Help! My cat isn't eating
A cat that is a fussy eater or likes to pick or play with their food is very different to a cat who normally loves their food and has stopped eating. Is it possible that your cat is finding food somewhere else, or perhaps they are being fed by a neighbour? You can try our suggestions below to tempt fussy cats to eat. However, a cat that suddenly stops eating can be an indication of a serious health concern. Anorexia is the term used to describe a decreased appetite, or a complete loss of appetite.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced, UK registered vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
✓ Included free as part of many pet insurance policies
✓ Help, treatment and if you need it, a referral to your local vet
✓ Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
How can you tell if your cat is not eating?
If you have more than one cat, it might be hard to know which cat is not eating. Here are some signs to look for:
- Energy/activity changes - quieter, sleeping more etc
- Yellow tinge to their skin colour, eyes or lips (jaundice)
- Vocalising during or after eating (hissing/crying)
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Weight loss
Reasons why your cat might not be eating
- Running a temperature (pyrexia): this is quite common, especially in cats that have been fighting
- Respiratory disease: cats like to smell their food before they eat it
- Dental disease
- Change of food
- Nausea or other gastrointestinal issues, such as intestinal blockage
- Kidney disease
- Other diseases: for example, pancreatitis, liver disease, heart failure, or cancer
What your vet might recommend if your cat is not eating
- A complete examination will enable any clinical abnormalities to be identified.
- Your vet will check your cat’s mouth, listen to their heart and lungs, examine their stomach and take their temperature.
- Blood tests may be recommended to check your cat’s liver and kidney function, and red and white blood cell count.
- Additional blood tests may be needed to check for any infectious diseases. For example, FeLV, FIV or other diseases, such as pancreatitis.
How is anorexia treated?
Treatment will depend on the cause of anorexia. It is important to ensure that your cat does not go without food for more than 24-48 hours. Prolonged starvation and the resulting negative energy balance can cause liver failure. When this happens it is called hepatic lipidosis (known as fatty liver disease). This is most common in overweight cats who experience acute starvation. When this happens the body tries to utilize its fat reserves as a source of energy, however, cats are not designed to process large fat deposits. The fat is therefore stored in liver cells instead and stops them working. This results in a poorly functioning liver. The liver becomes inflamed and the condition becomes life-threatening.
How can you encourage your cat to eat?
Cats like to smell what they are eating. Try and encourage them to eat their favourite food. It may help to warm wet food as it can lose its aroma when kept in the fridge; room temperature should be sufficient.
Here are some other more feeding tips:
- Use strong smelling foods: sardines or mackerel in tomato sauce, tuna in spring water or warm chicken breast.
- Make a broth to put on their food or use a specialised cat soup.
- Cats enjoy peace and quiet at dinner time, which may give them confidence to eat.
- Make sure your cat's bowl is cleaned after each use to encourage them to eat and protect them from bacteria, but ensure that it does not smell of washing-up liquid.
- Use glass or ceramic bowls for water and feed bowls. The plastic ones can have an unpleasant smell and taste to cats.
- Keep food and water bowls separate and place multiple water bowls down around the house. Do not put them near litter trays or in busy household areas.
- Some cats prefer eating on a high surface. For older cats with mobility problems, simply raising the bowl on a step or block to allow them to eat standing ensures they do not have to crouch or bend at meal times.
- Use shallow bowls because cats like to be able to see around them when they are eating and drinking. They also prefer their whiskers not to touch the sides of the bowl. A saucer is perfect as it allows cats to access the dish from any angle.
- Place food and water bowls out of the line of sight of other cats, even cats that are outside. Some cats find it stressful to eat or drink in front of a window where other cats might be watching them. If cats are feeling under the weather, this can become a problem.
When to see your physical veterinarian
- Seek help at your nearest veterinary clinic if your cat has not eaten for more than 12 to 18 hours, even if they do not appear to be unwell.
Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.