What is Loss of Appetite?
It is crucial to address the loss of your cat's appetite, because 24 hours of avoiding food (as little as 12 hours for young kittens) can have considerable impact on your cat's health.
When a cat lacks the ability or desire to eat, the condition is typically referred to as anorexia. This continued loss of appetite is not generally an illness in itself, but more likely a clinical sign that can point to a number of illnesses or other problems.
Symptoms of Loss of Appetite in Cats
Although the clearest sign that your cat is not eating is to observe them refusing food each time it's given to them, there are other symptoms that can be present that can help narrow down what may be causing the food avoidance. Keep a lookout for any of the following signs, as they can indicate an issue such as disease:
- Excessive drooling
- Weight loss
- Change in behavior
- Labored breathing
- Signs of infection (e.g. pus discharge)
Causes of Loss of Appetite in Cats
There are several potential issues that can cause a cat to lose its appetite. The causes are usually grouped into two separate categories, psychological and medical.
- Dislike of new food
- Moving to a new home
- New pet or baby joining the family
- Travel to unfamiliar location
- Other stress (e.g. bullied by another pet, hospitalization)
- Vaccination side effect
- Dental issue (e.g. toothache)
- Digestive system disease (e.g. stomach, esophagus, liver)
- Kidney infection
- Blood disease
- Ingestion of poison
Diagnosis of Loss of Appetite in Cats
Due to the variety of causes of a cat's loss of appetite, a veterinarian will want your pet to undergo a complete evaluation. One of the first things that may be done is checking your cat's weight and temperature, as well as the usual workup of a CBC (complete blood count), a urinalysis, and biochemical profile. The workup can determine specific disorders found in internal organs, like infectious diseases. Also, your vet may perform a physical examination to find things such as wounds or other signs of trauma.
A chest or abdominal x-ray or ultrasound will probably be recommended to look for any abnormalities or inflammation. If parasites are suspected to be the cause, the vet will order a fecal examination. Furthermore, your cat will undergo an oral examination to check for dental diseases.
As the loss of appetite can sometimes be psychological, it may be difficult to come up with a diagnosis if lab tests come back normal. You can assist in the diagnosis by keeping track of and informing the vet of any changes to your cat's behavior, as well as what occurred around the house when those changes began.
Treatment of Loss of Appetite in Cats
Your veterinarian will want to begin treatment immediately as the longer the anorexia continues, the quicker your cat's health will decline. Often, treatment will begin while the vet is still determining exactly what is causing the loss of appetite. There are a handful of different methods to treat the condition.
Depending on the diagnosis, your vet will prescribe the corresponding medication to treat whatever illness your cat may have. For instance, antibiotics may be given for a bacterial infection, while medication to treat parasites will be prescribed upon the discovery of the parasite.
There are also drugs available that will stimulate your cat's appetite while handling some of the other symptoms, such as nausea.
Either through an IV or through injections under the skin, your vet will deliver fluids to your cat so they will continue to receive hydration and vital nutrients.
This method of feeding helps avoid food going through your cat's mouth, which may be especially helpful if a dental disease is the cause of loss of appetite. Liquefied or softened food can be sent directly into the pet's digestive system. It's a method that's also useful for psychological problems with food as the cat won't be able to associate any negative feelings with food being in its mouth, and instead will steadily begin to eat on their own again.
Feeding Techniques at Home
Often, when the problem is directly related to the psyche rather than any physical illness, treatment works best with mixing up the diet or changing the way your cat is fed. You can try giving food directly out of your hand or through a syringe and adding favored foods. Also, warming up the food may prove useful, but always check that it's not too hot and is close to body temperature.
Recovery of Loss of Appetite in Cats
It is important that you continue to observe your cat as its appetite increases at a steady, consistent rate. A lack of eating can lead to dehydration, so be on the lookout for that as well. Your cat may benefit from the likes of electrolyte or hydration supplements, which your vet will be able to recommend. If medication is given, always follow your vet's instructions to prevent the illness returning.
If changes at home are to blame for your cat not eating, then you should also address with your vet on how best to manage the situation, such as in the case of bringing in a new pet or even having a baby. Be sure to follow up with your vet to make sure your cat's eating habits are returning to normal, and if there are any indications that the anorexia has returned, take your pet in for another examination as soon as possible.