Cat Not Eating

Cat Not Eating? 10 Common Reasons Why Your Otherwise Normal Cat Might Be Refusing Food and Water

Vet-Checked • Pet-Tested • Owner-Approved

Kate Barrington

Researched & Written by

Kate Barrington

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

Why is My Cat Not Eating or Drinking?

Cats are notorious for being difficult at times, sometimes turning up their noses at even the most expensive cat foods.

Though some cats are just finicky by nature, sometimes it is a sign of a developing health problem if a cat stops eating.

As a cat owner, it is your responsibility to care for your cat and to provide for his needs. Because your cat can’t come out and tell you when something is wrong, however, it is up to you to know what is and isn’t normal for your cat.

At the first sign of trouble, take your cat to the vet to see if something is wrong and, if it is, to start treatment as soon as possible.

The Top 10 Reasons Your Cat Isn’t Eating

If your cat suddenly stops eating, you shouldn’t automatically chalk it up to stubbornness – it could actually be a symptom of a serious medical problem. There are other reasons why a cat might lose his appetite as well, so don’t start worrying right away. Here is a list of the top ten reasons why a cat might stop eating:

1. Dental Problems

Cat Problems Eating

According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), most cats will have some level of dental disease by the time they reach three years of age. Periodontal disease, or gum disease, causes bad breath in pets but the long-term effects can be much more serious.

Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to infection, pain, and loss of teeth – all of these things can impact your cat’s ability or desire to eat. If your cat looks otherwise healthy and hasn’t exhibited any other changes in behavior, check his teeth or ask your veterinarian to take a look.

2. Gastrointestinal Issues

If your cat isn’t feeling well, he may avoid food. There are a number of gastrointestinal issues which could contribute to your cat’s lack of appetite including intestinal parasites, colitis, and gastroenteritis. Any of these conditions can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal track and may also produce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of various gastrointestinal problems tend to overlap, so you’ll need your veterinarian to perform some tests to identify the underlying cause your cat’s digestive upset.

3. Pancreatitis

Inflammation of the pancreas is known as pancreatitis and it is a common cause for lack of appetite – it may also cause lethargy, dehydration, and weight loss. Pancreatitis may be caused by overuse of certain medications, infection, or metabolic disorders like hypercalcemia.

It can also be a reaction to surgery or trauma to the abdomen. Left untreated, pancreatitis can cause more than just loss of appetite – it can lead to breathing problems, sepsis, and even hemorrhaging. Prompt treatment is required to prevent the condition from progressing and becoming fatal.

Cat Sniffing Food from Hand

4. Intestinal Obstruction

Sometimes cats swallow things they shouldn’t and those things can cause an intestinal blockage or obstruction. When this happens, your cat may experience abdominal pain or cramping that puts him off his food.

Other signs of intestinal obstruction in cats may include accumulation of fluids, vomiting, dehydration, sluggishness, and weight loss.

5. Kidney Disease

Though any cat can develop kidney problems, kidney disease is more common in older cats and it frequently causes a cat to stop eating. One of the primary symptoms of kidney disease in cats is nausea, though this condition may also cause your cat to become lethargic and he may lose weight.

Blood and urine tests can be used to evaluate kidney function and, though there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, there are certain treatments which can resolve symptoms to help your cat start eating again.

6. Adverse Reaction

Cats require annual vaccinations to protect them against certain contagious and deadly diseases. Unfortunately, some cats have a negative reaction to the vaccines that are supposed to protect them.

If your cat suddenly stops eating after receiving a vaccine, it could be a side effect. Fortunately, loss of appetite resulting from vaccination reactions are usually mild and short-lived.

Stressed Out Cat

7. Stress

Cats are affected by stress just as much as people, though they don’t have the same coping mechanisms to relieve that stress. If the source of your cat’s stress is allowed to continue, his condition may worsen as he stops eating.

If your cat stops eating, take the time to identify any potential sources of stress then talk to your veterinarian to see if something might be done about them.

8. Change in Routine

Cats thrive on routine – they are creatures of habit and any significant change to their routine can cause stress. If your cat suddenly stops eating, think about whether anything has changed recently.

