Why Won't My Cat Eat?

Answers: Why Won't My Cat Eat?

I have a ten-year-old cat who seems to be very healthy. But, just yesterday she refused her food. What can cause a cat to lose her appetite? Should I be worried that there's a problem?
 
A cat may choose not to eat for many different reasons: nausea, pain, a mechanical obstruction, an inability to smell the food, a foreign substance such as a medication or a supplement in the food, a sudden change of diet or the cat is focused on another physiologic process, such as breathing.
 
Nausea can have many different causes. This can include if your cat ate something such as toilet paper or spoiled food, or it may indicate a potentially life threatening inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis. In most cases nausea is accompanied by drooling or vomiting. If your cat is not eating and drooling or vomiting you should seek veterinary care as soon as you are able, to determine and treat the cause. Antibiotics and other medications given to cats can upset their stomach and cause loss of appetite.
 
Pain can cause your cat to refrain from eating. It could be mouth pain from diseased teeth, stomach pain from an ulcer or tumor, or intestinal pain from an ulcer or tumor, but also possibly from an obstruction. Signs of pain typically include abnormal posture as in an arched back and a constant shifting of position. The cat may also bite at or look at the abdomen or the painful area. Signs of mouth pain include drooling, pawing at the mouth or rubbing of the mouth against things. In the case of dental problems you may also see some blood from the mouth or even find broken teeth. This happened with one of my own cats who hid his pain for months before I finally detected it.
 
A mechanical obstruction can be a serious and life threatening condition. It may or may not be accompanied by pain. However, if your cat vomits multiple times, especially if it is consistently after eating, then he or she may have an obstruction and should be seen by a veterinarian who can examine and do some type of imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound, as soon as possible.
 
An inability to smell the food may cause your cat to turn away. If your cat has been experiencing nasal congestion he or she may not want to eat because they are unable to smell their food. Being able to smell the food is very important to cats. In this case, warming the food may help to increase the odor, so that your cat can smell it. Be careful not to cook raw food. You can warm the food by placing it in a plastic bag and then into a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
 
A foreign substance in the food can turn your cat off from eating. Many people think it is easier to just put medications or supplements in their cat's food because everyone knows how well cats take pills and medications. If you have been putting a medication or supplement in your cat's food and they stop wanting to eat, it may be a "learned aversion" due to them tasting the foreign substance. You will need to stop putting the substance in their food until they begin eating normally. Then, if you must put a medication or supplement in food you should put it in a separate portion from the main meal so that your cat does not develop a learned aversion again.
 
A sudden change in diet may be a reason that your cat won't eat. This may be especially true if you have changed the form of the diet from dry to canned or raw. If the cat was not raised eating that form of diet they may not immediately recognize it as food. In this case, a short 24 hour fast may make your cat hungry enough to try the new form of food. It is not recommended to purposely fast your cat for more than 24 hours.
 
A focus on another physiologic process can also cause your cat to not want to eat. I have seen feline patients who stop eating because they are more focused on breathing, which is more important for survival than eating. This can be very serious and requires veterinary care as soon as possible. There may be fluid in the chest due to a heart problem or other cause that will need to be addressed.
 
What can you do to get your cat to eat? There are a few things that you can try to help tempt your kitty.
 
Bone broth is a very nutritious, gut-healing broth made from simmering of bones with very little meat. You may use the instructions for making meat or fish stock in Lyn Thomson's IBD article or you may find premade bone broth by The Honest Kitchen at many pet specialty retailers.
 
Fish or very odorous food can sometimes tempt your kitty, especially if congestion is the reason for the loss of appetite. Bonito flakes can be sprinkled on the food or fish oil can be dribbled on it to add some fish odor.
 
Natural remedies may help in certain cases. We recommend that you consult with a holistic veterinarian for specific remedies and advice.
 
In multi-cat households it is important to verify that all cats are eating regularly. For this reason cats should be watched when fed and food should not merely be left and not monitored. This becomes even more important if one of the cats is vomiting or losing weight.
 
Hand feeding will tempt some cats into eating. Put a small bit of food on the tip of your finger and offer it to the cat. Eating a few morsels this way can sometimes get the cat started and they will then eat more on their own.
 
Bottom Line
 
Loss of appetite in cats, especially for more than 24-36 hours, can become very serious. Your cat should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible if they do not eat for 36 hours. If vomiting is also occurring they should be seen even sooner.
 
Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.
 
Dr. Elisa Katz, DVM, is a graduate of Ohio State University and is the owner of Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She practices holistic and integrative medicine focusing on proper diet and nutrition. Dr. Katz shares her home with four kitties and one dog.

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