Cats can be fussy eaters. What goes down a treat one day may be refused the next. This causes consternation for pet owners, who understandably grow concerned when their cat doesn’t eat.
Cats have a strong sense of smell, so their bowl should always be thoroughly cleaned. If they roam outside, your cat may be eating prey animals – or being fed elsewhere. The meal may be too cold, as cats only like to eat room temperature food. Alternatively, your cat may be sick – or just a picky eater.
A cat not eating must be taken seriously. Regardless of whether your cat is just being a pain or they’re unwell, don’t ignore it. We will look at the explanations for a sudden loss of feline appetite.
Why Won’t My Cat Eat?
There are many reasons why your cat will develop a sudden aversion to eating. These include:
- Dislike or discomfort from their food bowl
- The food is too cold
- Your cat is already full
- Your cat is unwell
- Your cat is just being picky
Let’s take a look at some of these potential explanations in more detail.
Does My Cat Have a Problem with Their Food Bowl?
It’s quite possible that your cat is not eating due to their food bowl. There are many possible explanations for this utensil causing your cat discomfort.
Cats have an extremely strong sense of smell. If the bowl hasn’t been cleaned thoroughly since their last meal, your pet can smell it. This will put your cat off their food.
It’s equally possible to go too far in the opposite direction. If you wash the bowl with strong-smelling dish soap, your cat will detect this too. This, in turn, will put your pet off their meal.
Ensure that your cat’s bowl is washed between every meal. Also, ensure that it’s dried and aired between servings. Any remnants of soap or bubbles must be removed quickly.
It may be worth having at least two food bowls, so you can rotate them. This way, your cat will always have a clean, unscented bowl to eat from. Just ensure that the two bowls are equally appealing to your pet.
Size and Shape
The size and shape of your cat’s food bowl will also play a part in their comfort. If the bowl is too small and filled to the brim, it may be intimidating.
This will prevent your cat from feeling comfortable tucking in. If it’s too small, however, it may be painful for your cat to eat from.
Acknowledge the shape of your cat’s bowl. Are the sides high enough to rub against your pet’s whiskers? This could be causing whisker fatigue.
As Modern Cat Magazine explains, this condition involves a cat’s whiskers growing sensitive from constant stimulation. If their whiskers rub against the side of their bowl, it may be sore for your cat. This can be resolved by serving food in a dish without sides, such as a saucer.
You should also consider the material that your pet’s bowl is made from. Some cats are allergic to plastic, for example. This means that their mealtimes will become an ordeal. If your cat ends up in discomfort every time they eat, they’ll soon stop eating period.
Consider the weight of your cat’s bowl. If it’s too flimsy and keeps moving, eating will be a pain. The noise as the bowl scrapes along the floor could also be distracting. Look into purchasing a placemat, or a weightier bowl.
Take a look at where your cat’s bowl is located in the house. Cats can be as fussy about where they eat as they are about what they eat.
To place your cat’s food bowl in an appealing location, ensure that it fulfills these criteria:
- Not too close to your pet’s bed. Cats do not like to eat too close to where they relax.
- Not too close to your pet’s water bowl. Keeping food and water contaminates both in your cat’s mind.
- Not too close to your pet’s litter tray. There is a crass saying about eliminating where we eat, and felines feel strongly about this rule.
- It should not be located in an enclosed space. Cats feel vulnerable when they eat, and will want the option of a quick getaway.
- It should not be located in a busy area. Cats like calm while they eat, so avoid noisy parts of the house with heavy footfall.
It seems like a lot of rules, but that’s the way of cats. If you want your pet to be happy and healthy, it’s best to abide by these guidelines.
Think about whether your cat considers their food bowl to be their own. If you have more than one cat, it’s best to give them each their own dish.
As felines are territorial by their nature, they struggle with the concept of sharing. Cats may fight over food, or feel uncomfortable eating from bowls that smells like another animal.
If you run a multi-cat home, ensure that each pet has territory to call their own. That means they have their own food source, as well as anything else they need.
Is My Cat Eating Elsewhere?
If you have an outdoor cat, it’s impossible to know what they get up to all day. A lot depends on your pet’s personality. Some cats like to wander, mark territory and climb.
This suggests that they will work up quite an appetite for their evening meal. Others, however, live for the thrill of hunting smaller prey.
If this applies to your cat, it’s possible that they are eating their kills. These could be mice, small birds, or even insects. That is by no means a given, as not all cats eat their prey.
As you’ll doubtless be aware, many felines keep the bodies as a trophy – or a gift. If your cat is eating wild animals, however, they’ll likely find their stomachs full. Alternatively, they may develop a taste for hunting and eating their own food.
