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Why is my cat not eating? (Plus, what to do when a cat won’t eat)

14 . 03 . 2022
Cats by Fussy Cat

The complete guide to cats, food and loss of appetite

Our feline family members know purr-fectly well what they like, don’t they? Like when they beg for food, then just sit next to the bowl thinking about it.
    
We all know cats can be fussy. But if your cat’s not eating at all, you need to pay close attention.
    
When a cat won’t eat, it can be a sign that something is wrong. It can also turn quickly into a serious liver problem, called hepatic lipidosis. Left unchecked, they can become very ill.

In this article we’ll look at some reasons why your cat might stop eating, as well as some different symptoms - like throwing up bile, drinking and sleeping a lot, or heavy breathing - that can help you know what’s really going on.
    
Let’s get to the bottom of why your cat won’t eat and what you can do about it.

When should I worry about my cat not eating?

Not to alarm you, but you should pay close attention as soon as your cat refuses to eat or drink. They can become unwell very quickly. So if your cat has refused all of their favourite foods for 24 hours or so, it’s time for a trip to your trusted vet.
    
The good news is that it’s not always going to be so serious. Many things could explain why your cat won’t eat, especially if they’re not eating much but acting normal. Sometimes it’s as simple as their food being too cold, or they’ve gotten bored of the same old texture. (Most cats need a lot of variety in their diet.)

So let’s have a look at what some of the reasons might be and try to answer the question, “Why is my cat not eating?”.

Why is my cat not eating?

There are many common explanations as to why your cat’s not eating. It could be related to illness, recent vaccinations, new surroundings, or plain ol’ fussiness. As you’ll see, some of them are urgent and serious problems, but you can feel more relaxed about others.

Here are 10 of the most common reasons why your cat’s not eating.

  • Dental pain, injuries or infections that can make eating painful.
  • Digestive obstruction, constipation or indigestion.
  • Gastrointestinal issues (including gastroenteritis, colitis, parasites or cancer).
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Medication or recent vaccination.
  • New food.
  • Metabolism might be slowing down in older cats.
  • They might be full (outdoor cats often find things to eat).

Now let’s go through these in more detail.

Illness

Loss of appetite is a key indicator of illness. So be sure to monitor closely if you notice your cat not eating.

It could be a number of different conditions. The main culprits are: infections, pancreatitis, kidney failure, intestinal problems and cancer. Dental problems can also be very painful for your cat, and make it hard for them to eat. Things such as inflamed gums, a broken tooth, an abscess or oral tumour can all make chewing difficult.

Travel and unfamiliar surroundings

If you know and love a cat, then you know they’re creatures of habit. Do you get pawed awake at the same time every morning?

A change in routine can really throw them out and may leave your cat hungry but not eating. Some cats also experience motion sickness, so if you’ve travelled by car or plane they may feel nauseous and refuse to eat or drink.

Recent vaccination

Has your feline friend recently had a vaccination? If so, that may be the reason your cat won’t eat. Although vaccines play a very important role in disease prevention, they can sometimes cause side effects. If your cat’s not eating and it’s vaccine related, it should be temporary and mild.

Fussiness or psychological issues

Did you know cat’s can get depressed? If you’ve done the right thing and taken your cat to see the vet, but they haven’t found any physical problems, then anxiety or depression could be why your cat’s not eating. Changes at home (like a new baby, or a big change in your working hours) can be disturbing to some sensitive cats.
    
Of course, your cat could just be a fussy eater (more tips on that to come). Sometimes they enjoy only a particular food, at a particular temperature, and other times they get bored quickly and need something fresh.

Common questions about cats not eating

If your cat’s drinking but not eating, it’s usually a sign that something’s wrong. And sometimes that problem needs urgent medical attention.
    
There could be several reasons why your cat seems hungry but is not eating. The first thing to do, if you can safely, is try to look inside their mouth. (It may feel easier to wrangle a croc, we know…) Look for signs of gum disease – redness, inflammation, or bleeding around the teeth.

If you see anything that doesn’t look normal, book an appointment with your vet. Other potential causes include kidney disease, pancreatitis or gastrointestinal issues.

If your cat’s mouth looks great, try warming their food slightly (body temperature is ideal). Sometimes if a cat’s drinking but not eating, it’s a very simple answer: they don’t like the food!

Why is my cat not eating and sleeping a lot?

If you share your house with a cat, you’ll know they sleep a lot. But sleeping more than usual could be a sign of illness. Especially if they’re not eating and sleeping a lot.

But remember that rest is your cat’s natural response to not feeling well. So it could simply be a normal part of recovery from something minor, or it could be something that needs urgent attention.
    
Here are some common reasons for a cat to not eat and sleep a lot.

  • Being under exercised, leading to boredom and apathy.
  • Depression or too little stimulation.
  • Parasitic infection.
  • Infection with a minor virus like cat flu.
  • Medication side effects.
  • Arthritis (in older cats).
  • Hairballs.
  • Stress.

