Why is my cat not eating? 3 Common Causes of Anorexia in Cats
We all know cats can be “finicky” at times, and their antics always keep us on our toes! How do you know what is a normal behavior such as being a picky eater, versus a symptom that something may be wrong? Below we’ll dive into these common behaviors and discuss what important things you should know if your cat isn’t eating well!
What is anorexia?
Anorexia is when your pet has a decreased appetite or loss of desire to eat. Pets can also have problems that prevent them from eating (like a broken jaw, or severe dental disease) even though they desire to. This is referred to as pseudo-anorexia, as they actually DO have a strong appetite and desire to eat, but they are simply prevented from ingesting food due to their circumstances. Both anorexia and pseudo-anorexia cause decreased food to be consumed and can lead to malnutrition and other systemic problems, specifically in cats.
What causes anorexia in cats?
Anorexia in cats is, unfortunately, a very non-specific symptom. However, when it lasts for longer than 24 hours, anorexia can be an indicator of a potentially serious problem. Cats tend to hide illness, and the only symptom an owner may detect is a loss of appetite.
The 3 most common causes of meal-skipping in cats are:
- Stress - Disturbances in normal routines can have large effects on some cats. Traveling, new house members (or pets!), moving, or routine changes can cause enough stress that more sensitive felines will avoid their food for a brief time. This type of behavior is usually short-lived and resolves if given a quiet, safe place with food you know your pet likes.
- Lack of smell - Cats are driven to eat by the smell of food more so than taste. When their sense of smell has been affected for any number of reasons, this decreases their desire to eat, even if they feel fine otherwise.
- Diet change - Cats can be especially picky eaters, so if you’ve tried to switch diets and find your cat isn’t interested in the new food for 24 hours, make sure you allow access to a diet you know they do enjoy.
*A NOTE: If you’re switching your pet’s food for any reason, it’s best to transition slowly by adding the new diet in increasing amounts over 1-2 weeks. Abruptly changing diets can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
- Systemic infection - Systemic viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections can cause inappetence. A fever is a common cause of anorexia in cats, which can cause general lethargy as well. Often this is seen in cats who may have recently gotten in a fight and have an abscess or other infected wound.
- Dysfunction of organ systems such as pancreatitis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, or kidney disease
- Cancer - Numerous types of cancer can result in a pet who has a decreased or absent appetite. This is especially important in a pet that has been noted to lose weight despite eating well.
- Toxin/Poison exposure such as eating lilies
- Oral disease such as severe periodontal disease, oral tumor or dysfunction when chewing or swallowing
- Abdominal discomfort from illness or gastrointestinal blockage (foreign body or constipation)
- Musculoskeletal or nerve pain from an injury
I’m concerned my cat may be sick and isn’t eating. What should I do?
Seeking out veterinary care early in the course of your pet’s anorexia can improve the chances of having a positive outcome. If your adult cat hasn’t eaten in 18-24 hours, or a young kitten hasn’t eaten in 12 hours, contacting your vet is the appropriate next step.
Your vet will likely perform a thorough exam, including looking in your pet’s mouth, listening to their heart and lungs, feeling their abdomen for pain or discomfort, and taking a temperature. Depending on your vet’s exam findings and your cat’s history, a variety of tests may be recommended. Often these tests include a complete blood count (CBC), a blood chemistry, a urinalysis, a fecal analysis, or even more advanced testing such as x-rays or an ultrasound.
Therapy will likely be recommended to specifically address the underlying cause of your cat’s anorexia. The goal of treatment or supportive care options will be to help your pet return to a healthy state and regain normal eating habits as quickly as possible.
Why is quick intervention so important?
In cats, a condition called hepatic lipidosis can develop when they have been without food for as little as a few days. This is a life-threatening condition that causes liver failure. It occurs most commonly in obese and overweight anorexic cats, requiring aggressive supportive care and intervention. Quickly addressing any decrease in diet habits or appetite can minimize the risk of this condition and ultimately improve the recovery period for your pet. When in doubt, seek veterinary advice to ensure your pet receives the care they need to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.
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