Another explanation for wandering cats not eating is that they’re being fed at a second home. Try to observe your cat’s behavioral patterns. Do they return home at conventional mealtimes, but not eat? This suggests that they’re hungry, but are being put off their food.
This could be down to any of the reasons that we’ve discussed. If they seem to swagger in at all hours, however, it suggests that they’ve established a feeding routine elsewhere.
It’s important to find out what is happening here. Is your cat being invited in by another home? Or are they letting themselves in through a cat flap and eating another cat’s food?
If it’s the former, have a polite conversation with the individual in question. Explain that your cat is on a very particular diet due to a health condition.
A little fibbing is fine when it’s for the greater good. After this, consider keeping your cat home for a few days to adjust their routine. Your pet may sulk a little initially, but they’ll get over it.
If your cat is helping themselves to another pet’s food, keep them home as above. Also, explain to the owner of the other cat what is happening.
If your cat is inviting themselves in, other felines may be doing so too. For their security, the owner may want to consider a microchip cat flap.
Is My Cat Not Eating Because They’re Sick?
Dental pain is the most likely explanation. If your cat has tooth or gum disease, chewing will be extremely painful. Common dental problems in cats include:
- Periodontal Disease. This condition, the most commonly-diagnosed ailment in all of feline healthcare, involves a build-up of plaque.
- Stomatitis. This disease causes extremely painful inflammation around the mouth and gums.
- Tooth Resorption. It’s uncommon, but a cat’s teeth sometimes retract back within their gums, causing severe pain.
- Fractured or broken teeth. If your cat has dental trauma, they may have a broken tooth.
It’s important that you keep an eye on your pet’s oral health. Inspect their teeth regularly, and encourage regular brushing and cleaning.
If your cat will not allow this, you may need to see a vet. This will require anesthetic, however, so it’s much safer to clean your pet’s teeth at home.
Outside of tooth decay and gum disease, numerous health concerns cause cats to lose their appetite. These include:
- Stress and anxiety. If your cat seems out of sorts, they may be anxious. Cats are very easily stressed by changes in routine.
- Feline cognitive dysfunction. Is your cat growing older? They may be suffering from this form of feline dementia.
- Problems with internal organs. If your cat struggles with their kidneys, liver, heart or pancreas, they’ll be off their food.
- Cancer. Many tumors and cancers cause felines to lose their appetite.
- Urinary tract infections. A UTI will harm your cat’s body, leaving them reluctant to eat.
The side effects of some medications will cause your cat to lose their appetite. Have they recently started a new course of medication? Have they recently been vaccinated? If so, speak to your vet. You may need to switch your cat to a different treatment.
How Long Can Cats Safely Go Without Eating?
A cat should never be left to fast for more than 24 hours. If your pet’s reluctance to eat rolls into a second day, seek veterinary advice. This suggests that a medical affliction is at play.
If your cat is acting strangely in other ways, you should speed up this process. This could include vomiting and diarrhea, uncharacteristic aggression, or trouble eliminating.
A cat skipping a single meal isn’t necessarily a reason to panic. If your pet is carrying a little extra weight, it may even be a good thing.
However, felines are very food-focused. If they are refusing to eat, there will be a reason.
Do Cats Get Bored with Their Food?
It’s a tricky balancing act to feed your cat a balanced diet that’s also appealing. Cat nutrition is very precise, and your pet needs specific ingredients to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, they’re also famously fussy eaters. This means that a cat may grow bored of eating the same thing every day.
Changing up the flavors of your cat’s meals each day can be a solution to this. Pick up a multipack of different meat-based dinners, and keep plenty of variety. This can obviously only be done with wet food, however. Kibble typically has a very consistent taste.
The boredom could also stem from your cat’s desire to hunt. Many felines, even domesticated housecats, prefer to stalk and find their own food.
They may grow weary of being presented with the same meal each and every day. Consider breaking your cat’s food into smaller servings and hiding it in toys around the house. This will encourage your pet to hunt down their dinner, and pique their interest.
Do Cat Eating Habits Change in Any Other Ways?
Feline eating habits can change for a variety of reasons. We have discussed how sickness and simple fussiness can be to blame. However, there could be more at work.
Cats can be made anxious by countless seemingly innocuous things. Changes in routine are the most common explanation. If your cat is fed at a different time each day, for example, they’ll become stressed. This, in turn, will put them off eating.
Get your pet into a strict meal routine, and observe if their eating habits change. If they’ll eat one thing but not something else, they’re being picky. If they down tools and refuse to eat all, it’s a more serious problem.