There are also more serious conditions that can leave your cat with lethargy and a low appetite.

  • Diabetes.
  • Bacterial infection.
  • Abscesses from bites by other cats.
  • Viral infections such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV).
  • Heartworm.
  • Anemia.
  • Musculoskeletal injury.
  • Urinary tract infections.

Less common but serious conditions that could leave your cat not eating and sleeping a lot include heart disease, poisoning and cancer. You should see your vet if your little feline mate goes off their food for more than about 24 hours.

Why is my cat throwing up bile and not eating?

It makes sense that when a cat’s throwing up bile, they’re probably not eating much either. Cats don’t want to eat if they are nauseous.

If your cat is vomiting foam, it’s probably bile. This is usually yellow or greenish in colour, and it helps cats break down their food. Cats will vomit bile when they have an empty stomach. This can happen if they go 24 hours without food, or it can happen when cats are not eating.

If your cat vomits bile persistently or there are issues such as loss of appetite or lethargy, seek urgent advice from your vet.

Why is my cat not eating and breathing heavily?

If your cat’s not eating and also breathing heavily, there’s a few possible problems. Most of them are serious and need an urgent appointment with your vet.
    
It could be heart disease. Heart disease puts pressure on a cat’s lungs. This usually leads to difficulty breathing and your cat not eating.
    
Other forms of illness can also lead to a fluid buildup in the pleural cavity. Illnesses like kidney disease, cancer, chest infections and feline infectious peritonitis may all mean that your cat won’t eat and is breathing heavily, too.

A minor respiratory illness or even an allergy may also be the culprit. When your cat’s nose and air passages are blocked, they can’t smell their food and will lose their appetite. Appetite in cats is strongly driven by smell. (Which is why Fussy Cat food always smells so good as you open it up.)

Whatever the cause, you should take your feline friend to the vet urgently. The combination of not eating and breathing heavily can lead to serious health problems very quickly.

What to do when a cat won’t eat

Whether your cat is sick, anxious, or just plain fussy, remember that not eating can have serious consequences. So even if they need to eat a special diet from the vet, never starve your cat into eating only a certain type of food.

If your cat won’t eat because they’re sick, keep going back to your vet. They will work with you to get to the bottom of your cat’s issue with the food.

You might need to look at a change in food type or consistency. Your sick little mate may be enticed to eat with wet foods when they’re feeling miserable. In more extreme cases, your vet might prescribe appetite stimulants, recommend syringe-feeding, or even a feeding tube to ensure adequate nutrition.

My cat’s not eating much but acting normal

When illness isn’t the culprit, and your cat’s not eating but acting normal, you may simply be dealing with a true fussy cat. Cats are notorious for choosing when, where and what they eat. (And you thought your toddler was hard to feed…)

There are a few things you can do to encourage your cat to eat their food.

  • Check that their food and water bowls are clean.
  • Make sure their dish is in a quiet area (as stress can be a cause).
  • Drench their dry food with the juice from a plain tuna can.
  • Give them wet food like Fussy Cat Twice as Tasty.
  • Try heating it slightly, because cats don't tend to like cold food. Feline body temperature (about 38 degrees) is just right, and make sure you mix it carefully to avoid hotspots.
  • Try a different flavour or texture like our Fussy Cat Fresh Mince.

You may be tempted to feed them human foods you’ve noticed they really love - like liver or canned tuna - but you need to be careful. Too much human food can disrupt the balance of essential vitamins and minerals in your cat’s body, making them sick.

So, instead of feeding them human food, try the tips we’ve just suggested. If your cat still won’t eat, take the food away and try again later. Your fussy friend really isn’t going to like it once it’s gone hard and stale, and may even learn to avoid it when it’s fresh.

For picky eaters, we recommend rotating your cat’s diet amongst different food types and textures regularly. Variety is key. Just make sure that you change foods gradually. This’ll help avoid an upset tummy.

Final thoughts: when your cat’s not eating

If you came here wondering ‘Why does my cat not eat his food?’, hopefully this article has cleared some things up for you. Here’s a recap of important things to remember.

  • It could be illness, injury, stress or simple fussiness that made your cat stop eating.
  • If they go too long without food (over about 24 hours) they can develop serious problems, especially with their liver.
  • Not eating can be accompanied by other symptoms like drinking or sleeping a lot, heavy breathing, or throwing up bile, which may all mean different treatment requirements.
  • Pay close attention when your cat’s not eating and take them to the vet if they go too long without food.
  • If it turns out you simply have a fussy eater, try mixing up textures, food type and flavours to entice them to eat. Heating their food slightly can be really helpful. And we can help. From lickable textures to crunchy bites, Fussy Cat is a complete and balanced food, lovingly made to be irresistible to your furry master friend.