7 min read

5 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating

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By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 12/30/2021, edited: 12/30/2021

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Overview

Cats have a reputation for being independent, picky about the people they get close to, and finicky about food. Missing a meal or two here or there should be no cause for alarm. 

While cats can live for three or four days without food, after one day of not eating, the lack of nutrition begins to take its toll on their overall health. It’s possible your cat has simply gotten tired of their food, but holding out for more than a day is unusual. After 24 hours or so, it’s time to call the vet.

Are you facing a cat who hasn’t eaten for a day or longer? We’ll explore some of the most common reasons for their behavior, and some tips that may help get your cat back on the road to eating regularly.

adult cat is peering out from the door - 5 reasons why your picky cat is not eating

Dental Problems

No one is interested in eating food if their mouth is sore. Mouth discomfort can be caused by a gum infection, loose or broken teeth, an injury from a toy or other object, a tumor, and even thrush, a fungal infection that causes a coated, painful tongue. A quick look may give you an idea of what’s going on in your fur baby’s mouth, but only a thorough cleaning and exam by your veterinarian can provide a diagnosis and plan of care.

If you suspect your cat’s food rejection behavior is caused by mouth issues, you may be able to tempt them with something soft and lapp-able to eat, like meaty baby food or a soft-cooked egg. Be sure to cook eggs thoroughly because they can cause food-borne disease when raw. Raw eggs also have an enzyme that can cause a Vitamin B7 (Biotin) deficiency. Cats need Vitamin B7 to live, and the problem enzyme in eggs is destroyed by cooking.

A trip to the vet clinic can result in a number of potential outcomes:

  • Prescription for antibiotics

  • Surgery for a tumor or other mouth lesion

  • Treatment of dental disease or thrush, including possible antifungal medication, extractions, or lancing an abscess

To help stimulate the cat’s appetite, the veterinarian may also prescribe appetite-stimulating medication. If surgery in the mouth is needed, continuing to feed soft foods may help your cat get back on the road to eating.


Gastrointestinal Problems

Cats, especially outdoor felines, can pick up intestinal parasites and gastroenteritis from an occasional mouse or bug meal, or by contact with other infected cats. If you suspect your furry feline has eaten something that’s making them sick, it’s important to make a visit to the vet as soon as possible. Also, toxins like the poison in lawn care products, cleaning products, and other substances in the environment can cause GI problems, and the sooner the vet identifies them, the better the chance to prevent widespread damage. 

Constipation in cats can also cause them to reject food because of pain, nausea, and a feeling of fullness. If you see your kitty spending a lot of time in the litter box, straining or meowing, it’s a good idea to consult with a veterinary professional for suggestions on how to relieve constipation. Your fur baby’s stools, if they produce any, will be hard and dry-looking. If the constipation is long-standing, for more than a day, for example, a visit to the clinic may be necessary to manually relieve Fluffy of the painful obstruction under sedation. 

Some other remedies for feline constipation include:

  • Laxatives and stool softeners

  • Increased water ingestion to soften the fecal matter

  • High fiber foods like pumpkin puree

  • Enemas

Once constipation has been treated, your cat may regain their appetite quickly. Consider giving them wet food mixed in with their dry food to improve their appetite and add more moisture to their diet. Small portions at first may prevent further distress.

Obstructions can also be caused further up in the bowels or stomach as a result of the cat ingesting a foreign object like yarn, string, or a rubber band. Shimmering icicles on holiday trees have a special appeal for cats and should be avoided. 

An obstruction with a foreign object is treated as an emergency because intestinal blockages can quickly cause increased pressure that may rupture the bowel or cause an infection. Surgery will be needed to remove an obstruction from your kitty’s tummy.

Vaccinations and medications

adult cat is looking at pet parent - 5 reasons why your picky cat is not eating

Recent vaccinations or medications can cause nausea and vomiting, which will make any meal seem unappealing. Antibiotics like Amoxicillin are especially tough on stomachs, often causing diarrhea as well. If the vet has prescribed antibiotics, it’s because your kitty has an infection that needs treatment, and it’s important to continue giving it to them. 

