What to Do When Your Cat Won’t Eat

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Cats can be finicky eaters. Some cats simply decide from one day to the next that they no longer like a food they’ve been happily eating before. This can be frustrating for cat parents, and it’s not something to take lightly. A cat who stops eating is always a concern, and a cat who hasn’t eaten anything for more than 24-48 hours may be developing hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition also known as fatty liver disease.

Rule out a medical issue

If your cat stops eating for more than 24-48 hours, an immediate visit to your veterinarian is in order. Inappetance can have numerous causes, and it’s important to identify the underlying condition.

Hepatic lipidosis – a serious consequence of loss of appetite

Hepatic lipidosis is almost always preceded by anorexia, a cat’s nearly total avoidance of food. When a body is undernourished or starved, it starts to metabolize its own fat reserves for energy. Cat’s bodies are not able to convert large stores of fat. When a cat is in starvation mode, the fat that is released to the liver is not processed efficiently and is simply stored there, leading to a fatty and low functioning liver. Cats who are already overweight are more prone to this condition than normal weight cats.

This condition requires aggressive treatment. If diagnosed early, and if the cat survives the first few days of treatment, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. If left untreated, the condition is fatal.

Is your cat finicky?

If your cat is finicky, there may be several reasons. Finicky eaters are made, not born. Kittens who are fed a variety of foods after being weaned from their mother develop varied tastes. Those fed the same food all the time often refuse unfamiliar foods later in life.

Something as simple as the wrong food bowl can cause finicky eating. Make sure bowls are shallow and wide so that the cat’s whiskers don’t touch the edge of the bowl. Keep bowls scrupulously clean and don’t use scented detergents to wash the bowls.

How to encourage your cat to eat

Encouraging a finicky eater requires patience and resourcefulness. The following tips may help:

• Offer foods that have a strong scent
• Sprinkle freeze dried chicken or salmon on top.
• Drizzle a little bit of tuna or clam juice drizzled over the food
• Add small pieces of cooked cooked meat
• Spread a spoonful of meat-based baby food (make sure it doesn’t contain onion powder) on top of the meal
• Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the food (yes, the stuff in the green can)
• Sprinkle nutritional yeast over the food

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This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission. 

16 Comments on What to Do When Your Cat Won’t Eat

  1. mountainkiddo
    June 18, 2018 at 11:52 pm (6 months ago)

    One thing I do as a last resort when one of my gang stops eating, is I take a food Kitty previously ate, and paint it on them, as is smear it in goobs on their legs, chest and paws. They have to lick it to get it off. My theory is that after too long without eating as is pointed out in the article above, they tend to stop completely and I believe this is due to losing their taste for the food. Forcing them to lick the food off helps seems to help bring back the desire to eat. So once I get them licking the food off, I hold the bowl up right under their nose, and usually they will then start to eat from the bowl again. I’ve been successful at this with my IBD cat, as well as my Struvite cat who was addicted to the dry food. This is how I got him over his addiction. Hope this helps. 😉

    Reply
    • carol
      June 21, 2018 at 4:44 am (6 months ago)

      I always keep a few cans of Science Diet A/D on hand. I know it requires a prescription, but my vet has been kind and will sell me a few cans to keep on hand for emergencies. I also keep KMR (kitten milk replacer) powder on hand. The KMR powder I keep in the frig in airtight plastic containers to keep fresh. For a kitty that won’t eat I mix a little of the KMR powder and a little of the A/D together then add warm water to make it the consistency (kind of like a creamy soup) that i can draw up into a syringe (no needle). I then syringe feed this to the cat. ALWAYS test the temperature on your wrist as you would for a human baby to make sure it is not too hot. You just want it warm. The KMR probably isn’t a good idea if they have a cold as it can cause mucus issues, but for cases of not eating this has helped me save lots of sick kitties over the years.
      If they are not drinking enough you can mix UNFLAVORED pedialyte and water (50/50) and syringe feed that to them too. The electrolytes help their organs and muscles and their body absorbs it well. Cats that are about 10 pounds need about 200ml of fluid per day. They can get some of the fluids from canned food, but you don’t want kitty to become dehydrated.

      Reply
  2. Lisa
    June 18, 2018 at 10:56 am (6 months ago)

    Interestingly enough, both of my cats developed IBS and the culprit is fish and fish products. Switching food worked wonders and appetite resumed.

    One of them stopped eating after dental work, and even though that’s a typical side effect, I was concerned because the severity of it was not normal. I tried baby food, various forms of moist and dry food, chicken shreds and chicken broth with very limited success. Brought him to my local vet and it turned out his kidney values were significantly elevated. After a course of IV fluids and home fluid treatment, he resumed normal eating after being stabilized. So don’t be afraid of taking the cat to the vet! If cost is an issue, call around as maybe there is vet or vet training school willing to help at reduced cost.

