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My cat won’t eat: Why and how to help when cats stop eating

Cat won't eat

A cat’s loss of appetite can be a result of a picky eater or indicate illness. Either way, hunger strikes can take a serious toll on your cat’s health and should be addressed immediately. The first step to addressing your cat’s eating habits is to identify the reason for their appetite loss. So, why has your cat stopped eating? What can you do to get your cat to eat? 

Table of contents 

Possible reasons your cat won’t eat 

If your cat was eating their meals without issues and is suddenly on a hunger strike, you may be wondering: why won’t my cat eat? Cats are well-known finicky eaters, but you shouldn’t assume that this is the only reason they aren’t eating. In fact, a cat that suddenly decides to stop eating is often a sign of a more serious problem. Here are some of the more common reasons why a cat won’t eat: 

Health issues 

A number of different health conditions may be responsible for a loss of appetite in cats, including: 

  • Kidney disease is one of the most common health issues in cats, particularly in older cats. Kidney disease is very unpleasant for cats. It often causes extreme nausea, vomiting, and changes in thirst and urination. Cats that are nauseous may seem interested in food, but then refuse it, or they may drool and lick their lips often. 
  • Congestive heart failure can result in fatigue and difficulty breathing, both of which can make your cat less interested in eating. 
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including parasites, pancreatitis, inflammation, colitis, acid reflux, irritable bowel disease, cancer, and indigestion can lead to appetite loss in cats. 
  • Respiratory problems can affect your cat’s sense of smell or ability to breathe, leading to a loss of appetite. Cats, just like humans, are less likely to want to eat when they can’t smell their food, so a stuffy nose can contribute to loss of appetite. Upper respiratory diseases may clog your cat’s nose and eyes with discharge, resulting in a temporary loss or restriction of sight and smell. Lower respiratory tract diseases may affect your cat’s lungs causing it to have difficulty breathing. 
  • Dental issues are very common in cats and can lead to appetite loss. Just like people, your cat may not want to eat if its mouth hurts. Changes in eating habits may indicate a wide variety of oral issues such as gum disease, abscesses, broken teeth, inflammation, tumors, or any other source of mouth pain. 

Side effects 

Although vaccines have been lifesavers for millions of animals, they do cause side effects in some. Following vaccinations, it is common for cats to experience mild, temporary nausea for a day or two. If your cat was recently vaccinated and shows signs of nausea and loss of appetite, this is not an immediate cause for concern and typically resolves within about 48 hours.   

Nausea may also be caused by medications such as antibiotics or chemotherapy. Consult your veterinarian if your cat is nauseous and not eating while taking any medications or eating a prescription diet. Your veterinarian will be able to help you find ways to stimulate your cat’s appetite and get your feline friend the nutrients they need. 

Preferences 

Cats have a well-deserved reputation for being stubborn and fussy eaters. It’s entirely possible that your cat is refusing to eat just because they’re picky and don’t like their food for one reason or another. 

Your cat may be very particular about the shape, texture, smell, temperature, or flavor of the food you give them. Cats, in general, take a long time to adjust to new types of food, so a recent change in diet could be the culprit of a sudden refusal to eat. A sudden rejection of the same food your cat has always eaten may occur if food manufacturers change flavors, ingredients, or if the food has gone bad. 

Kittens may be picky about their food as they start transitioning from milk to solid food. During this period, they are likely just trying to figure out what they like, and this process may take a few tries with different varieties of food. Some cats like triangle-shaped crunchy kibble while others prefer solely canned wet food—every cat is different! 

Stress 

Like many people, cats tend to be creatures of habit and can become stressed when any aspect of their normal routine changes. Unfortunately, loss of appetite is a common symptom of stress in cats. Possible causes of stress include: 

  • Family changes such as a new family member (human or animal), visitors, or the absence of a family member can be disturbing to sensitive cats. 
  • Environmental changes like new furniture, home renovations, or a new house entirely takes some time to adjust to. 

It is also common for pets, both dogs and cats, to have heightened stress around mealtime. This is particularly true for animals in multi-pet homes. Some shy cats may be intimidated or feel threatened by other animals when around food. This insecurity and stress can make eating a challenge and lead to appetite loss. 