Perhaps a member of the family moved out or you brought in a new pet. Things like this can trigger a negative psychological reaction in some cats that can lead to a loss of appetite. Many cats also lose their appetite if they find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings – this can happen if you board your cat or leave him in the care of a friend while you’re out of town.

9. New Food

Cat Sniffing Food

It is fairly common for pet food manufacturers to make small changes to their formulas and they don’t always have to advertise the fact that they are doing it. Many cats have sensitive digestive systems and even a small change in diet could cause digestive upset, causing your cat to lose his appetite.

If your cat stops eating and it doesn’t seem to be connected to anything else, take a look at what you are feeding him. Contact the manufacturer to see if they have changed their formula or think about whether you might have given your cat something new, whether food or treats. When making changes to your cat’s diet, it is important to transition slowly to avoid digestive upset and problems like loss of appetite.

10. Boredom

Cats crave variety in their diet just as much as people do so, if you don’t change his diet occasionally, your cat might get bored and stop eating. This isn’t the case for all cats, but some cats do want a varied diet. If your cat is like this, look into rotational feeding – some pet food brands offer products designed to be fed in rotation, achieving balanced nutrition through variety.

If your cat stops eating, take some time to think about what could have caused this change in behavior. Look at the timing to determine whether your cat stopped eating after a specific event such as a significant change to his routine or a stressful life event.

The more you are able to observe about your cat’s behavior, the more information you can give your veterinarian to help him make an accurate diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis is the key to successful treatment and getting your cat healthy again.

Eating Challenges in Different Life Stages

You’ve already learned about the top ten reasons why a cat might stop eating, but there is still more to learn on this subject. The reasons why your cat stops eating could vary according to any number of different factors, including his age. Keep reading to learn about some of the reasons that might affect your cat’s appetite at different stages.

Kitten Not Eating

Reasons for Kittens Not Eating

When kittens are first born, they are completely dependent on their mothers for everything. Not only does the mother cat provide the kittens with food in the form of milk, but she licks them to stimulate breathing and elimination. After three to four weeks, kittens will start to naturally wean themselves off of milk and onto solid food, as long as you provide it for them.

It is usually best to offer wet food or softened kibble that is easy for a little kitten to chew and swallow. If your kitten isn’t eating solid food, it might simply be that he hasn’t been fully weaned yet or it could be a problem with the food itself. Try different flavors of wet food or soak some kibble in chicken broth to soften it while also adding flavor. If your kitten has previously been eating but suddenly stops, you may want to take him to the veterinarian to see if there is some underlying health problem.

Reasons for Adult Cats Not Eating

There are any number of potential reasons for an adult cat not eating. Some cats simply become finicky eaters and will only eat a certain brand or a particular flavor. If your cat has just exited the kitten stage, it could be that he doesn’t like whatever adult recipe you are feeding him as much as he liked his kitten food. Many cat food brands make different versions of the same formulas for cats in all life stages, so look into that option if you want to avoid this problem. As you will remember from the list in the previous section, there are also a number of medical problems which can contribute to a loss of appetite in adult cats. Your best bet is to talk to your veterinarian to determine the cause.

Reasons Senior Cats Not Eating

As your cat gets older, his metabolism is going to slow down and he won’t need as many calories each day. Most cats are pretty good are regulating their own consumption, so don’t be surprised if your senior cats starts to eat a little less than he used to. If your cat stops eating all of a sudden, however, it may be cause for concern. Many senior cats develop dental problems which, if left untreated, can make it painful or difficult for your cat to eat. Older cats are also prone to conditions like kidney disease which could cause a loss of appetite and certain types of cancer may make it difficult for him to eat as well. It is important to keep track of all of your cat’s symptoms so you can report them accurately to your veterinarian to determine why your cat has stopped eating.

