Cats are finicky about their food, but a refusal to eat for more than 24 hours can be dangerous. When a cat stops eating, it will lose weight quickly. So, you need to find out why your cat refuses to eat and take action.
According to Veterinary Clinics of North America, a loss of appetite is a symptom of many feline health issues. The most common reason for a cat to stop eating is temporary sickness. But a loss of appetite could be due to everything from dental pain to respiratory disease.
The signs of a lack of appetite can vary. Your cat may be tempted by food but doesn’t eat well. Or it may show no interest in any food whatsoever. Sometimes, refusal to eat may be accompanied by vomiting or pain.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating?
- 1.1 Respiratory Diseases
- 1.2 Digestive Problems
- 1.3 Dental Disease
- 1.4 Infections
- 1.5 Foreign Bodies
- 1.6 Your Cat’s in Heat
- 1.7 Pregnancy
- 1.8 Flavor of the Food
- 1.9 Spoiled Food
- 1.10 Texture of Food
- 1.11 Food is too Cold
- 1.12 Outdoor Eating
- 1.13 Changes in Weather
- 1.14 Recent Vaccination
- 1.15 Changes in Surroundings
- 1.16 Anxiety and Depression
- 1.17 Changes in Food Bowl Location
- 1.18 Food is Close to the Water or Litter Box
- 1.19 Whisker Fatigue
- 1.20 Medicine in the Food
Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating?
If your cat goes off its food, understanding the cause(s) can help you to resolve the issue sooner. Here are some of the explanations:
The discharge from upper respiratory diseases may clog your cat’s nose and eyes, inhibiting its sense of sight and smell. If your cat isn’t able to smell or see its food properly, it may lose its appetite.
Lower respiratory tract diseases cause difficulty breathing, causing discomfort and a lack of interest in food.
If your cat is suffering from an upper respiratory disease and congestion, help clear its nasal passages using saline drops in its nostrils or taking it to a steamy bathroom. This may allow your cat to breathe better and smell its food again. If this doesn’t work, take your cat to a vet.
In most cases, respiratory issues can be cleared up with antibiotics.
Some digestive issues may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating. Cats may refuse food due to these symptoms, or they may have a lack of appetite as one of the first signs of a digestive issue.
Digestive problems that lead to loss of appetite include:
- Irritable bowel disease
- Imbalance of intestinal bacteria
- Acid reflux
- Stomach ulcers or tumors
Any problems, such as an obstruction or inflammation in your cat’s stomach, pancreas, intestines or other parts of your cat’s gut can prevent it from eating. If you suspect your cat is suffering from a digestive issue, take it to a vet immediately.
According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 50 to 90% of cats suffer from some form of dental problem after the age of four.
If your cat feels pain while eating, it will instinctively avoid this activity even if it causes starvation. Painful or diseased teeth and gums are a common cause of painful eating that leads to loss of appetite. Some dental problems in cats include:
- Jaw fractures
- Gum inflammation (gingivitis)
- Tooth resorption
- Dental abscess
Dental problems are difficult to diagnose in cats. Therefore, your vet may sedate or anesthetize your cat during diagnosis.
Treatment for loss of appetite caused by dental pain largely depends on the cause. In most cases, it can be prevented with regular teeth brushing.
Dental problems are reversible most of the time and can be managed with pain medication, antibiotics, professional dental cleanups and in severe cases, removal of the offending tooth.
Infections, inflammations, and some illnesses may trigger the immune system to purge your cat’s body. This doesn’t only include diarrhea and vomiting, but temporary refusal to eat as well.
If your cat’s loss of appetite is accompanied by other signs and symptoms (especially those of an infection), take it to a vet immediately.
Hairballs or ingestion of foreign bodies can cause obstructions in the stomach or intestines. Because an obstruction will not allow food to pass through the gut, it can cause major discomfort and stress. Obstructions in the gut are often accompanied by vomiting as well.
Some obstructions may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite as they pass through the digestive tract.
Your Cat’s in Heat
In addition to mating calls, excessive grooming and marking of territory, cats in heat show an obvious decline in their appetite when in heat.
A cat in heat has her mind on preparing for reproducing, not eating. Loss of appetite due to being in heat can last up to 2 weeks. Your cat’s eating routine should return to normal after two weeks.
Appetite during pregnancy can vary from one cat to another. While some cats have a voracious appetite when they’re pregnant, others may refuse to eat and suddenly go off their food.
Pregnant cats can also get morning sickness. Morning sickness in cats typically begins within 3-4 weeks of being pregnant and can cause a cat to lose her appetite.
Flavor of the Food
Some cats may go off their food simply because they don’t want to eat. A cat may choose to eat just one type and flavor of food for years before it decides it doesn’t want to eat it any longer.
It’s uncommon for cats to get bored with their food. Therefore, this type of refusal to eat may be influenced by formula changes from manufacturers.
Some brands make subtle changes in their quality or flavor of food without any signs on the packaging. However, a cat’s keen sense of smell and taste can always detect even the slightest of changes.
