What Should I Do If My Cat Won’t Eat?
Every feline is different, but most cat owners will report that their kitty can be picky, especially about their food. Cats’ appetites are as varied as cats themselves, and many pet owners have found themselves flummoxed as to why, all of a sudden, their cat refuses to eat.
Whether your cat will only eat treats or your cat stopped eating altogether, this is an important issue that needs to be addressed. To know how to help with your cat’s decreased appetite, you’ll need to understand why they aren’t eating, what their refusal to eat might mean, how to encourage them to eat again, and when to enlist medical help.
Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating?
If your cat goes more than 24 hours without touching its food bowl, that’s probably a sign that something is wrong. There are plenty of reasons why cats might stop eating, but here are the most common:
- A change in lifestyle or environment
- Stress or emotional issues
- As a response to a new food
- Tooth pain or discomfort
- Underlying health conditions
Dramatic Changes Can Cause Decreased Appetite
Cats are sensitive creatures, and changes in their surroundings might cause them to stop eating. If you’ve moved to a new house, changed the furniture arrangement, or introduced a new family member, your cat might take a break from its typical eating schedule. Some of the changes that might be stressing out your cat will be easy to fix – such as putting their cat tower back where it used to be. Others, like a new baby in the house, will just require some adjustment on your cat’s end and maybe a little extra TLC from you.
Stress or Emotional Issues Might Be the Culprit
Cats can sometimes suffer from mental health issues and these conditions have a serious effect on appetite. Your cat might be skipping meals or avoiding the kibble bowl because of stress.
If your cat is stressed out, they will likely show you in other ways besides avoiding their food. You might notice changes in their litter box habits or sleep habits, or even aggressive behavior, hiding, or pacing. Figuring out why your cat is suffering from stress or a cat's moodiness might take some detective work, but once you know, you can adjust your cat’s lifestyle to get them back to their regular diet.
Did You Change Your Cat’s Food?
This might seem obvious, but sometimes pet owners will grab a new brand, flavor, or style of cat food and think their feline won’t notice. If you’ve changed the type of food you usually give your cat, they might be telling you that they don’t like it by only eating their treats. Alternatively, your trusty brand that Fluffy has always loved might have changed up their recipe. Check the ingredient list or call the pet food company to find out.
Tooth Pain or Discomfort Can Cause Your Cat to Stop Eating
One of the most common reasons for a cat’s decreased appetite actually has nothing to do with their hunger level. Some cats might avoid their food because their mouth hurts and their food is hard to chew. Tooth and gum discomfort is very common in cats and this problem can often be solved by changing out their diet to soft, wet food and tender snack chews. Cats are masters at hiding pain, so be sure to have their teeth checked regularly during veterinary visits.
Refusal to Eat Might Be Because of Underlying Health Conditions
Of course, when a cat refuses to eat, it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying and more serious health condition. This could include kidney issues, which are common in felines, or even gastrointestinal issues. Gastrointestinal issues like obstruction of the urinary tract or intestine, pancreatitis, and parasites are often accompanied by other symptoms beyond just decreased appetites, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. Any of these symptoms require an immediate visit to the vet.
What To Do If Your Cat Refuses to Eat
If your cat skips a couple of meals, here are some next steps to take:
- Visit the veterinarian for peace of mind
- Try an appetite stimulant
- Switch out cat foods
- Make sure the food is fresh
Rule Out Illness
The easiest way to ensure your cat’s decreased appetite isn’t a sign of something more serious is with a visit to the veterinarian. Give your trusted veterinarian a call and they might suggest you try some other strategies before bringing your cat in for a checkup. Or, they might tell you to come in right away. Your veterinarian has valuable insight into your cat’s medical history that will help them make an informed decision about how to proceed if your cat refuses to eat.
Ruling out underlying health conditions will be key if your cat continues to refuse their food. Never, ever try to force your cat to eat food they don’t like in a battle of wills. Your cat needs daily nutrition, and it’s up to you as their owner to make sure they get it. And unlike dogs, who can go a bit longer without eating, cats that don’t eat can quickly develop serious, life-threatening conditions.
Try an Appetite Stimulant
Sometimes your cat can be encouraged to eat their food when you remind them how tasty food is! It might be time to break out some special, appetite-stimulating snacks like cooked eggs, liver, or canned tuna. You might also consider mixing in an onion-free broth or fish oil to your cat’s food to make it more appealing.
You don’t want your cat to rely on these foods entirely, but these items have been known to stimulate a cat’s appetite. This might get things back on track and encourage your cat to return to its regular diet.
Try a New Cat Food
Especially if your cat’s refusal to eat is because of dental problems, it might be time to try a new brand of cat food. Some veterinarians even recommend changing up your cat’s brand or type of food a couple of times a year for nutritional variety and to keep things interesting for your feline. Usually, transitioning to a new food should be done slowly and methodically. But if your cat stopped eating entirely, and they are inspired to eat again with a new brand or style of food, just go ahead and make the switch.
Keep in mind that it’s not a simple matter of dry food versus wet food for cats. There are a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, and flavors within each of these categories. You might need to offer your cat kibble with smaller pieces, or a food with a different flavor profile. It may take some trial and error to find out what your cat wants to eat, but that’s part of caring for your beloved and finicky pet!
Keep Food Fresh
If your cat refuses a meal, don’t let it sit out for too long. Cats don’t like stale food and they want their meals – especially wet ones – to be fresh. You might be able to mix up a dish of kibble from the morning with some fresh, wet food that evening to make it more appealing, but don’t do this more than once. If your cat refuses to eat a meal, that meal might just have to go in the trash – especially if it’s wet food and not shelf-stable, dry kibble.
Make Sure Your Cat Has Plenty of Water
Dehydration can cause your cat to experience decreased appetite. It’s very important that your cat has constant access to fresh, clean water. Keeping your cat well-hydrated is an important part of their overall health and their eating habits. If you have one of those feisty felines that love drinking from your sink faucet, consider a pet water fountain that keeps the water flowing and your kitty happy!
Keep Your Kitty’s Diet on Track
Even the most laid-back cats will have times when they’re picky about food. It can be really upsetting when your cat refuses to eat. If your cat stops eating completely, it’s vital to seek veterinary care immediately to figure out the issue and get your pet’s diet back on track. Once you know why your furry friend is refusing food, you can help them get back to a healthy, wholesome diet that will keep them happy and active.