My Cat Won't Eat: What You Can Do to Help

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Concerned that your cat is not eating? It can be hard to tell a picky eating episode from a serious health issue. A change in your cat's routine is a concern, but figuring out the cause is the first step to getting your cat eating again.

Why Isn't My Cat Eating?

Truth: Your cat loves to eat. It's up there in her favorite activities, along with sleeping, playing and trying to get her pet parents' attention. But eating is also a basic element of survival, without which your cat's health may rapidly decline.

Maine Coon cat flopped on floor beside food bowl

Changes in Food 

Cats are creatures of habit and will typically resist change, especially to their meal plans. Have you recently changed your cat's food? Maybe they are stubbornly refusing to try the new flavor. Cats can take a while to accept new foods, so a slow transition is generally recommended.  Your kitty can't go too long without eating, so they don’t eat for 24 hr even after offering the old food again, s it's time to explore other possibilities for why she isn't eating.

Changes in Environment

Your cat's stubbornness can pop up if they are unhappy with the surroundings. "Cats may also go on brief hunger strikes in response to environmental stressors, such as the presence of guests in your home," points out Animal Planet. Other environmental changes, such as moving to a new home or adding a new pet or baby to the mix, may affect eating habits, too.  If you know these types of things stress your cat, talk to your veterinarian about ways to help your cat relax. 

Possible Illness

Digestive issues, such as constipation, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (or chronic inflammatory enteropathy), are stressful on your cat's body, leading to loss of appetite, gas, vomiting and diarrhea. Other underlying illnesses that may affect appetite include kidney disease and dental problems. Banfield Pet Hospital explains that oral problems, like dental disease, oral tumors, infections or injuries, that make chewing difficult or uncomfortable could cause your cat to stop eating. Be sure your veterinarian includes a comprehensive dental exam during every checkup.

Because only a vet can diagnose an illness, contact your vet's office right away with any unusual or significant health changes. You should also take your cat in for a dental checkup if refusing dry food or favoring one side of the mouth when chewing.

How to Get a Cat to Eat

If your cat is snubbing meals, try expanding theiroptions, exploring new flavor combinations or offering a few form.. When trying out new foods, do so gradually to help your cat toacclimate to new flavors and textures  If your cat is reluctant to try a new food, you can try adding a small amount of broth to the dry food or warming the canned food.   

Ariel Mosenco, DVM, DACVIM, tells Petcha to never force food on your cat. Forcing a cat to eat or swallow can trigger a negative association with eating, causing them to avoid the food bowl even more. Instead, find ways to encourage your cat to eat.   If your cat becomes stressed easily, it is important to think about preparing your cat for parties at your house and plan ahead for introducing her to a new furry friend, which will help them cope with lifestyle changes.

In addition to what your cat eats, take into account where she dines. "Cats can be choosy about where they eat. Keep in mind that heavy-traffic areas, noise, the presence of other animals, dirty food containers or nearby litter boxes can deter a cat from eating," says the Cornell Feline Health Center. Seemingly minor changes can stress out your kitty, so create dedicated cat feeding areas in your house.

Arms holding a fluffy orange cat

When Should I Call the Vet?

Here's a good rule of thumb for pet parents: when in doubt, call your vet.

You and the vet share the goal of keeping your furry friend in tip-top shape, and it's better to err on the side of caution. Contact the vet as soon as you notice a change, whether sudden or gradual, in your cat's behavior. Questioning why your cat isn't eating is an important one, especially if it's been more than a day since the last meal. If your kitty does need treatment, the earlier you get her started, the better.

Now that you know some causes for appetite loss and how to get a cat to eat, you can take an active role in helping your feline pal get back on the path to full health.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.