See if the packaging says “new and improved flavor” or call the manufacturer to find out about any recent changes. You may have to find a new brand of food that closely resembles your cat’s favorite.
Cats can easily tell when their food is old, spoiled or expired. Did you know that even dry food can get rancid? Not properly storing your cat’s food can cause the vitamins and fats in the food to waste away.
Experts recommend keeping cat food in their original packaging because they are designed to act as perfect barriers that help keep food fresher for longer. To maintain the freshness of your cat’s dry food, simply keep it in its original bag inside a sealed container.
Texture of Food
Cats are picky about certain food textures and shapes. Some cats only like canned wet food, while others will only pick crunchy kibble. Some prefer round kibbles, while others prefer triangle-shaped dry food.
Trying a different flavor, texture or shape of food can help if your cat is being a fussy eater.
Food is too Cold
If your cat refuses to eat its usual wet food, check if it is too cold. Wet food that gets cold easily loses its delicious aroma, especially when stored in the fridge. Cats don’t like to eat foods they cannot smell, so try warming the food a little before placing it in your cat’s bowl.
If your cat doesn’t touch its wet food and it starts to become dry at the top, simply toss it away, wash the bowl and try again.
If you have an outdoor-access cat, remember that it may be sourcing its food from other places as well. This can include an unscheduled hunt, or a neighbor feeding your cat. By the time you offer your cat its dinner, it may not be hungry.
Changes in Weather
Cats may experience changes in appetite according to weather. Hot weather causes cats to eat less, maybe because they’re trying to lose their extra fat layer to keep cool in the summer.
Loss of appetite is a common side effect of vaccinations. Vaccinations are lifesavers for millions of cats and in most cases, the adverse effects associated with them are mild and temporary. Your cat’s appetite should be back within a few hours.
If your cat refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, see your vet as soon as possible.
Changes in Surroundings
Cats prefer predictability and routine. Therefore, any changes in their food routine, or even their living space, can lead to a loss of appetite.
Motion sickness while traveling by car or plane can also lead to a lack of interest in food due to nausea.
In many cases, just the stress from traveling, veterinary visits, sudden noises in the living space, or changes in routine can lead to refusal to eat.
Anxiety and Depression
Sensitive cats are more likely to be affected by changes in the house, their owners, companions, and their food. Any change in your cat’s familiar routine can affect its wellbeing and lead to anxiety and depression.
Keep in mind that most cats take time to adjust to new types of food. Therefore, if you’ve made any changes in its diet, this could be the cause of its stress.
Avoid completely changing your cat’s food. Instead, add a little new food to its existing food. This will ease your cat into its new diet gradually.
Changes in Food Bowl Location
According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, changes in external factors, such as the feeding environment or diet can cause anorexia in cats.
This is especially common in multi-cat households. Any changes in the food bowl location are terrifying for a cat, especially if one cat is bullying another. Every time the bullied cats approaches its bowl, the dominant cat may stare at it aggressively. This causes the timid cat to avoid eating.
If your cat’s bowl is too close to another animal, such as a loud dog, or a loud object, such as the vacuum cleaner or washing machine, it may be too scared to approach it.
Your cat may have to pass the scary location to approach the food. Identify the submissive or timid cat in your home and offer it food in a closed room. Make sure your cats have a proper eating schedule. If you choose to free feed, the food should be accessible in multiple locations.
Food is Close to the Water or Litter Box
In the wild, cats eat, drink and eliminate in separate places. If you’ve moved the food bowl, water bowl and/or litter box together, this may be the cause for your cat’s fussiness. Simply, move its food away from the litterbox or water and see if that works.
The idea behind it is that a cat’s whiskers are highly sensitive and if anything, such as the sides of a food bowl, touches it repeatedly it can cause stress, discomfort, and desensitization.
With time, whisker fatigue may cause your cat to stop eating entirely to avoid the unpleasant sensation.
Cats have 100 to 200 nerve cells per whisker. The whiskers play an important role in sending spatial information to the brain, for example, whether a space is too narrow to crawl through.
Instead of using a deep bowl, consider using plates. While some cats may find their whiskers touching the bowl just slightly uncomfortable, others may find it distressing.
Medicine in the Food
Cats have a powerful sense of smell that allows them to know what they’re eating, especially if it is something they haven’t hunted for themselves.
While it is okay to put a dewormer into your cat’s food occasionally, medicating it regularly through its food isn’t recommended.
Adding medication to your cat’s food too often can cause food aversions, loss of appetite, and unhealthy weight loss.
A better way to give your cat medicine is by using treats. Some treats are designed specifically for pills, such as “Pill Pockets.”
Alternatively, if your cat enjoys raw food, try sneaking a pill into one of the ventricles of a chicken heart.
Cats are food-focused animals. So, if a cat loses interest in food all of a sudden, there will be an explanation. You need to find out the reason why your cat has stopped eating and make the necessary adjustments. If your cat hasn’t eaten in more than 24 hours, it needs to be seen by a vet.