sudden loss of appetite in cats
Cat Food and Hydration

10 Reasons for Decreased Appetite in Cats

Whenever a cat has lost interest in eating, alarm bells start to ring. Cats need to eat regularly to stay healthy. Felines are food-focused animals, and their small bodies hold little in the way of energy reserves. If your cat is refusing to eat all of a sudden, there will be an underlying reason.

A sudden loss of appetite in cats can be due to fussiness, as felines can become bored with their food. Your cat may not want its meal due to sickness. Dental pain, kidney failure, stress, and digestive issues are among the possible medical explanations for your cat not being hungry.

We will explain why cats go off their food. There could be a simple explanation surrounding their lifestyle that can be easily rectified. However, it’s also possible that physical pain or mental anguish is to blame. Let’s look at why cats stop eating, and whether veterinary attention is needed.

Why Has My Cat Lost Its Appetite?

Cats do not suddenly decide that they’re not hungry, picking and choosing when to eat. There will be a reason for this reluctance to consume. How to proceed depends on the severity of the issue.

Is it possible that your pet fits any of the following criteria?

  • Your cat is hunting wild prey, and has lost interest in conventional food.
  • Your cat is being fed somewhere else, such as a neighbor’s home.
  • Your cat is bored with eating the same food, or prefers a different brand.
  • Your cat dislikes their food bowl.

Beyond this, however, there could be a medical explanation for your cat’s refusal to eat. Potential medical and health ailments include:

  • Your cat is experiencing dental pain.
  • Your cat has an intestinal blockage, or another digestive issue.
  • Your cat’s kidneys, heart or other organs are starting to fail.
  • Your cat is experiencing side effects from a medication or vaccination.
  • Your cat has an infestation of intestinal parasites.
  • Your cat is stressed and anxious.

Your cat must be seen by a vet if they won’t eat. A feline failing to do so for 24 hours jeopardizes their health. By the time your pet reaches day two or three, they are in danger.

They may be eating elsewhere, and vets can eliminate potential health issues. In the meantime, however, let’s take a look at each of these possible explanations in turn in greater depth.

1) Hunting and Eating Wild Prey

A domesticated doesn’t shed their instincts. Every cat, even most loving pet, needs to hunt.

If you have an indoor cat, then this experience is likely replicated through play. If your cat roams outdoors, however, they could be stalking and eating mice and birds.

Even if your cat does hunt wild animals, there is no guarantee that they’ll eat them. Many cats present their trophy kills as a gift. Some breeds like to eat their prey as a reward, though.

The average mouse provides around 30 calories, according to Kirkwood Vets. This means your cat would need around eight mice a day to meet their energy needs. It’s unlikely that a domesticated cat would pursue this much prey, as each hunt burns energy.

However, your cat may develop a taste for stalking their food. Felines cannot deny their natural instincts, and the thrill of the chase will always be enticing.

Some cats find the idea of being presented with their food to be deathly dull.

2) Fed Elsewhere

If your cat roams outdoors, then it’s possible that another family is feeding them. Alternatively, they may be gaining access to another home and eating another cat’s food.

If another family is feeding your cat, they will not know about your pet’s dietary requirements. They will likely feed your cat a different brand of food, creating a fussy eater.

They could easily be over-feeding your pet. Many cats will eat two meals. If your pet is refusing to eat at home, they may be feasting at their ‘second home.’

If you happen to know that a neighbor is feeding your cat, have a polite conversation. You can stretch the truth, claiming your pet is on a special diet due to allergies. Failing to take action on this can leave your cat confused, and potentially harm their health in the long-term.

3) Picky Eater

Sometimes, a cat refusing to eat is because they are fussy. Felines can suddenly grow bored with their food, and frustratingly stubborn. If they’ve been fed something they prefer elsewhere, this becomes increasingly likely.

If a cat gets hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. If you don’t cave and hand over something more appealing, your cat will eventually eat. Of course, this is assuming that your cat is just fussy.

cat not eating much but acting normal

Avoiding fussy eating habits in cats can be tricky. On the one hand, not offering choice prevents your cat from developing wide-ranging, picky tastes. Feeding your cat the same thing time after time, however, may lead to boredom.

Find a brand of food that your cat finds agreeable and vary the flavors. If you have a particularly fussy feline, consider two servings meals of smaller sizes. This way they’re likely to eat something.

