My Cat Won't Eat: What You Can Do to Help
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 for pet parents, but figuring out why your cat is suddenly snubbing her food and learning how to get her to eat can help her get the nutrition she needs.
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.
Cats are creatures of habit and will typically resist change, especially to their meal plans. Have you recently changed your cat's food? Maybe she's stubbornly refusing to try the new flavor. Your kitty can't go too long without eating, so she will eventually eat what's in front of her. If she doesn't cave and try her new food within a day, then it's time to explore other possibilities for why she isn't eating.
Your cat's stubbornness pops up if she's unhappy with her 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. "If this is the case, don't worry. Your furry friend will be grazing again in no time." 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.
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 her 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 of 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 you cat in for a dental checkup if she refuses dry food or appears to be favoring one side of her mouth when she chews.
How to Get a Cat to Eat
If your cat is purposefully snubbing meals, try expanding her options, exploring flavor combinations and scaling back on the cat treats. When trying out new foods, do so gradually to help her acclimate to new flavors and texture. Pay close attention to what she eats since not all cat food ingredients are created equal.
Ariel Mosenco, DVM, DACVIM, tells Petcha to never force food on your cat. Forcing her to eat or swallow can trigger a negative association with eating, causing her to avoid the food bowl even more. Instead, find ways to work around her food strike by preparing your cat for parties at your house and planning ahead for introducing her to a new furry friend, which will help her cope with her 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.
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 her last meal. If your kitty does need treatment, the earlier you get her started, the better.
Now that you know some tips for what may cause her loss of appetite 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.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.
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