Why Do Cats Go Off Their Food?

A cat losing its appetite is a common symptom of a wide range of health problems. These include diabetes, cancer, pancreatitis, and many gastrointestinal issues. Stress can also cause cats to avoid eating. Observing the cat for any other symptoms, such as vomiting, weight loss, difficulty breathing, or dental problems, can help determine if the problem is serious. If none of these symptoms appear, then the lack of interest is probably benign.

Cats go off their food when they’re unwell and have no appetite. The food itself may also have expired and gone rancid. Alternatively, the cat may be bored with the food and want something different. A loss in appetite can be concerning for owners. However, unless the cat refuses to eat for more than 48 hours, it should be OK.

When cats refuse food, the best thing to do is offer different options. Cats easily become bored if fed the same food all the time or if the formula used by manufacturers has changed. You can test new foods to tempt the cat. You can also offer it some tasty roast chicken or cooked beef.

Why Do Cats Suddenly Go Off Their Food?

If your cat refuses its food, the most common reason is that it’s being picky. Even a well-behaved and agreeable cat may get bored with its meals and avoid eating as a protest. Even a meal that your cat readily eats one night may become distasteful for it the next day. It’s a frustrating reality of feline ownership.

With that said, changing tastes isn’t the only reason why a cat may suddenly go off its food. A loss of appetite is a common symptom of a wide variety of health issues. It can also indicate that a cat is:

  • Living through its twilight days
  • Suffering dental issues
  • Stressed
  • Injured and can’t eat

It is important to monitor your cat if it loses interest in meals. You should try offering different foods to try. In cases where the disinterest lasts more than 48 hours, take your feline to a vet. If it begins to refuse water, then take it even sooner.

Can Cats Get Tired Of Their Food?

Eating the same food day after day can get pretty boring. Cats think so too. Feeding your pet the same food in each meal will see it quickly lose interest. The cat may even develop an allergy to it or a minor nutritional deficiency as it avoids that meal.

Offering cats a varied diet is good all-around. The cat gets something different each day, which keeps it interested in its food and motivated to eat. It also ensures that the cat gets nutrients from different sources.

Most good cat foods have all the essential nutritional needs covered. Still, a fish-based meal will have more natural fish oils and good fats than a chicken-based meal. The same goes for all the meat types used in cat food.

At times, cats can tell when their food isn’t giving them what they need, and they avoid it unless necessary. Low-quality cat foods can occasionally be the animal version of junk food. Being low in nutritional value, they’re empty calories. To avoid that, feed your cat good quality food when you can, and provide it with a varied menu.

Reasons Why Cats Lose Their Appetite

There are many causes of inappetence in cats. A loss of appetite is considered a symptom of a larger issue. However, it can also be due to a cat’s natural fussiness, a stress response, or a dental issue.

A loss in appetite, be it an inability to eat, disinterest in eating, or a complete refusal to eat, needs to be addressed quickly. Cats may not starve as quickly as other pets, like birds. However, appetite loss is often an indicator of health complications.

Dental Problems

It’s hard to eat when there is something painful going on in your mouth or throat. It can make you avoid eating altogether until the pain subsides. The same is true for cats.

A cat with dental problems may avoid eating out of discomfort. It may still try to eat but can only manage small portions at a time. Issues that have progressed greatly may null the cat’s appetite completely. Symptoms of dental problems in cats include:

  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite or difficulty eating
  • Pained noises while eating
  • Lack of grooming
  • Missing, cracked, or broken teeth
  • Inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at mouth

Dental issues in cats can vary, including:

  • An impacted tooth
  • Mouth lesions and ulcers
  • Inflamed gums
  • Abscesses

These can all be very painful and will require treatment. Cats that persistently experience inflamed gums will need a diet focused on oral health.

Dental treats are also a good idea. These foods are formulated to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. The act of crunching on these treats effectively brushes the cat’s teeth.

Gastrointestinal Issues

If your cat is off food and lethargic, then it may have gastrointestinal issues. A loss in appetite is a common symptom when the digestive tract is struggling or damaged. This area includes the:

  • Stomach
  • Intestines
  • Mouth
  • Rectum

Everything from a simple upset stomach to parasites or more severe chronic diseases falls into this category. Alongside a loss of appetite, symptoms of gastrointestinal issues include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Difficulty eating

Due to the wide variety of problems that can cause gastrointestinal issues, it is best to seek a vet if any symptoms last longer than 24-48 hours. This is also true if the symptoms return and disappear more than once. Abdominal swelling should spark an immediate trip to the vet.


