Cat not eating? Find out the potential reasons why and get your cat to eat again

6 November 2020

If your cat is not eating, is it harmless or dangerous? Discover all the reasons why a cat might not be eating and what you can do to help your feline friend.

Chat ne mange plus sa nourriture sur une table
As a loving cat parent, you are right to be concerned if you suddenly notice your cat not eating. A sudden loss of appetite in a cat can be fatal, especially if your cat doesn’t eat anything for over 24 hours. There are many potential reasons for a cat not eating – maybe a neighbor has been feeding them. Or worse, your cat might have ingested poison or be suffering from a serious illness. Find out why your cat won’t eat, plus what you can do to get your cat eating again.

Why is my cat not eating? 10 harmless reasons:

There are many reasons which might lead to a cat not eating, and not every instance of appetite loss is caused by disease. Some causes of a cat not eating are harmless, like those listed below. If a cat won’t eat, it may be because the cat…

  • was already fed by a neighbor.
  • ate mice or birds.
  • got too many treats.
  • is mourning the loss of an animal or human friend.
  • doesn’t like their new surroundings.
  • finds the new food bowl unfamiliar.
  • doesn’t like the new recipe of their favorite food, or the change in taste or smell.
  • finds the food too hot (as in, above 30°C).
  • is in heat.
  • is disturbed by other pets in the house eating from the same bowl.

These reasons are all harmless and in most cases, the cat will begin eating again shortly. Pay attention to your feline friend to determine if one of the above might be the cause of the cat not eating.

Unfortunately, there are also a number of serious and potentially life-threatening reasons why your cat’s not eating.

Why is my cat not eating? 10 potentially serious reasons:

The following are serious health issues which may cause a cat to stop eating. An immediate visit to the vet is strongly recommended in the following cases. Your cat may have…

  • eaten something poisonous or come in contact with a toxin
  • inflammation of organs
  • dental issues
  • an infection or cold
  • parasites
  • blocked intestines or constipation
  • urinary obstruction
  • kidney disease
  • vaccine damage
  • virus attack (in case of a cat not being vaccinated with the main basic series of vaccines)

A “cat not eating” problem often doesn’t come on its own, and is accompanied with other symptoms.

Other signs of illness when a cat is not eating

Check if your cat is showing any of the following symptoms in addition to not eating:

  • Lethargic, sleeping a lot: your cat may have a fever or an infection.
  • Vomiting: your cat may have a food allergy, blocked intestines, kidney failure, poisoning. Or possibly, your cat might have eaten grass.
  • Diarrhea: this may indicate poisoning, food allergy, intestinal inflammation or inflammation of the intestinal mucosa, inflammation of the pancreas, parasites or organ diseases.
  • Drinking a lot: might indicate diabetes, liver disease (with yellowing of the eyes and the oral mucosa as well as fatigue and nausea), kidney failure, infectious disease, or fever.
  • Apathetic: this may be a sign of fatty liver (with weight loss) or fever.

If your cat shows any of the signs above, or you notice weight loss, dehydration, yellowed eyes or a sunken, sickly appearance in your cat, seek veterinary assistance right away. Also remember, a normal temperature range for a cat is between 38° to 39°C; a temperature above 39.5°C most likely indicates an infection.

Cat not eating, but acting normal?

In case your cat does not show signs of lethargy, diarrhea, excessive thirst, or other worrying symptoms, your cat might simply be not eating for other non-life threatening reasons. For example, old cats need about 20% less energy than younger cats, so your cat might naturally reduce their food consumption over time. Also, neutering a cat reduces their energy requirement by around 20-30%. So if your cat seems to be eating unusually little after neutering, it’s not necessarily something to worry about. Your cat might simply just not be hungry.

However, regardless of whether your cat is showing signs of illness or not (cats are notoriously good at hiding signs of illness), your cat must return to normal eating again as soon as possible. If your cat does not eat for more than 24 hours, seek veterinary support. Otherwise your cat may develop the following life-threatening condition:

Beware of hepatic lipidosis: a deadly disease for cats

Fatty liver is known in medical jargon as hepatic lipidosis and is a fat metabolism disorder in cats that can lead to acute fatty liver disease within a few days. Overweight and female cats are particularly at risk of developing fatty liver.

The cause of hepatic lipidosis is the mobilization of fat reserves in the cat’s body due to a lack of food intake. The liver cannot process the resulting fatty acids without additional protein intake. As a result, fat starts getting stored in the liver.

Warning: In the worst case scenario, this can lead to organ failure and death within 24 hours. If your cat does not eat anything for more than 12 hours, you should monitor their behavior closely.

Drinking is just as important as eating: a cat should drink 45-50 ml/kg of their body weight in liquids per day.

A normal weight cat of 4 kg, for example, needs about 200ml of fluids per day to prevent dehydration.

What do to in case of a cat not eating

Grey cat not eating sitting on bed

Tips to get a cat to eat

There are a number of things you can do to try to tempt your cat to eat again, such as:

  • feed them directly
  • try a different flavor or brand of cat food
  • give them treats
  • serve the food warm
  • make sure the cat food has not passed its expiration date
  • mix in other tasty treats, such as canned tuna water or low-sodium chicken broth
  • spread meals out over several hours
  • play with them and give them affection
  • switch back to the feeding bowl, or food, they were used to one before a change

Also, you may choose to provide your cat with easily digestible, lukewarm food such as boiled chicken or a mixture of lean poultry and rice in small portions. When served warm, food smells and tastes better for cats and is easier on the stomach than cold dishes. Do not feed your cat human food, or anything with onions, chives, or garlic.

If you cannot get your cat to eat using these tips, or if your cat skips more than two meals, it is time to seek veterinary support.

Seek veterinary assistance

If a cat has not eaten for 24-36 hours, it can be life-threatening. Take your cat to the vet for a health check. To clarify the cause, blood and often poo examinations, possibly even X-rays or ultrasound examinations, might be necessary.

In an emergency, force-feed and administer water with a pipette or disposable syringe. If cats have not eaten for a long time, they lose their feeling of hunger. An appetite stimulation through force feeding may be necessary.

Prognosis for a cat not eating

A cat not eating in the short term is likely not a cause for panic – but if your cat does not eat for 12-24 hours, it’s important to monitor their behavior closely and take them to a vet in case you suspect an illness. Try the tips above to ensure your cat will always eat and remain a healthy kitty!

In case you want to monitor your cat more closely, we recommend to use the new GPS Cat Tracker from Tractive, now with Activity Monitoring which lets you track active time, rest and calories burned. Find out if a neighbor has been feeding your cat, or if they’ve been busy hunting prey in a nearby field. With a GPS tracker, you’ll always know where your kitty is and can even monitor their calories burned!

Learn more

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