It’s not uncommon for cats to stop eating food or treats for what seems to be no apparent reason and then, just as inexplicably, start eating again. However, there are times when cats stop eating for a specific reason, which may need addressing. Cats typically hide their pain and distress quite well, so it’s vital to pay close attention to your cat if he suddenly loses his appetite, as this can be an indication of a more significant issue.
As a feline parent, it is essential to be aware of the potential causes for your cat’s sudden refusal to eat. Knowing the reasons will help you determine if there is little to be concerned about, if there is a remedy you can try at home or if you need to consult with your veterinarian for a solution.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why your cat may not be eating:
Underlying Health Problems Can Cause Cats to Stop Eating
1. Digestive Tract Diseases
While it may seem like cats have a very tough digestive system, as they happily eat mice, other rodents, birds, and any number of insects, they can have digestive health issues. Underlying issues involving the stomach, small or large intestines, pancreas, or liver can all cause your cat to stop eating. If your cat is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, this could indicate a problem in his digestive system, and a decrease in appetite may follow. Common diseases in the digestive tract include acid reflux, intestinal bacteria imbalance, parasites, irritable bowel disease (IBD), and tumors. While it may be a simple upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, or if his abdomen is sensitive to touch are all indications that you should immediately contact your veterinarian
2. Stress or Depression
Like humans, cats experience a wide range of positive and negative emotions. There can be emotional causes for a loss of appetite in your cat. For example, cats often experience anxiety or depression when a loved one—whether human or animal—is no longer in their life. When this occurs, your cat may show how he feels by refusing food. Giving extra attention can help him feel better, but some high-value treats like tuna may tempt him.
3. Changes in Environment
Cats are sensitive to change, so any changes within your home environment can cause stress and anxiety for your cat. These changes can sometimes seem subtle to humans, but they can be a big deal for cats. Some examples of environmental changes include remodeling, changing the location of food and litter boxes, social conflicts with other animals in the home, or the addition of a new human in the home. When your cat experiences stress or anxiety due to environmental changes within your home, it may stop eating. Try to look at his life with fresh eyes, and if you can think of a change that may cause loss of appetite, you might be able to address it and help him get back to eating normally.
4. Age-Related Issues
Age and age-related issues such as arthritis or any pain are very common causes of inappetence. Cats tend to disappear and hide out when they are depressed, stressed, or in pain, so it is essential to pay attention to all aspects of their behavior aside from not eating to try and figure out what is going on with their health. Pain and stress are very related, so the loss of appetite could be telling you what is wrong with your fur baby.
5. Presence of Foreign Bodies
As the parent of a cat, you most likely have experienced your cat eating things he shouldn’t. For some cats, it’s as simple as a hairball. For others, it’s a foreign object that they simply can’t digest. These hairballs and objects can get stuck in your cat’s intestines. When this happens, it is called “obstruction”. When an obstruction is present in the intestines, food can’t pass through the digestive tract, and your cat will stop eating and likely will vomit. An obstruction can be extremely dangerous and require surgery if your cat cannot pass the object. Keep an eye on his litterbox and his general demeanor and if you suspect an obstruction, call your veterinarian immediately.
6. Respiratory Tract Diseases
Respiratory diseases that prevent your cat from breathing normally can cause a loss of appetite. Problems with your cat’s upper respiratory system congest your cat’s nose with mucus and fluid, resulting in a decreased sense of smell. Additionally, some respiratory diseases decrease your cat’s lung function, making breathing difficult. If your cat has a hard time breathing, it will make eating more challenging. Many of these respiratory problems can be treated with antibiotics; however, sometimes, it can be a more serious issue. Cats who have not been vaccinated can become extremely ill with respiratory disease, so it is essential that your cat is up to date on all vaccines. If he is not and appears to be suffering respiratory distress, call your veterinarian right away.
7. Dental Diseases
Some cats experience pain in their teeth and gums from time to time. This pain can result from tooth decay, gum disease, or even trauma. In cases of trauma to the mouth, cats can fracture their teeth and develop resorptive lesions. These lesions cause inflammation, which is painful. When it comes to gum disease, if left untreated, abscesses can develop, which also cause significant amounts of pain. No matter the cause of the dental pain, if your cat’s mouth is uncomfortable, it will most likely not want to eat. Dental issues are often hard to diagnose in a cat, but they are quite common, especially in older cats. Dental surgery or cleaning may be required to alleviate the pain and get your cat back to being comfortable and eating again.
The Importance of Food Taste, Shape, and Texture
8. Food Taste
Cat lovers know how particular they can be. Some cats will be perfectly content to eat the same flavor food for years and then decide out of the blue they no longer prefer it. Most of the time, this happens because of changes in your cat’s taste. However, there are times where the food manufacturer has actually changed the ingredients without changing the packaging. When the manufacturer makes this change, your cat may not like it and will let you know by refusing to eat!
9. Food Shape and Texture
One of the things we love the most about our cats is how smart they are! Believe it or not, cats take note of the shape and texture of their food. Some cats like triangles, while others prefer round shapes. Some will only eat crunchy dry food, while others will only eat wet food. If you have recently changed the shape or texture of your cat food, this could cause your cat to stop eating.
It’s always unsettling when our cats suddenly stop eating, and our minds can wander to the worst-case scenario. Cats are challenging to decipher, but they tell us if they aren’t feeling well by not eating. If your cat has stopped eating, it is always best to address the issue as soon as it becomes noticeable. No matter if you suspect an underlying disease or a problem with their food, if you feel unsure about your cat’s lack of appetite, it’s best to call your veterinarian’s office for a consultation. With proper treatment, your cat will most likely be back to eating its food in no time. No one knows your cat better than you do, so call your veterinarian if something doesn’t seem right with your cat.