8 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating

cat by its food bowl

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

A cat that suddenly decides to stop eating is often a sign of a more serious problem. It's not usually because a cat just doesn't want a certain treat anymore. If your cat isn't eating and has skipped several meals, or gone a few days without food, you should take action. 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

Your cat might not like the food you're offering, but lack of appetite is often a symptom of an underlying issue. Your cat may stop eating if there's something stuck in its stomach or intestines or if it isn't feeling well because of an underlying disease or infection. Or, your cat might not like the food you're offering. Your cat's lack of eating can also be a symptom of 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 into energy. An excess of fat accumulates in the liver, leading to impaired liver function. The liver is a critical organ and if it's not working effectively, your cat can develop weakness, lethargy, and jaundice 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 leading 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 caused by bacterial or viral infection that require basic care or they might be as complicated as cancer. Regardless of the severity of the respiratory issue, if the disease keeps your cat from being able to breathe easily or 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 or may swallow hairballs, all of which may become stuck in the stomach or intestines. A foreign body stuck in your cat's gastrointestinal tract is referred to as a gastrointestinal obstruction, or GI obstruction. A GI obstruction won't let food pass through the digestive tract and therefore your cat may vomit and most likely stop eating. Some foreign bodies can pass through your cat's system and may cause temporary GI upset or lack of appetite, but others may require surgery to be removed.

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, develop inflammation of 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. A cat may eat one flavor of the same brand, but completely reject a new flavor due to preference. A sudden rejection of food may occur if food manufacturers change flavors and ingredients without any obvious signs on the packaging—your cat may 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.

Tip

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.

How to Get Your Cat to Eat

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.

Depending on the reason why your cat has stopped eating, you may be able to coax your kitty to start eating again. However, it’s not normal for a cat to stop eating if their food has not changed, so a trip to your veterinarian is recommended to rule out medical reasons. 

  • If an upper respiratory disease has caused your cat to be congested and unable to smell its food, your vet may recommend at-home treatment to help clear your cat’s nasal passages. This may involve nebulizing your cat in a steamy bathroom or placing 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. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before offering a home-cooked diet to ensure that it is properly prepared and not lacking essential nutrients. 
  • 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.

Tip

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.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

Watch Now: How to Know If Your Cat Is Sick

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hepatic LipidosisCornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020

  2. Respiratory InfectionsCornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020

  3. The Danger Of HairballsCornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020

  4. Feline Dental DiseaseCornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020