Causes and Solutions for a Cat That Won’t Eat
By Lisa Smith
Unlike canines, cats seldom look up to their caregivers as the center of security and safety. They will cuddle, sleep or eat when they want. It is what we love about our feline companions. But it can also be a danger.
A cat could have an eating disorder, and the owner could easily mistake it for independence. But, that should not be the case for pet professionals. As a pet professional, you should notice a cat with an eating disorder and advise the owner or act appropriately.
Typical Eating Habits for Cats
Cats living in the wild can tell us a lot about what our pets at home like and what they do not like. For starters, all cats are obligate carnivores—they must eat meat. Most cats in the wild are also solitary animals. They will hunt solo and eat alone at undisturbed (often hidden) locations. Cats in the wild do not like sharing food with other cats. Only a mother cat would share food with her offspring. Cats also like to eat their prey while it is fresh. Thus, the temperature and moisture levels are crucial.
Our feline companions behave a lot like their cousins in the wild. Their eating habits are determined by instinct and learning. Domestic cats prefer their food to be:
- Familiar. (They enjoy eating what their mothers fed them when they were kittens.)
- Warm. (preferably at body temperature levels, mimicking the feel of a fresh hunt)
- Served in a quiet and often hidden location.
Cats also like to play with their food. It is a crucial enrichment activity that keeps them mentally alert.
The food quantity varies with the cat’s age. Kittens will eat more food per pound of bodyweight than adult cats. Concerning the frequency, kittens also eat more frequently than adult cats. However, as they cross the one-year mark (and are free of health issues), an adult cat can live comfortably with one feeding per day.
If a cat won’t eat, check if something is off the norm. If the food or feeding conditions are not what a cat likes, adjust accordingly or advise the owner. However, if the feeding routines and food quality are what the cat typically enjoys, the cat could have a deeper problem.
Why a Cat May Not Eat
A cat could stop eating due to health issues, psychological issues or changes in the environment. Some cats are just finicky or dislike the food.
Some of the health issues include:
- Respiratory diseases. These can cause difficulty in breathing or affect the cat’s sense of smell.
- Digestive system ailments. This can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, acid reflux and gut parasites such as worms, or more complex issues such as organ problems, tumors, deterioration of the cat’s gut flora, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions.
- Foreign objects. A cat can swallow inedible items like hairballs and bones which can obstruct the digestive canal and cause diarrhea and loss of appetite.
- Dental conditions. Those such as painful teeth and gums, fractured teeth, inflamed gums, teething discomfort and other dental issues can cause a cat to stop eating.
A cat can also abstain from eating due to psychological and food issues such as:
- Travel and changes in routine or surroundings. A shift of practice, change in surroundings or motion sickness can result in a loss of appetite.
- Stress and anxiety. Emotional stability can also affect the desire to eat. A recent loss in the family, depression or changes in the household could trigger the loss of appetite. A new family member or conflict with other pets can also cause the cat not to eat.
- Food issues. Flavor, shape, texture and freshness of the food can also cause a cat to lose its appetite. Cats love to eat what they were accustomed to when they were kittens. A cat that grew up on canned wet foods could have difficulty eating dry foods, so it is vital to introduce kittens to a variety of food from a young age.
When to Be Concerned
It is easy to tell a malnourished cat from one that is well-fed but occasionally misses a meal. Some prominent symptoms include severe weight loss, sustained poor appetite, lethargy, depression and anemia. Other signs include frequent diarrhea and vomiting. If a cat exhibits a combination of these symptoms, it should be checked by a vet. Cats need to continue eating, even if the animal is obese. If a cat goes for a prolonged period without eating, it could experience irreversible complications which could be fatal.
What to Do For a Cat That Won’t Eat
Treatment for loss of appetite in cats depends on the cause. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a vet. After examination, the vet could recommend medical interventions such as antibiotics, nausea medication, fluid therapy, surgery, a diet change or appetite boosters.
If the cat is healthy but won’t eat due to other reasons, these tips could help:
- Switch the flavor, texture or shape of the food. If the loss of appetite is sudden, yet nothing in the environment changed, check if the manufacturers added or changed an ingredient. A slight variation of the components could cause a cat to turn away from the food.
- Avoid giving wet foods straight from the refrigerator. Warm them to body temperature first.
- Keep a fresh supply of food. Some foods go stale or lose taste faster after opening the packaging. Some cats are even accustomed to fresh, home-prepared meals.
- Create a stress-free ambiance where feeding takes place. Remember, cats like eating solo.
Cat owners count on trusted pet professionals for informed opinions on many issues. A wild guess on why a cat’s eating behavior has changed, what caused it and suggested treatment could hurt your reputation and business. Treatments for not eating in cats vary depending on the underlying cause. If the feeding happens within the cat’s preferred parameters and there is still an issue getting the cat to eat, consult a vet. The vet will check if there is an underlying health issue and recommend the appropriate treatment.