Antinausea medications, antiemetics, and antidiarrheal drugs can help alleviate the medication’s side effects, which should only last until it is discontinued. Occasionally, antibiotics can disturb normal intestinal flora so some GI symptoms continue. If that occurs, a consultation with the vet is recommended. They may prescribe probiotics to bring the beneficial bacteria back to normal.

Temporary loss of appetite from vaccines is fairly common in cats, and should only last for a day or two. In addition, kitties may just feel generally punky after a vaccination. A slight fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, and other ailments may put Fluffy off their food for a short time. Offering them especially tempting food like canned cat food made of fish, may help them want to eat. Cats also don’t like cold food, so heating it slightly in the microwave or with warm water might improve its appeal.


Anxiety, stress, and depression

The most common cause of anxiety, stress, and depression in cats is a change in their environment. Cats like routine and relative quiet. Changes can upset them to the extent that their appetites are affected. Even a tasty new food can result in an upturned nose at mealtime. 

The introduction of a new animal or human family member can cause a cat to hide until things settle down. It’s important to provide their food wherever they’re hiding so that their nutrition doesn’t suffer, making them ill. You can also create a safe place for them to observe while feeling secure. A quiet room with a gate may do the trick.

Unexpected visitors can cause distress as well. People with unfamiliar odors on clothes and hands can turn the world upside down for a cat. Again, they may hide under furniture or in a closet until they feel safe again. If their self-isolation lasts a day or longer, consider sitting with them while they eat, or feeding them by hand. Cats lap up TLC and may respond to attention by loosening up a bit around their food. Don’t fur-get to provide them with water, a litter box, and something to lie on in their temporary quarters.

When a change in a cat’s life is major or lasts a long time, depression may follow. Little interest in food is a cardinal sign that your cat is depressed. If the turmoil is from a move to another home, a new dog, or being left alone more often, there may be little you can do about it, but a few simple suggestions like the ones noted above can help Fluffy to adjust and start enjoying food again. Increasing play time may be helpful, as well. They will be mentally stimulated, will get tired out and more relaxed, and will love the extra attention. A laser pointer or feather toy may be just the thing!


Loss of Appetite in Senior Cats

As felines get older, they may slow down a bit and not require as much energy. If you notice your feline is not eating as much or is skipping meals, it may be that they’re just not as hungry as they used to be. Metabolism in older cats tends to drop, leaving them with fewer caloric needs and reducing their drive for food.

Another problem may be that your kitty is having physical trouble eating their food. Dental problems may increase as cats get older, and it becomes even more important to monitor and treat dental diseases and other mouth-related issues. Softer food like high-protein baby food or a scrambled egg may make it easier for them to pick up their food and chew it. Pate-style ground food may help, as well. Canned food may have a stronger, more appealing aroma to tempt your furry.

As cats age, they may also develop arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. It may be too painful to walk to wherever their bowls are. Placing a few bowls around their normal resting places so they don’t have far to go may help them to eat more regularly. Hand feeding little bits of food at a time may also spark an appetite and make them feel loved and cared for.  


Tips to get your cat eating

If your feline is not eating, try these tricks to help get them interested again.

  • Warm your cat’s food to body temperature

  • Pour broth or the water from a can of tuna over the food

  • Find a toy that will interest the feline while dispensing food at the same time

  • Playing and exercising a cat may improve their appetite along with their mood

  • Try another brand or flavor of commercial food if they seem disinterested

  • Feed ground chicken with rice 

  • Make their environment as calm as possible

  • Introduce them to visitors and new family members at their own speed

  • Feed appealing human foods like cat-safe baby food or eggs

  • Investigate possible discomfort in their mouth with your vet


Cost

Costs to treat reduced appetite and any underlying causes will vary based on the diagnostic tools needed and the treatment performed. An exam and medication may cost only $75 to $100, whereas an overnight stay or surgery can increase that amount to $5,000 or more. These figures are estimates so it’s best to talk with your veterinarian to further refine the costs.


If your cat refuses to eat for a day or so, there may be no need to consult with your vet. However, loss of appetite for longer than that may indicate something serious is going on. It will be time to visit your veterinary clinic to have your kitty checked out.


A high-quality diet is essential for keeping your cat happy and healthy. Digestive problems and loss of appetite can be expensive to treat. Compare pet health insurance plans to save more than $270 a year on vet care.


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