needs from food. Just as with humans, this will, if left untreated, eventually be fatal.
  • Weakened immune system – lack of food makes it much easier for infection to occur and the body will struggle to fight it off.
  • Organ damage/failure – if your cat cannot get the nutrients and energy it needs from food then its organ will not be able to do their jobs effectively and may even begin to shut down.

So, what can you do to help encourage your cat to eat?

Depending on the cause of your cat’s loss of appetite, the ways in which you can help will differ. Of course, the most effective way to get your cat feeling like themselves again is to get treatment for the underlying health issue that is causing their loss of appetite. But you can also help along the way.

Your vet will be able to recommend to you the best way to care for your cat. For infections and diseases you may be given antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antiemetics, or some other medicine for your cat. If your cat is suffering from a cold, flu, or other respiratory infection which is handicapping their senses of smell and taste you can try and help by offering them foodstuffs with strong flavours, such as tuna.

If your cat is stressed you can help to reduce their stress by creating safe spaces for them in your home, such as a basket or high up ledge so that they can retreat if they wish to. Additionally, you can use remedies at home to help with stress, such as tranquillity drops or probiotics to help sooth digestive upset.

Quick tips

Other simple ways to try and encourage your cat to eat whilst they recover include:

  • Trying out some new food- different brands of canned food can sometimes be irresistible to cats and the new flavours may encourage your cat to try them
  • Making sure eating is a pleasant experience- try and feed your cat in a stress free environment- a quiet corner of the home is ideal
  • Try hand feeding- if you know that your cat feels happy and safe with human hands then hand feeding may encourage your cat to eat
  • Praise your cat for eating- petting your cat in the way that they like can help them to feel more relaxed and happier to try eating

Ultimately, it is always best to get your cat checked out by your vet if you are concerned that they have changed any aspect of their behaviour. Following your vet’s advice is always the best course of action for both you and your feline friend. Whilst there are many things you can do to try and help your cat to heal at home, if your cat does not improve then you should make another trip to the vet. Cats of any age, including kittens, can suffer from a loss of appetite due to any of the reasons mentioned, so any concern is always best to follow up on.