If you’re anything like me, you’re a food lover who can’t fathom people or pets who refuse to eat. I’m definitely someone who loves food even to the fault of wanting to eat food even when I’m not hungry anymore. So, to me, I can’t relate to a pet or person who refuses to eat; unless they are sick and physically can’t eat.
When we adopted our youngest cat, Kalista, we had our first experience with a cat who was picky as Kalista would starve herself. She would often do this when she didn’t feel like eating or until we fed her the food she wanted, which was often Whiskas. These days, I can happily say that we’ve gotten a hang of understanding what makes Kalista want to eat, although pickiness is definitely not the only reason why a cat may not eat.
In any situation where a cat is not eating it is important to remain calm, especially if the cat is a new addition to the family. Cats are extremely perceptive and any stress that you have, they will be able to pick up on. Your cat may even begin to reflect your behaviour back at you, usually in the form of hissing or growling (especially if they are frightened by your behaviour).
It is important to note that a cat can go quite some time without food and while your cat not eating can be alarming or concerning, it is much more vital that you keep them hydrated. It is also important not to get frustrated with your cat or try to force them to eat as this may cause the problem to get worse. Instead, make sure to leave a bowl of food and water out and allow your cat to choose to drink and eat and if the problem persists (24-48-hours) make sure you contact your vet to ensure that there is no underlying reason for your cat starving themselves.
Now that we’ve gotten some of the general “rules” or thoughts out of the way, let’s break down some of the main reasons a cat may choose not to eat.
THEY ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THEIR SURROUNDINGS
It is extremely common for cats to choose not to eat if they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe in their surroundings. This is especially true when you first adopt a cat. A new cat may take between a few hours to a few days to feel comfortable enough to eat, however, there are ways to ease your cat’s worries.
Ensure that your cat is housed in a small, safe room with plenty of “hiding spots” for them to go if they hear something that they are afraid of. By “hiding spots” I mean places like their carrier, a cat bed, or even cardboard boxes.
I personally don’t allow my cats to hide under the bed, as hiding under the bed can make it difficult to grab your cat and run in the case of an emergency. So, we’ve trained Beau to run and sit on our bed whenever he hears a fire alarm (which he will run to when he is scared) and Kalista has learned to run and hide in her carrier when she is scared. While we would love it if both of our cats thought of their carrier as a safe spot, Beau has too many negative associations to his carrier and we thought it was best to not stress him out by trying to re-train him to like it (especially due to his recent surgery).
Cats feel the safest in spaces that smell like them, which is why I recommend introducing your cat to a small room, versus a big one. The first night we brought Beau in I actually slept with him on the bathroom floor and Kalista was given a blanket that we wrapped her in, which we left with her in our bedroom when we had to leave her alone.
Kalista, in particular, had a more difficult time acclimating to moving since she’s more of a scardy cat than Beau is. She would make her way to her food bowl, put some food in her mouth, then immediately spit it out and run back to her “safe spot.” This was a pattern she repeated for over a day and while you could tell that she was hungry, the fear of being somewhere new overcame.
As mentioned, in times like these there isn’t much you can do other than try to keep your cat as calm as possible. If you live in an apartment where you can hear your neighbours, I strongly recommend playing some calming cat music to drown out the outside noise. This really helped and continues to help with Kalista, especially because we currently live in an apartment where our neighbours have been doing renovations for a few months.
YOUR CAT IS JUST PICKY OR FINICKY
Cats can be fairly particular about what they eat and may change their minds about eating particular foods when it seems like nothing has changed.
Pickiness extends further than just being fed a particular protein (the type of meat used to make the product) or a particular brand; your cat may like their food to be a specific consistency (ie. may need the food to be more solid than wet) which often means that your cat will prefer specific batches over others.
A cat’s senses are stronger than ours and so your cat will be aware of small changes in their food, whether it be consistency or smell.
I can’t tell you the number of times Kalista has turned down a can of food because of its consistency or Beau has turned it down because of the smell.
Since Kalista’s biggest problem is consistency we’ve noticed that if we mix a bit of water into her wet food and feed her kibble beside it she will consistently eat. If she continues to give us problems we will heat up the food with either warm water or in the microwave to ensure that the food is extra stinky!
A REACTION TO MEDICATIONS
If your cat has recently gone through a surgery or is on regular medications they may be experiencing nausea. That being said, it would be very wise to contact your vet about the medications to see whether or not there are alternates they can take or different dosages your cat should have.