Senior cats and appetite loss 

In healthy senior cats, a decreased sense of smell may be partially responsible for a loss of interest in eating. However, the discomfort associated with kidney and dental disease, both of which are common in older cats, are more likely causes of reluctance to eat. 

Why not eating is a problem for cats 

Although a refusal to eat is concerning for all pets. When animals don’t eat enough, they must rely on their fat reserves for energy. Before stored fat can be used for fuel, it must be processed by the liver. This step requires adequate supplies of protein. 

With rapid weight loss in a cat that stops eating, protein supplies are soon exhausted, and their liver becomes overwhelmed by all the fat. This reduced liver function results in a dangerous condition known as hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver failure and is potentially fatal. 

Overweight cats are at a particularly high risk of hepatic lipidosis. Due to the high amounts of fat in their body, the liver can become overwhelmed very quickly. The liver is a critical organ and if it’s not working effectively, your cat can develop weakness, lethargy, and jaundice without immediate treatment from your veterinarian. 

What to do when your cat won’t eat 

Refusal of food can have devastating consequences for your cat. It is critical to figure out the reasoning behind your cat’s loss of appetite and address the issue as soon as possible.  

How can you help a cat who won’t eat? Once the cause has been identified, here are some tips for getting your cat to eat: 

  • Mix in some appetite-stimulating or more appealing foods like liver, canned tuna, fish oil, broth, or a cooked egg. Remember to only offer these foods in small amounts. Large quantities may harm your pet by causing deficiencies or an overabundance of certain vitamins.  
  • Change things up by trying a new flavor, mixing in some wet cat food, or switching to a new shape or texture. Changes should be made slowly so as to not upset your cat’s digestive system. 
  • Make it smelly. A cat’s appetite is strongly driven by their sense of smell. Try incorporating canned wet food, which tends to have a stronger smell than dry kibble. Heating wet food also increases its aroma, which can make a meal more appetizing for your cat. 
  • Make sure your cat can eat in a quiet and safe location. Give them a secure space to eat where they won’t be bothered by family or other pets. They’ll be more likely to eat if they are relaxed and can enjoy a meal in peace. 
  • Keep it fresh. If your cat doesn’t eat soon after you put their food down, take their bowl away. Food left out can harden and become stale, and your cat may learn to avoid it in the future. 

Consult your veterinarian about your cat’s changes in eating habits. It is important to talk to your vet about what to feed a sick cat that won’t eat. If there is a health issue that makes eating uncomfortable for your cat, your veterinarian can make recommendations for special diets and feeding methods. 

Even if you’re trying to make your cat eat a doctor-prescribed diet, never starve your cat into eating a certain type of food. Refusing to eat for any reason can have severe consequences for cats, so food intake should be the priority. 

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help stressed cats? 

Unfortunately, stress, particularly when it results in loss of appetite, can take a serious toll on cats’ health and quality of life.    

ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA feline oil and paste can help their stress levels decrease and return to a normal state of balance. By truly calming without sedating, CBD + CBDA allows cats to relax and develop positive associations around mealtime and with any situations that previously triggered stress, helping to reduce their stress response over time.     

As always, consult your veterinarian if your cat shows signs of stress. For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products or how CBD can help your feline friend live their best life, give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help. 

When should you go to the vet? 

We’ve established that a sudden loss of appetite can both independently cause serious issues for cats, as well as signal severe underlying health concerns. And these issues can arise soon after your cat stops eating, so it’s important to know when to contact your veterinarian. 

Cat parents should closely monitor their cat’s eating habits and consult their veterinarian if a hunger strike lasts longer than a meal or two. Generally, cats should not go longer than 24 hours without eating. You should also take note of any other symptoms that accommodate a loss of appetite, including: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lethargy 
  • Difficulty breathing 

If your cat exhibits loss of appetite for more than 24 hours or in conjunction with these symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately. 

Bottom line 

Although cats are known to be picky eaters, there are several reasons your cat may suddenly stop eating. If your cat won’t eat, they may be suffering from an underlying health issue or stress, and refusing to eat can have severe consequences. Therefore, it is important to monitor your cat and if the behavior lasts for more than a day you should call your vet immediately. The sooner the reason is identified, the sooner treatment can begin so your cat can start to feel better. 

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