Tips for Encouraging a Finicky Cat to Eat

If you’ve taken your cat to the veterinarian and have ruled out medical causes for your cat’s loss of appetite, it may be that he is just a finicky eater. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can try to encourage your cat to eat. Here are some ideas:

  • Try a different brand or formula. Sometimes cats get tired of eating the same flavor or a certain ingredient in the food doesn’t agree with them. If you decide to switch up your cat’s diet, make sure to transition him slowly onto the new food over the course of a week or so to minimize digestive upset.
  • Add some wet food or a meal topper. If your cat gets bored of his food, try mixing in some wet food or a meal topper to make it more appealing. Just be sure to reduce the amount of kibble so you don’t end up overfeeding your cat.
  • Drizzle it with chicken broth. Drizzling a little bit of chicken broth over your cat’s wet food can make it softer and easier for him to eat, plus it will add some flavor and an enticing aroma.
  • Warm it up a little. If you feed your cat mostly wet food, he may not like it cold from the refrigerator. Try warming it up in the microwave for 10 seconds to bring it up to body temperature – heating it up will also make the smell more attractive to your cat.
  • Try a different feeding dish. Some cats are very particular about their food bowls – they may not like a bowl that is too deep because it constricts his whiskers. Cat breeds with flat faces like Persians and Himalayans tend to prefer shallow dishes as well.

At a certain point, if none of the tricks above work, you might have to take things a little further. If your cat still isn’t eating, try limiting his meal time to 30 minutes instead of leaving his food out all day for him to pick at (or not). Create a set schedule for meal times and put your cat’s food bowl down for just 30 minutes then put it away. Eventually your cat will get hungry enough to eat and he’ll learn that if he doesn’t eat during meal time, he won’t eat at all.

Cat with food topper

Recommended Supplements and Meal Toppers To Encourage Cats To Eat

In addition to trying the tips from the previous chapter, there are certain supplements and supplementary food products you can use to entice your cat to eat.

Supplements like bonito flakes or vitamin C powder can make your cat’s food more appealing while also giving him a boost of nutrition. Meal toppers and mixers are another great option that you can simply add to your cat’s existing diet without making any significant changes. Here are some of our top recommended supplements and meal toppers for cats that refuse to eat:

1. Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Mixers

Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Mixers

This cat food topper is made from freeze-dried chicken and other nutritious ingredients like carrots, butternut squash, flaxseed, and salmon oil. Because this product is freeze-dried and not cooked, it retains more of its original nutritional integrity and offers plenty of natural flavor. Simply mix it into your cat’s kibble or sprinkle it over top for a boost of nutrition.

2. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Tasty Toppers

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Tasty Toppers

Made with chunks of real chicken in a flavorful gravy, this meal topper is sure to tickle your cat’s taste buds. This recipe is moisture-rich, grain-free, and loaded with protein so it does more than improve the flavor of your cat’s food – it also adds a boost of high-quality protein.

3. Dr. Tim’s Flavor Booster Supplement

Dr. Tim’s Flavor Booster Supplement

This tasty supplement contains 100% USDA-inspected beef liver that has been freeze-dried and crushed into powder for use as a flavor enhancer. Simply sprinkle this powder over your cat’s food to make it more flavorful and aromatic – he won’t be able to resist it.

4. Wellness TruFood Cat Food Topper

Wellness TruFood Cat Food Topper

Naturally grain-free and made without fillers or artificial additives, this meal topper is the perfect complement to your cat’s kibble. Simply spoon a little over your cat’s meal to add a boost of flavor-rich moisture and added nutrition. You can also use it as a tasty treat.

5. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Cat Food Topper

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Cat Food Topper

Made with shredded chicken and a flavorful broth, this meal topper is loaded with flavor and nutrition for your cat. It is completely free from grains, byproducts, and artificial additives. In fact, it contains nothing more than chicken, chicken broth, and water.

Feeding your cat a high-quality cat food is extremely important but it won’t do your cat any good if he doesn’t eat it. If your cat suddenly stops eating, take stock of his condition and his behavior to see whether he might be exhibiting other symptoms and then take him to the vet to rule out any underlying medical conditions. If your cat isn’t sick and is simply being stubborn or finicky, try some of the tips provided above to encourage him to eat.

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