4) Does Not Like Its Food Bowl

Consider where your cat’s bowl is located. Is it in a noisy, busy part of the house? This may deter your cat, as felines like to be alone while they eat.

Cats also prefer not to eat in a corner. They feel vulnerable while eating, and corners reduce the exit points for a quick getaway.

The size and shape of your bowl can also be problematic. If your cat’s whiskers are brushing against the rim of the bowl, they will become sore. Equally, a very lightweight bowl that moves around while your cat eats will make distracting noises.

Experiment with different food bowls when your cat is reluctant to eat. You may find that changing their serving vessel makes all the difference.

5) Dental Problems

Dental problems are the most common medical explanation for a cat losing its appetite.

If your cat is suffering, they’ll be acutely aware that eating hurts. They may even assume that it’s food that’s causing their pain.

Virtually all cats will experience dental problems at some point in their life. It’s vital that such issues are avoided wherever possible.

This means brushing, and inspecting, your cat’s teeth at least once a week. At any sign of plaque or tartar, see a professional. A veterinary nurse will clean your cat’s teeth.

If a disease does occur around the teeth and gums, your cat will need treatment. This involves being placed under anesthetic, and your pet’s teeth undergoing a thorough scraping and clean.

Painkilling medication may also be required. Never give your cat human aspirin.

6) Digestive Issues

If your cat is unable to digest their food, they need to see a vet. Your pet is regurgitating and vomiting their meals usually denotes trouble digesting food.

Digestive problems are often caused by a blockage in your cat’s intestinal tract. This could be comparatively innocuous, such as a hairball.

What’s more likely, however, is that your cat has swallowed something inappropriate. String, ribbon or a hairband are the most likely culprits. On other occasions, however, your cat’s intestines may have twisted of their own accord. This is no less serious.

This obstruction will need to be removed, or the twisting reversed. Never try to fix this issue yourself. Your vet will run tests and scans to assess the cause of the problem.

Sometimes, this will involve open surgery. That’s especially likely if the foreign object has wrapped itself around your cat’s gut.

Where possible, however, vets use an endoscope to retrieve the item and spare your pet anesthetic. Your cat may be able to pass a minor blockage with prescribed laxatives, however.

7) Kidney Failure

Senior cats start to struggle with their heart and kidneys, in particular. Kidney disease is something that impacts upon many older cats, and gradually becomes terminal.

By the time a cat starts to lose their appetite, their kidney trouble will be quite far along. This will usually mean that your pet needs a special diet of high-quality proteins that’s low in phosphates.

Keep an eye out for the following symptoms, especially if your cat is over seven years of age:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Drinking water to excess
  • Urinating constantly, especially outside the litter box
  • Constant bladder infections
  • Ulcers in and around the mouth
  • Foul, ammonia-scented breath

These are all warning signs of kidney failure, and a vet must assess your cat. Even though the condition cannot be cured, it can be slowed down through medication.

Left untreated, kidney failure can be painful and become fatal.

8) Side Effects from Medication or Vaccination

The side effects could include fever, pain, bleeding, and yes – loss of appetite.

In the first instance, your cat may be reluctant to eat because they feel uncomfortable. Nobody enjoys being prodded and poked by their doctor, and felines have similar reactions to veterinarians. If the problem continues, however, you’ll need to return.

Losing appetite is sometimes a direct side effect of medication, but it could be a side issue. Either way, you’ll need to take action.

Speak to your vet about whether your pet would benefit from changing treatments. There is no point in swapping one dangerous health concern for another.

9) Intestinal Parasites

Most people associate intestinal parasites with a hearty hunger and inexplicable weight loss. In some cases, however, a parasitic infection can lead to a loss of appetite.

It helps to know your enemy when it comes to parasites. Cat expert Ron Hines provides insight into the many and various parasites that gravitate toward cats.

Roundworms and stomach worms are the most common culprits of this symptom. Remaining up-to-date with worming treatments in your pet is crucial. Even indoor cats can become infected.

what to feed a cat that won't eat

10) Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on a cat’s appetite. This can be problematic, as it’s easy to stress a cat out. Just some of the reasons for feline anxiety include:

  • Changes in routine – including inconsistent meal times.
  • Changes to the residents of the home, such as new babies or houseguests. A beloved human leaving the house can have a similar impact.
  • Changes to the layout of the home, or moving to a new location.
  • Loud noises around the home or outside.
  • The presence of other cats, either in the house or the neighborhood.
  • Feeling unwell in any way.