DENTAL PROBLEMS & DISEASE
It seems like I’ve been talking about this quite a bit on the blog, but I can’t stress the importance of dental health. Statistics show that around 50% of cats begin experiencing dental problems by the age of 3 and that being said if the dental disease gets serious enough it may cause your cat to experience tooth and gum pains.
Dental problems such as gingivitis come hand in hand with inflamed gums which may bleed while chewing. Not only that but dependant on how severe the dental problems are a cat may experience pain while merely opening their mouth. Cats experiencing that amount of pain may meow excessively or may whine while eating/trying to eat.
Dental problems can also include abscesses, sores, broken teeth, cuts or even infections. All of these tend to be fairly clear, even to the untrained eye. So make sure you are checking your cat’s teeth regularly for darkening/reddening of the gums, broken teeth, and swelling.
At the end of the day, dental disease and dental problems can be avoided with regular brushing, dental toys and (and especially) regular cleanings at the vet. Make sure you’re having your vet check your cat’s teeth thoroughly at every visit, even if that’s not the main purpose of the visit. Your vet should be able to let you know how your cat’s teeth are doing and will be able to let you know if there are any methods or measures you can take to better your cat’s dental wellbeing.
Kidney disease is a fairly common ailment for senior cats and may cause a cat to feel nauseous.
Kidney disease will require a vet visit to diagnose and will also require special care for the affected cat. In most cases, dependant on the degree of the disease, proper care will help prolong the life of the cat.
If you assume that your cat has kidney disease please do not take matters into your own hand and change your cat’s diet without consulting your vet.
Have you ever smelled something absolutely foul out of nowhere and realized… well, that smell might have been my cat! Well, the truth is it might have been your cat letting out a fart… or two!
Dependant on what the root of the farting and gastrointestinal problems are, your cat may not want to eat due to being uncomfortable or potentially in pain.
Some of the most common reasons a cat may experience gastrointestinal problems include foreign bodies causing a blockage, a change in the intestines bacterial culture, inflammation in the pancreas (pancreatitis), inflammation of the GI tract (gastroenteritis), inflammation of the colon lining (colitis). or in extreme cases, cancer.
Gastrointestinal problems often come hand in hand with weight loss, vomiting, constipation and/or diarrhea.
Unfortunately, GI problems cannot be diagnosed from home and will require a vet visit to ensure that you track down what the cause of the problem is. Dependant on what the problem is, your vet may recommend a diet change, an operation or a form of longterm care.
EXTRA TIPS TO ENCOURAGE YOUR CAT TO EAT
If you’ve already gotten your cat checked by the vet and there are no health concerns and you still can’t get your cat to eat, I would recommend trying some of these ideas:
1. Warming up your cat’s food with either a microwave or warm water. Make sure not to heat the food up too much as it can scald or burn your cat’s mouth.
2. Try feeding multiple types of food. If your cat is on a general diet, try to feed both dry and wet food.
3. Try to entice your cat with treats
4. Try mixing pet-specific broth (low-sodium) with their wet or dry food. You can also try tuna water as long as it is diluted.
5. Talk to your vet about providing your cat with homecooked meals
6. Speak to your vet about feeding a higher fat food (such as kitten food) to entice your cat to eat. The vet may actually have food available called A/D Urgent Care which should get your cat back on track. (We had to use it on Beau at one point and it was a miracle worker.)
7. Mix a bit of parmesan cheese with the food or nutritional yeast powder.
8. Change the type of bowl you’re feeding your cat out of. Make sure that your cat’s bowl is shallow and doesn’t put pressure on your cat’s whiskers.
At the end of the day, as serious as it is that your cat is not eating it is much more important that you remain calm while you try out different ways to get your cat to eat again.
If your cat is new to the space you are in or your cat is new to your household note that it may take 24-48 hours before the cat will begin eating regularly.
If ever your cat unexpectantly stops eating, begin monitoring their behaviour to see if they are exhibiting any signs of sickness, illness or toxicity (especially vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy) and contact your vet immediately.
At the end of the day, it is extremely important that you keep your cat hydrated and to keep your vet in the loop of how your cat is doing and recovering.
So, I’m curious pet parents… have your cats ever stopped eating? What caused it? What did you do to get them to start eating again! Let me know in the comments below.