8 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating

Cat laying on a kitchen floor
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It's common for a cat to suddenly decide it doesn't want to eat a certain food or treat anymore. But sometimes a cat stops eating for a more serious reason. You should be aware of the potential causes and concerns for a cat's food aversion. There may be things you can do at home to help your cat regain its appetite, but sometimes veterinary intervention is necessary.

Why It's a Problem If Your Cat Stops Eating

If your cat isn't feeling well, it may stop eating because there's something stuck in its stomach or intestines. Or, your cat might not like the food you're offering. Your cat's lack of eating can also be a symptom of a disease or problem that's causing pain or discomfort. Regardless of the reason, it's a major concern if your cat stops eating.

If you have an obese cat that's stopped eating, it can quickly develop hepatic lipidosis by going without food for a few days. This disease is often referred to as fatty liver disease or fatty liver syndrome and it can be fatal if left untreated. This is the main reason why it's so important to make sure your cat, especially if it's overweight, keeps eating. With fatty liver disease, the liver is overwhelmed trying to convert fat to energy. The excess fat that's stored around your cat's liver exacerbates the situation. The liver is a critical organ and if it's not working effectively, your cat can suffer without immediate treatment from your veterinarian.

Health Issues That Cause a Cat to Stop Eating

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory problems can affect your cat's sense of smell or ability to breathe and lead to a loss of appetite. Upper respiratory diseases may clog your cat's nose and eyes with discharge resulting in a temporary loss or restriction of sight and smell. Lower respiratory tract diseases may affect your cat's lungs causing it to have difficulty breathing. These respiratory issues may be able to be cleared up with some simple antibiotics or it might be as complicated as cancer. Regardless of the severity of the respiratory issue, If the disease keeps your cat from being able to smell its food, it may decide it doesn't want to eat.

Digestive System Diseases

Problems with your cat's stomach, intestines, pancreas, or other parts of its digestive system may cause it to stop eating. Your cat may also vomit and have diarrhea or abdominal pain alongside digestive issues. But usually, a decrease in appetite will be one of the first signs of a digestive system problem. Issues can range from acid reflux, tumors, an imbalance of intestinal bacteria, parasites, irritable bowel disease, and other problems.

Foreign Bodies

Some cats like to eat things that they shouldn't ingest or develop hairballs, all of which may become stuck in the stomach or intestines. A foreign body stuck in your cat is then referred to as an obstruction. An obstruction won't let food pass through the digestive tract and therefore your cat may vomit, then most likely stop eating. Some foreign bodies can pass through your cat's system, simply causing some vomiting and diarrhea, but also a lack of appetite.

Dental Disease

Diseased or painful teeth and gums can cause your cat to stop eating. Cats can fracture their teeth, develop resorptive lesions on their teeth, become inflamed on their gums, form dental abscesses, and experience other dental issues that cause mouth pain. Just like people, your cat may not want to eat if its mouth hurts. However, dental issues may be difficult to diagnose in a cat, and your veterinarian may need to sedate or anesthetize your pet in order to evaluate the problem.

Food Issues That Cause a Cat to Stop Eating

Food Flavor

Cats can be particular. Some will eat one flavor of food for months or years and then suddenly decide they don't want to eat it any longer. This is usually purely preference but sometimes food manufacturers change flavors and ingredients without any obvious signs on the packaging, and your cat will take notice and rebel.

Food Shape or Texture

Your cat can also be sensitive to certain shapes and textures when it comes to food. Some cats like triangle shapes, others like round shapes, and others will only eat crunchy dry food or canned wet food.

Food Spoilage

If you give your cat expired or spoiled food, it may not want to eat it. Check the expiration date on the food. Or, at the very least, give it a sniff to see if it smells rancid.

The Scoop on Dry Food

Did you know dry cat food can become stale or rancid? Vitamins and fats can erode if the food isn't properly stored. Keep food in its original bag for a good reason. The bag may have a special barrier to keep food fresher longer. To ensure the food's best freshness, put the original bag in a sealed container and place it in a cool, moisture-free environment.

Food Recall

If your cat has stopped eating its normal food, check to see if there's a recall on that particular food. It's another good reason why you should consider keeping your cat's dry food in its original bag so you can check the bar code. Sometimes a cat can sense that something is wrong with their food and won't eat it.

How to Get Your Cat to Eat

Depending on the reason why your cat has stopped eating, you may be able to coax your kitty to start eating again. However, the fastest way to find out if there's a medical reason for your cat's appetite problem is to have your pet checked out by your vet.

  • If an upper respiratory disease has caused your cat to be congested and unable to smell its food, help your pet clear its nasal passages. Take your cat into a steamy bathroom or if you can, put saline drops in its nostrils. This breaks up the nasal discharge and helps your cat breathe easily so it can once again smell its food.
  • Tweak your cat's wet food to entice it to eat again. Try heating up cold wet cat food or tuna for a few seconds in the microwave. Or, offer your cat canned kitten food, canned tuna, or canned chicken to whet your pet's appetite.
  • Experiment by choosing a different flavor, texture, or shape of food to feed your cat.
  • Make cat food from scratch. Your cat may prefer the fresher ingredients in a home-prepared recipe.
  • Check to see if the flavor of the food your cat has always eaten has recently changed its formula or ingredients. The information may be listed on the packaging as "new and improved flavor." Or, contact the food company and ask. You may need to find a new favorite food for your cat.

A Dose of Vitamins

Give your cat vitamin B12. This vitamin is often depleted in a cat with a digestive issue. There are over-the-counter, cat-specific oral forms as well as injections that your veterinarian may administer. It's a harmless, water-soluble vitamin that can potentially increase your cat's appetite.