Diabetes can affect people and cats alike. In actual fact, the prevalence of obesity and improper diets in household cats makes diabetes rather common in pet cats. As noted by Veterinary Clinics, feline diabetes is one of the most common hormone problems they experience.

For those unaware, diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes blood sugar levels to peak to unusual levels. This is due to the body being unable to use or control glucose. When untreated, diabetes causes many problems, leading to:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Motor function problems
  • Eventually, the cat may fall into a coma and die

On the flip side, cats with this illness can be food-obsessed. It’s theorized that this is because the cat’s body can’t use the nutrients in its food properly.

Treating diabetes in cats is possible with the right diet and insulin therapy. Every cat needs its own unique solution designed by an expert, so insulin therapies in cats are complicated.

cat licks food but doesn't eat


If your cat is not eating food anymore, it may be unwell. Not all sicknesses that affect its appetite are life-threatening, but a number of them will be if left unattended. If you suspect that your cat is unwell, it’s smart to consult a vet. That’s especially true for elderly cats or young kittens.


Felines aren’t prone to cancer, but it does happen. Going off of food is a symptom of it. Unfortunately, cats are quite good at hiding when they feel unwell. This can be one of your earliest warnings that it needs a trip to the vet. Other symptoms will include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lumps or bumps
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

The type of cancer and stage it has progressed to will determine what treatment is applicable, if at all. Some cancers can be aggressive, while others are slow-acting.

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is common in older cats, but it can afflict younger ones as well. Kidneys are a vital organ, so what affects them will impact the cat’s entire body. Unfortunately, kidney failure is not curable.

Maintenance is all that can be done to keep the feline comfortable and minimize the side effects of kidney failure. Kidney failure can naturally develop with age. It can also be caused by:

  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Internal blockages
  • Heart failure
  • Poisons
  • Shock

This condition can be triggered and progress to lethal levels in a matter of days or weeks. Symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Ulcers in the mouth or gums
  • Constipation
  • Excessive urinating
  • Excessive drinking
  • Bacterial infections of the bladder and kidneys
  • General weakness

Kidney issues that can be managed require a specialized diet. As found by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats with kidney problems fed a renal diet have fewer issues. It is important to monitor older cats for kidney issues closely.


The pancreas is an organ that produces enzymes that help your cat’s stomach digest food. Pancreatitis is the name given to the condition wherein this organ becomes inflamed. This happens because the digestive enzymes are triggered while still in the pancreas.

The organ literally begins digesting itself. As you can assume, this is a painful condition. Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Shock
  • Abdominal pain

An early diagnosis of pancreatitis increases the chances of successful recovery. Supportive therapies and treatments will be required, and the cat will die without them.

Pancreatitis can be a recurring problem. A cat that has experienced pancreatitis once has a greater chance of developing it again. Your vet will advise you of the early signs of the problem restarting.

Cat Seems Hungry But Won’t Eat

There are times when our cats seem hungry but hardly pick at their food. Here are a few explanations for this behavior:


Cats sometimes have food allergies, and they can learn to avoid certain foods that trigger them. It’s a survival instinct and a desire to escape the unpleasant results of an upset stomach. Other symptoms of allergies in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Coughing
  • Itchy skin
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Cats that have presented these symptoms before may have been experiencing an allergic reaction to their food. As such, a specific diet will need to be designed for the cat. Depending on the severity of the allergy or what the allergen is, hypoallergenic food may be required.


Anxiety and stress can rule even the most intelligent beasts. A stressed cat will avoid eating altogether, or it may only manage a few bites. This can go on for one or multiple days, depending on what causes the stress.

Cats hide stress and anxiety well. If you don’t know what to look for, the symptoms may go entirely unnoticed. Warning signs of anxiety or stress include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive grooming
  • Digestive issues
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Hiding
  • Shaking

An episode of anxiety can become general anxiety if left untreated. For example, if another animal in the home is constantly attacking the cat, it will naturally feed unsafe and stressed. Steps must be taken to resolve the issue.

Changes to the environment can also trigger stress. Moving house or welcoming a new roommate, pet, or guest can make a feline anxious. Give it time, and it should return to normal behavior.


If your cat licks at food but doesn’t eat any, then it may be physically unable to eat. Alongside the dental issues mentioned above, there could be trauma that makes eating difficult or painful.

Trauma can be severe, like a broken jaw, or minor, like a bone splinter stuck in the gums. There may also be a blockage in the throat or one further down the digestive tract. Carefully watch your cat while it drinks or attempts to eat. If it appears to struggle or makes yowling noises, then it may be in pain.

Cats get into all manner of mischief that can result in injury. If your cat allows it, gently open and inspect its mouth for:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Injury

Offer it soft or liquid food in the meantime to get something into its belly. You should then take it to the vet.


