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What is Anorexia?

Anorexia can be categorized into two types: true anorexia and pseudo-anorexia. True anorexia describes a cat that does not want to eat and won’t, whereas pseudo-anorexia describes a cat that wants to eat but cannot due to complications. Disease, tumors, inflammation, and pain are common causes of anorexia in cats. A cat that has stopped eating for any reason is considered to be in an emergency situation, as starvation quickly causes life-threatening hepatic lipidosis in felines.

Anorexia in cats is the term used to describe a sustained partial or complete loss of appetite. Your feline may appear uninterested in her food or she could try to eat, but leaves the food bowl soon after. Anorexia is not a disease in itself, but rather a clinical sign of an underlying disease or health complication. Anorexia can be the result of pain, cancer, systemic disease, and abnormalities with the structures that occupy the mouth. Detection of anorexia at home might include the unwillingness to eat, dramatic weight loss and hiding around the home. 

Symptoms of Anorexia in Cats

Anorexia can cause a wide variety of symptoms in cats that may be primarily linked to anorexia or an underlying disease. The symptoms could worsen over time or suddenly in conjunction to a high-stress situation. Clinical signs that a cat owner may be able to detect at home include: 

  • Weakness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Weight loss
  • Icterus (yellowing of the skin)
  • Hiding 
  • Spending more time with the owner than usual
  • Depression 
  • Unwillingness to become active 
  • Lethargy
  • Excesses salivation 
  • Partial loss of appetite 
  • Complete loss of appetite 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting 


True Anorexia

True anorexia describes a cat that does not want to eat and refuses to eat.


Pseudo-anorexia describes a cat that wants to eat, but is not able to eat.

Causes of Anorexia in Cats

Causes of true anorexia include:


  • Side effect of medications
  • High environmental temperatures
  • Nausea 
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Intestinal ulcer
  • Gastrointestinal blockage
  • Cancer
  • Pain
  • Loss of the ability to smell 
  • Immune disease or imbalance
  • Poison exposure
  • Stress
  • Change of environment 
  • Change in food 
  • Systemic disease 


Causes of pseudo-anorexia include:

  • Pain
  • Tumors of the throat, tongue or mouth
  • Cancer
  • Damaged nerves that control swallowing or chewing 
  • Disease of the salivary glands
  • Temporomandibular joint pain (lower jaw pain)
  • Mastication muscle pain (chewing muscles) 
  • Eye abscess 
  • Periodontal disease 
  • Esophagitis 
  • Gingivitis
  • Stomatitis 

Diagnosis of Anorexia in Cats

The diagnosis of anorexia in cats will begin with a differential diagnosis between true and pseudo-anorexia. It is at this time the veterinarian will ask you about your feline behavior, focusing on her interest in food. The doctor will then review the cat’s medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam to reveal the presence of any irregularities that would prevent the cat from eating as usual. If the presence of an abnormality is unavailable, the veterinarian will choose to perform a variety of diagnostic tests including: 

  • Blood work, including a complete blood count, coagulation profile, and serum chemistry profile
  • Blood pressure analysis 
  • Thyroid testing  
  • Urinalysis, focusing on evaluating the kidneys through the evidence of increased bilirubin
  • Abdomen and chest ultrasound
  • X-rays 
  • An endoscopy 
  • FeLV testing 
  • FIV testing 

Treatment of Anorexia in Cats

Treatment of anorexia in cats focuses on treating the underlying condition that was found during diagnostic procedures. However, the veterinarian may provide supportive therapy to the feline to reverse dehydration, decrease nausea, and provide nutrition. Initial therapy is usually completed intravenously, but if the feline has not received adequate nutrition for greater than three days’ time, a feeding tube may be placed. The treatment plan your veterinarian chooses to address feline anorexia greatly depends on the underlying cause and how your feline reacts. Some cats’ underlying disease prevents them from tolerating food in the stomach, therefore an IV line may need to be placed to provide adequate nutrition. Nutritional therapy treatment requires hospitalization of the feline, as this therapy cannot be given at home and poses a risk for infection. The veterinarian may also choose to prescribe medications during the treatment period which could include: 