There are various natural ways to keep a cat calm. According to Care.com, felines find classical music soothing. Lavender-scented room diffusers also have a pacifying effect.

If the problem is chronic, however, your vet will prescribe anti-anxiety medication. This will be necessary for cats that permanently anxious, potentially as a result of the previous mistreatment.

My Cat Won’t Eat but Will Drink Water

The most likely explanation in this circumstance is that your cat is living with dental pain. Water is less likely to aggravate their teeth and gums. Check for any build-up of plaque or tartar.

Even if you do not see any direct signs of dental disease, you should see a vet. There could be something else afoot that’s invisible to the naked eye.

In the meantime, however, offer your some chicken broth or an equivalent. If they are struggling to chew their food, they may still enjoy sustenance from a liquid diet.

Of course, it’s also possible that your cat is just fussy in these circumstances. There is every chance that your pet is waiting for you out to see who cracks first.

Remember that healthy cats will always eventually eat when they get hungry enough. This is a dangerous game to play, though. If your cat is unwell, delaying medical attention is never wise.

Sometimes it’s better to play it safe. Offer an alternative food, and book a precautionary vet’s appointment. You can always cancel it your cat starts tucking into their new meal.

My Cat is Not Eating Much but Acting Normal

Don’t be fooled by this. Just because your cat doesn’t appear to be at death’s door, it doesn’t mean they’re fine. Cats are very adept at hiding illness, and may be in danger.

Organ failure, for example, may not manifest until it’s too late to treat. Equally, they may be stressed. If your cat is naturally timid, it can be hard to tell if they’re getting worse.

If your cat is not eating, something is up. It’s that simple. Maybe they’re just eating elsewhere, which can be managed. Rule out any medical conditions, though, for both your sakes.

What to Feed a Cat That Won’t Eat

You need to know why your cat is not eating. Is it a psychological problem, or a physical ailment? This is why it’s so important to see a vet when a cat stops eating.

A broth is a good stopgap meal for a cat that has lost its appetite. In the short-term, also try these techniques to convince your cat to eat solids:

  • Changing the brand of cat food, or changing the flavor of a preferred band.
  • Heating food to room temperature, or slightly above.
  • Drizzling an appealing-smelling liquid, such as tuna juice, over your cat’s food.
  • Changing, or even just moving, your cat’s food bowl.

You could also try an appetite stimulant, is prescribed by a vet. As the Cornell Feline Health Center explains, mirtazapine is FDA-approved and the choice of most professionals.

This treatment was designed to combat nausea, but stimulating appetite is a welcome a side effect. Perhaps best of all, it’s a topical ointment. This solves the problem of convincing felines determined to be nil by mouth to swallow medication.

Senior Cat Won’t Eat Food and is Sleeping More Often

An older cat not eating and sleeping excessively can be a worrying sign. Sometimes, eating less is just a symptom of growing older.

If your cat is less active, they’ll burn less energy and thus – theoretically – be less hungry. One other potential reason for an older cat losing their appetite, however, is feline dementia.

Feline cognitive dysfunction is a severely debilitating condition. It can impact on cats from age 11, though it more often takes hold at 15. Additional symptoms of feline dementia include:

  • Lack of coordination, and inability to negotiate basic obstacles
  • General confusion, including seemingly forgetting basic directions
  • Eliminating outside the litter tray
  • Avoiding social interaction, and not recognizing owners
  • Behaving uncharacteristically aggressively
  • Grooming to excess, or failing to groom at all
  • Increased and seemingly constant verbalizing
  • Staring at walls, or into space, for hours
  • Restlessness at night, including pacing and meowing (yowling)

If you think that your cat has feline cognitive dysfunction, see a vet ASAP. Sadly, there is no cure. The symptoms can be slowed down through medication, however. This will mean that you can increase your cat’s quality of life during their twilight years.

If your cat hasn’t eaten for 24 hours, it’s concerning. If they reach 36 hours, make a vet appointment. If you get to 48 hours, race them straight to the vet as an emergency.

Cats are tiny, and have little in terms of energy reserves. Failing to eat for any prolonged period of time quickly becomes dangerous.

Ideally, your vet will find no reason for your pet’s loss of appetite and declare them healthy. This suggests that your cat is eating elsewhere – annoying, but fixable. In the event of medical complaints, however, early diagnosis invariably leads to a more encouraging prognosis.