    In less serious scenarios, I’ve had good luck with strong flavored chicken broth (no onions!) with pumpkin and chicken shreds and reducing stress with flower essences.

    Reply
  3. Janine
    June 18, 2018 at 8:02 am (6 months ago)

    I always worry when my cats don’t want one meal. I’m on constant watch right then. When Pono was alive, he used to get where he wouldn’t eat and even though it’s not the best thing to give a cat, we would tempt him with tuna, even in the middle of the night. When he wouldn’t eat it, we would run him to the vet the next morning. His allergies made him where he couldn’t smell food and you know when they don’t smell, they don’t eat.

    Reply
  4. Andrew
    February 4, 2018 at 9:26 am (11 months ago)

    I got two cats from a random person who didn’t want them (don’t know why they’re amazing) ones under a year female we’ve had spayed and tests (cost me a bomb) the other we have no idea (but Def older tomcat- we haven’t had done or tested)

    he’s been eating everything perfect and settled perfectly it’s been like 1-2month.

    Then yesterday he just went almost too loving he used to fight me I’m covered in scratches which I don’t mind he’s playing (definiteley!) lol not leaving my bed sleeping almost 24hours and not eating for about a day and almost a half now I obviously want to take to the vet but cost is huge factor. Very wide question but does this seem extremely alarming or just kind of worrisome?

    (I will take to the vet when money is available in about 8days is this too long?)

    Reply
  5. Mandie
    May 26, 2017 at 11:03 pm (2 years ago)

    I adopted my cat from the shelter 3 days ago. She is 1 year old and super sweet. However, she ate all of her food and some, and drank all of her water when we got her home. She hasn’t eaten since and the only way I can get her to drink is if I put her in the bathtub and turn the water on. So far I’ve called the vet twice with my concern and they’ve told me just to watch her. Any recommendations?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 27, 2017 at 5:07 am (2 years ago)

      While it’s normal for a cat to be too stressed to eat as she adapts to a new environment, I’d be very concerned if she truly hasn’t eaten anything in three days. Try enticing her with really “stinky” food, or try sprinkling nutritional yeast on her food.

      Reply
  6. Sue Brandes
    September 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm (4 years ago)

    I have one who sometimes turns his nose up. He’s so funny cause he could of ate it the meal before. The only time I had ones not eat is when they were near the end of life or had medical issues. I really keep an eye out with all of my kitties but; Charlie is my sickly one so I especially watch him. And he is an older kitty. Thanks for the post Ingrid.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 18, 2014 at 6:11 am (4 years ago)

      Ruby will do that occasionally, Sue. Even if she inhaled a food the day before, some days, she needs a little extra coaxing to eat the exact same thing. It’s actually one of the reasons why I recommend rotating different foods.

      Reply
  7. Sabrina
    September 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm (4 years ago)

    A few weeks ago my cat, Hobbs, stopped eating. I was worried about fatty liver disease too, and when he couldn’t even be tempted to eat bacon, I knew he wasn’t just refusing his regular food. He had a UTI, a fever, and was dehydrated. He’s much better now and eating normally. 🙂 I’m glad I took him into the vet and didn’t wait, poor little thing was really sick.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 17, 2014 at 6:53 pm (4 years ago)

      I’m so glad Hobbs is feeling better, Sabrina.

      Reply
  8. ann
    September 17, 2014 at 7:18 am (4 years ago)

    I’m do have a person to contact who works with the chip person. She’s very nasty to me because I’ve watched the situation closely. This rescue happened a few years ago. Can you contact this person to check the or if she’s alive. If sure hope she’s ok. It was so heartbreaking. (A gorgeous kitty) ann

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 17, 2014 at 7:24 am (4 years ago)

      I’m sure it was a heartbreaking situation, Ann, but that’s not something I can help you with.

      Reply
  9. ann
    September 17, 2014 at 6:47 am (4 years ago)

    I’m rescued an abandoned cat who hadn’t eaten for over 48 hours. It had trouble getting her to eat. Finally she would eat some tuna. Then it got her onto cat food with tuna. Is she going to be ok? Unfortunately it don’t have her anymore. The abuser got her back due to a chip. It’s a sad story. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 17, 2014 at 6:55 am (4 years ago)

      Tuna is a good way to entice a cat to eat, but it’s not a good choice longterm. It sounds like you’ll probably never know whether this cat will be okay, I’m so sorry.

      Reply

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