Why Won’t My Cat Eat?

Sick kittens with no appetite (fortunately they survived their illness and made a complete recovery)

Cats may stop eating due to problems with the food, problems with the food bowl or its location, obtaining food from other sources, or medical or dental problems.

Problems with the food

Cats will often refuse to eat because:

    • The food is stale: Dry food can become stale, particularly in warm weather when it’s more likely to be exposed to moisture. A bag or box of dry food may need to be replaced if the cat has suddenly gone off it.
    • The food is too cold: Cats like their food warm, or at least at room temperature. If wet food has been in the refrigerator, it may be unappealing to the cat. In this case, food should be warmed before serving.
    • The food doesn’t provide sufficient protein: Many cat foods are made primarily of filler such as cornmeal or rice. Check the ingredients list on your cat’s food to ensure that the first ingredient is meat, ideally high-quality meat rather than a by-product. Only feed your cat good quality commercial foods or natural diets recommended by your veterinarian.
    • The cat dislikes or has become bored with the brand or flavour of food: If you have tried replacing stale dry food and warming wet food and still your cat refuses to eat, providing something new may rekindle his interest in food.

Problems with the food bowl or its location

Many cats will lose their appetites if:

    • There is an audience: Most cats want privacy while they eat, so it’s a good idea to keep the cat’s bowls away from high-traffic areas of the house.
    • They’re bothered by the presence of other pets: If your cat seems anxious eating with other household cats or dogs, you should try feeding the pets in separate areas of the house, if possible.
    • The food bowl is dirty: Cats will usually refuse fresh food from a bowl that has bits of old stale food clinging to it, as this can cause bacterial contamination.
    • They’re allergic to their food bowls: Some cats develop an allergy to plastic food bowls, which can cause tiny sores on their lips.
    • The bowl gives off electric shocks: Some metal bowls give off small static electric shocks, particularly in cold, dry weather.

Other non-medical reasons why cats refuse food

Sometimes cats refuse food because they’re already full, or they’re holding out for something better. A cat may ignore his food if:

    • He has already eaten: Outdoor cats may snack over the course of their travels, either catching small prey or eating food that neighbours put out for their own pets. Cats that receive table scraps regularly are also more likely to reject regular cat food.
    • He’s manipulating you: If you give your cat treats every time he refuses his regular cat food, he’ll quickly learn that he can easily trick you by pretending to lose his appetite.

Medical and dental problems

A cat suffering from stress or not fond of a particular brand of cat food will eventually succumb to hunger if he’s healthy. If your cat is still refusing food after 24 hours, take him to a veterinarian to check for medical or dental problems. Medical symptoms may include:

    • Persistent vomiting
    • Lethargy
    • Weight loss
    • Dull coat/failure to groom
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Fever
    • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
    • Change in vocalization (i.e., the cat starts howling regularly)

Symptoms of dental problems such as severe gingivitis or mouth abscess include:

    • Very bad breath
    • Swollen or red gums
    • Allowing food to fall from the mouth

Consult a veterinarian if any of these additional symptoms are present.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

    • High Peaks Cat Shelter. (n.d.). “Refusing to Eat.” HPCatShelter.org.
    • Purina. (n.d.). “Fussy Eaters.” Purina.co.uk.
    • King County Animal Care and Control. (2007). “Finicky Eater.” KingCounty.gov.

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