Fussy eaters are typically made – and encouraged. If you give a cat an inch, they’ll take a mile. Don’t jump to attention every time they show displeasure with their meal.
Your cat will gladly wait you out if they think they’ll get something more interesting. The more you allow your cat to rule the dinnertime roost, the pickier they’ll get.
My Cat Has Gone Off Wet Food
A fussy eater can be a frustrating eater, but it’s a common issue in cats. Wet food can be particularly problematic. There are many reasons why your cat may lose interest in their meal. These include:
- It’s too cold. Cats like to eat at room temperature – nothing lower. Never feed your cat straight from the fridge.
- They’ve developed a taste for something else. If your cat is used to one brand of food, they often struggle with others.
- The recipe has changed. Manufacturers alter their recipes from time to time. This is intended as an improvement, but cats loathe change.
It’s also quite possible that your cat is bored. Speak with your vet, and learn what changes you can safely make to your pet’s diet.
My Cat Won’t Eat and Just Licks Gravy
This is a common behavior in cats that eat a wet food diet. Usually, it means that your pet enjoys the taste of their food but not the texture. Licking gravy or jelly gives them the sensation of meat, and none of the pesky chunks.
Check the ingredients of the food that you offer your cat. Is there anything that your pet has shown a previous aversion to? Many cats will not entertain the idea of eating vegetables, for example.
This isn’t such a problem, as cats don’t need to eat fresh veg. It’s generally used in cat food as a filler. It can be frustrating if your cat is wasting can after can of wet food, though.
However, there is a risk that your cat is unwell. If they are struggling to eat solid food, they should see a vet. Do a little experimenting at home first.
If you feed your cat both wet and dry food, try mixing the jelly with the kibble. If they eat the latter, it suggests that your cat isn’t happy with the wet food. If they won’t eat at all and just lick, they likely have a digestive issue.
My Cat Has Gone Off Dry Food
Dry food is anathema to most cats. Felines typically look for a meal that replicates their prey in the wild. This means something that balances moisture with crunchiness.
Kibble does ensure that your cats all the ingredients they need. In addition, kibble cleans a cat’s teeth. This will reduce the risk of dental disease, and the frequency of tooth the brushing.
A cat will eventually eat kibble if they’re hungry enough. That’s one of the reasons that dry food is helpful. It can be left out for several hours until your pet caves in.
Naturally, however, you want your cat to enjoy their food, not merely tolerate it. If you’re aiming to make dry food more appealing to your cat, try these techniques:
- Sprinkle very small chunks of fresh meat, such as chicken, over the top.
- Mix in some human baby food for moisture. Check the ingredients first though, ensuring it doesn’t contain anything potentially dangerous to cats.
- Drizzle the juice from tinned tuna over the kibble.
- Add a tiny sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
If none of these techniques work, you may need to admit defeat. Dry food is not appealing to all cats. If your pet is stubborn and refuses to eat, you may need to switch to wet.
My Cat is Off Their Food and Being Sick
Vomiting is not always linked to food, but it’s certainly a common explanation. If your cat is throwing up without eating, it may be because their stomach is empty.
Bile in the stomach breaks down food. Without solid food, however, bile is left with nothing to do. This makes it leak into the stomach, which irritates your cat’s digestion and causes vomiting.
Occasional, one-off vomiting is normal feline behavior. If it only happens very sporadically, try not to worry. If your cat’s vomiting and regurgitation becomes chronic, however, see a vet.
My Cat is Off Their Food but Drinking
The most likely reason for this is that your cat is being fussy about food. Even the healthiest cat will not drink as much as they should. If a cat is sick, they’ll often skip water entirely. The exception to this is kidney problems, which can lead to excessive thirst.
You should also check your cat’s teeth and gums if they drink but won’t eat. If they look red or inflamed, periodontal disease is present and your cat needs treatment. In some cases, however, a cat with dental problems will not drink either.
Ensure that your cat does not have any kind of intestinal blockage. This can be tricky to do without seeing a vet, however. If your cat has recently played with wool or string, they may have inadvertently swallowed some. As always, see a vet if they do not eat for more than a day.
Cats going off their food is simultaneously unusual, but common. Such picky and fussy animals often change their minds about what they like. This can be problematic in itself, as chopping and changing a cat’s diet causes stomach trouble.
If your cat will not eat for over 24 hours, see a vet. Cats have very small bodies, and thus limited food reserves. You should also seek professional advice before changing a pet’s diet.
Just because felines are fussy around food, starvation should never be encouraged. They’ll be relying upon you to solve their mealtime conundrums.