Every owner has been here once: your cat asks for food but is not eating what you offer. Although not true of all felines, cats can be picky about what they eat. It isn’t even strange to discover that your cat has gone off wet food.

Cats may randomly go off specific foods, especially if they are fed a single type only. Offering a consistently varied diet helps avoid this scenario. Be sure to switch between different foods within your preferred brands.

Cats are also sensitive to any changes that the food producers make to the food. Even a single altered ingredient can turn them off a food.

You should also consider expiry dates and if the food was sealed properly. Stale kibble or moldy food is unpleasant to smell, let alone eat. Your cat has a fine sense of smell and taste. Try offering it a variety of different foods to see if another meal tempts it. If that fails, there are always treats.

Cat Not Eating Much But Acting Normal

It can be troubling when your cat avoids eating but is otherwise behaving normally. In such cases, it is important to look at the whole situation:

Closely observe the cat’s environment and meals for oddities. It is a prolonged loss of appetite that you need to be concerned about. Not eating for a day or so and then returning to normal can indicate an upset stomach or stress.

One more thing to consider is if your cat has access to the outdoors: are you the only person feeding it? We’ve all heard the stories of kitty con artists that get meals out of your neighbors. If you’ve ruled out illness or injury and your cat doesn’t appear to be losing weight, then perhaps it’s finding food elsewhere. Try keeping it contained indoors for a few days to monitor its eating habits.

Why Has My Old Cat Stopped Eating?

Has your elderly cat stopped eating altogether, or is it simply eating less? Older cats have smaller appetites, and they don’t eat as much food as younger cats.

Monitor how much food your cat eats, if any. If it otherwise seems healthy, then all is well. It may be beneficial to offer your old cat multiple small meals a day instead of a single large meal.

It’s a different story if your old cat is refusing to eat altogether. Sad as it is, the reason your old cat has stopped eating may be because it’s dying. Many cats have a sense of when their time has come to die, and their behavior changes accordingly. It’s worth taking your cat to the vet to confirm this.

reasons why cats lose their appetite

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?

The average cat is lean with little extra fat. A healthy cat that refuses to eat will usually survive for 1-2 weeks without food. If the cat refuses to drink, that time is reduced to just 2-3 days.

There is also the issue of hepatic lipidosis developing. As noted by Veterinary Clinics, this is the most common form of liver disease in cats in North America. It’s a condition that commonly develops in overweight cats with fatty livers.

However, if a cat is deprived of dietary protein, it falls to the liver to process these fatty reserves and convert them into energy. Eventually, the liver becomes overwhelmed by the volume of fat that it needs to process.

Loss of appetite is a symptom of hepatic lipidosis, alongside:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

It’s a serious condition. However, it has a good recovery rate if veterinary care is provided early.

What To Do When Cats Stop Eating

If your cat refuses to eat, you don’t have to sit around and wait. Your first steps are to:

  • Offer it different foods.
  • Ensure there aren’t any stressors making it avoid food, like other animals.
  • Try heating the food.
  • Offer wet or dry food, especially those with strong aromas.
  • If that fails, try different brands or different types of those foods.
  • Offer it cooked chicken or ground beef as few cats will turn their nose up at a strip of roasted chicken. (Be sure to remove any seasoned skin.)
  • Ensure the cat has plenty of water available.

If the cat continues to refuse food despite these efforts, monitor it for a 24-48 hour period. Be sure to consult a vet if the cat eats little to nothing during this time. If necessary, your vet may provide hunger stimulants.

Hunger Stimulates

As the name implies, these trigger hunger and a feeding response. Some even have added calories to help with nutrient-deprived animals. You can find these at your local pet store or by prescription, depending on the severity of your cat’s issue.

These are usually pastes that you apply to the cat’s foot. Even if the cat dislikes eating, it will usually lick up the stimulant as it cleans its foot. These do not always work, but they can help with fussy or stressed cats that refuse to eat.

Liquid Diet Or Feeding Tube

If your cat still refuses to eat, then a vet will likely resort to a hand-fed liquid diet or a feeding tube. The latter should never be attempted by anyone but a trained vet or vet nurse.

Keep a close eye on your cat if it suddenly loses its appetite. Some refuse to eat out of protest and will return to normal in short order. Other cats may stop eating for days and need a vet’s intervention.

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Richard Parker

I'm Richard, the lead writer for Senior Cat Wellness. I'm experienced in all cat health-related matters, behavioral issues, grooming techniques, and general pet care. I'm a proud owner of 5 adult cats (all adopted strays), including a senior cat who is now 20.

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