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What is Not Eating?

You come home from work and noticed that your cat’s dry food bowl is full.  Usually, your fur- baby has eaten at least half of his food by the time you get back. Wet food comes to mind; so you open a can and put it in a bowl for him. The cat just walks by the food and refuses to eat. There are many reasons cats stop eating such as:

  • Finicky eaters
  • Recent vaccinations
  • Behavior issues such as anxiety, depression and stress
  • Dental problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Upper respiratory infection

If your cat is not eating, it may be an indication of a serious underlying condition.  Anorexia is the medical term for loss of appetite for food. An anorexic cat must be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Cats can physically deteriorate very rapidly.

Why Not Eating Occurs in Cats

The reason your cat is not eating will depend on the underlying reason.  For example:

Finicky Eaters

Some cats are finicky eaters.  Cats that were exposed to different flavors and textures at a young age tend to be less finicky.  A newly adopted cat may be used to a completely different diet than the one you are feeding him.

Recent Vaccination

Vaccinations can cause a decrease in appetite and a low grade fever.  Side effects of a vaccination usually last a day or two. If your cat is lethargic or appears ill after a vaccine, consult your veterinarian.

Behavior Issues

Stress, anxiety and depression can cause anorexia in cats. A new home, loud construction noises, the death of another household pet, or being boarded may cause your cat to feel nervous and melancholic. 

Dental Problems

Your cat may have a fractured or loose tooth, which is causing him a great deal of pain.  The cat may also have gingivitis and/or periodontal disease caused by plaque accumulation.  Swollen and irritated gums make eating dry cat food very difficult and painful.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is a common condition in older cats.  Certain feline breeds are more prone to develop chronic kidney disease such as the Siamese, Persian, Maine Coon and the Burmese. Kidney disease causes a lack of appetite.

Liver Disease

The liver is an important organ, which aids in digestion, fights infection, eliminates toxins and waste products, and helps regulate hormones.  Liver disease is common in geriatric and overweight cats. Liver disease may be slow and progressive (chronic) or it may appear suddenly (acute).

Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastrointestinal problems may include:

  • Parasites such as hookworm and giardia
  • Abdominal blockage caused by the cat ingesting an inedible object (string, rubber, hair tie, toy, plastic)
  • Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestines; your cat may be feeling nauseas and may not want to eat (the inflammation of the stomach may be triggered by changes in diet, hairballs, bacterial infection, garbage/food scraps, pancreatitis, stress or cancer)

Upper Respiratory Infection 

Upper respiratory infections (URI) are caused by viral or bacterial organisms.  The organisms herpesvirus and calicivirus are the reason for 90% of all upper respiratory infections in cats.  Along with anorexia, URI can cause sneezing, congestion, nasal discharge and conjunctivitis.

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What to do if your Cat is Not Eating

You can try to coax him to eat by putting a little bit of food on your fingertips. Adding tiny pieces of chicken or fish to his food may spark his attention.  If you think your cat is stressed putting him in a quiet room with his food and water bowl may make him feel less anxious. If your attempts to prompt his appetite fail, it is time to take him to the veterinarian.

The veterinarian will perform a physical exam on your cat. He will evaluate your cat’s overall health.  He may recommend a few diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry panel, electrolyte evaluation, fecal exam and a urinalysis.  If the veterinarian suspects gastrointestinal issues he may also recommend x-rays and ultrasound imaging.  The results from the diagnostic tests will help narrow down the underlying reason for your cat’s lack of appetite. Patients with dental issues may be referred to a veterinary dentist.

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Prevention of Not Eating

Cats are meant to eat a diet that is high in protein but low in carbohydrates.  Unfortunately, a lot of commercial cat foods contain 30 to 50% carbohydrate calories.  Additionally, the type of protein in a cat’s diet should not be plant based ( for example, soy).  Usually, wild or feral cats get hydrated from their prey, which is approximately 75% water. Dry cat food only contains 5 to 10% water.  Many commercial cat foods are also packed with dyes and carcinogenic preservatives. Conditions such as kidney issues, liver disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and food allergies may be linked to your pet’s diet.  It is important to read the ingredient label on your cat’s food.  A little bit of research on your pet’s diet may help prevent health issues.

Your cat should also have yearly wellness visit to ensure that he remains healthy. The wellness check can also diagnose a health condition in the early stages. The early diagnosis of a health issue usually has a better recovery prognosis.

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Cost of Not Eating

The treatment cost will depend on the underlying cause of your cat’s loss of appetite.   Patients with anxiety or vaccination side effects may have no treatment costs. Other conditions will vary. Cats that have an upper respiratory infection may have treatment costs of up to $500.  The therapy for gastroenteritis can range in expense up to $800 and the treatment expenses for liver disease can be $1800.

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Not Eating Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Tabby cat

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7 month

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Has Symptoms

Throwing Up, Not Eating

My cat supposedly has a URI. But today is Thursday and he’s not ate anything since Monday. I’ve been giving him Pedialyte so he doesn’t get dehydrated. But he’s super super slow moving and i don’t know what else to do

July 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It sounds like a recheck with your veterinarian would be the best idea at this point. If he has not been eating for 4 days, that is a problem. There may be more going on than what they thought initially, or he may need supportive care. I would call them as soon as you can in the morning, and let them know what's going on. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 23, 2020

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Smokey

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Russian Blue

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Loss Of Energy
Won'T Eat

He started vomiting blood three days ago, but ceased doing so around 48 hours ago. So now, the problem is he won't eat at all. The bright side is he has been drinking a lot of water. He also has lost his energy. He is usually VERY energetic, but I assume that is because he won't eat.

Jan. 8, 2018

Smokey's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It is possible that Smokey’s stomach is a little sensitive after vomiting especially with blood, you should try to encourage eating with a bland diet like boiled chicken chunks which should be well tolerated; I am pleased that Smokey is drinking which is more important than eating. You should visit your Veterinarian however to check Smokey over since there are many reasons why Smokey may have been vomiting which may now be causing a loss of appetite including infections, gastric ulcers, parasites, foreign objects among other causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Jan. 8, 2018

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Buster

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Bengal

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16 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Not eating

July 26, 2017

Buster's Owner

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0 Recommendations

There are a few reasons for a cat to lose their appetite including dental problems (especially in older cats), intestinal obstruction, liver disease, kidney disease among other causes. Firstly check inside Buster’s mouth to see if you can see any loose teeth or masses which may be causing pain or discomfort whilst eating and you could try to warm up some wet food to see if that stimulates the appetite or change brands; if you have no success you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to determine the cause of the loss of appetite. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 26, 2017

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