  • Steroids (inflammation reducers) 
  • IV fluids
  • Antacids 
  • Pain medications 
  • Appetite stimulants 
  • Anti-nausea medications 

Recovery of Anorexia in Cats

The prognosis for anorexia in cats depends on the underlying cause, the severity of the feline’s condition, and what the veterinarian has found present in the cat’s blood work. In general, a feline that refuses to eat has an overall poor prognosis. Your veterinarian will ask to reevaluate your feline periodically after the cat has been released home. 

Anorexia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Domestic shorthair
Ten Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

inappetant . lethargic

Dear Dr.,

My cat has had a reduced appetite for a week or so, and has gone completely without food for the past three days. His blood work came back normal, and an ultrasound showed nothing unusual (though possibly an enlarged spleen, from which some cells were taken for analysis). I am worried about his developing hepatic lipidosis while we are still trying to get answers, though I was told he shows no signs of this yet. Is there some pro-active measure we should be taking, to prevent this from happening, such as tube feeding? Would a prescription appetite enhancer be helpful?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1059 Recommendations
While you do need to figure out the cause of his inappetance to solve it, in the meantime while you are waiting, yes, there are things that you can try to keep him eating, as you are right - lipidosis is a very real concern. Mirtazapine is an appetite stimulant that you can get from your veterinarian, and you can syringe feed him a prescription cat food if needed. Some cats also really like turkey-flavored baby food, for some reason, and in the short term, that will at least keep him eating. None of these things are long term solutions, but may help until you figure out what is happening with him. I hope that he is okay.

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domestic short hair
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Less active
Loss Of Mass
Loss of Appetite

Medication Used


My cat has been slowly losing weight over the last three months. Lowest weight 4lbs 2Oz. Last July we bought a kitten in to the home and although she tolerates her they aren't friends

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
A loss of weight and appetite may be due to stress or depression, but without examining S I cannot rule out medical causes related to these symptoms; have you tried keeping the cats separate? Is there any improvement in behaviour or appetite? You should visit your Veterinarian to make sure that there isn’t a medical cause for these symptoms, otherwise it is a behavioural issue. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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15 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Vomiting, poor appetite, fatigue

15 (within 2 months) year old neutered male cat (always indoors). Beginnings of kidney failure - no problems with elimination but increase in urine. Episodes of vomiting. Over last two-three weeks, vomited about six times. KIdney, liver levels OK; no anemia. NOt sure what level should be 3.5 but is 50?? Has low B12 levels. Vet proposes sonogram and meds. My specific question - what will a sonogram show that can be realistically treated considering my cat's age and other health issues? I understand your response will be general in nature. Thank you.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1059 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without knowing more about Smokey, I'm not sure that I can answer that question - if his kidney and liver levels are fine, I'm not sure that he is in the beginning of kidney failure, although if that is what your veterinarian has diagnosed, there are probably details that I'm not aware of. Depending on what your veterinarian thinks is wrong with him, an ultrasound may help to know the prognosis of treatment, if there is a worry for cancer, or other conditions. If your veterinarian is recommending it, it is probably a good idea, but it is always fair to ask what you are going to do with the results of any testing, and that is a great question to ask I hope that Smokey does well.

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domestic short hair
10 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

My cat has hyperthyroidism. Now has been on felimazole for about 6 weeks. Gain a little weight at first and now is losing weight again.

She eats and drinks water but I fear that she is not eating enough because she is so skinny.

Clinically her thyroid is in the normal range but her weight loss is pretty scary.

Side note. Her anal glands swell after she poops. She was treated for about a week and things looked pretty good but the swelling has returned.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
A loss or decrease in appetite is a side effect of felimazole, it may be worth speaking with your Veterinarian about a high calorie diet for Lydia which may help her put on weight with a lower quantity of food. You should also have your Veterinarian check the anal glands if the problem is recurring. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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