Meal time is important, so it can be worrisome if your cat stops eating. Here’s what to do if your cat suddenly stops eating, from trying to find out why to when to call the vet.

By Katie Mills Giorgio
August 24, 2020
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Credit: serezniy / Getty

Cats have a mind of their own. It’s no surprise that this is equally true when it comes to how much they eat, what they eat, and when they eat. But if your cat does suddenly stop eating, pay attention as it could mean serious issues if the food refusal continues. It may just be that they don’t like the food they once enjoyed, but it could also mean a more serious health issue.

Whether your cat is acting normal or is more lethargic than usual, you should investigate what might be causing the hunger strike. Here are some ideas to help you figure out why your cat has stopped eating, what might convince your kitty to start eating again, and when it might be time to make a phone call to your vet.

Why the Hunger Strike?

A change in your cat’s eating habits are typically impacted by two things: their health or the food itself. While there are several health factors that might cause your cat to stop eating gradually or suddenly, don’t jump to any conclusions about sickness or injury without consulting a veterinarian.

“Cats only have a few ways that they tend to show illness, including not eating and vomiting, but the problem is that you have no idea what illnesses because there are a bunch of different things that can cause both of those situations,” said Cailin Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN, Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist

Health Issues

Your cat might not be eating for a more serious reason, like an infection or kidney failure, intestinal issues, or even cancer. But even a simple toothache can disrupt mealtimes for your kitty. If your cat is dealing with an upper respiratory disease they may have a stuffed up nose and be unable to smell or breathe well, thus making them not want to eat. A decrease in appetite can also be one of the first signs that your cat is dealing with a digestive tract issue—which could range from acid reflux, to intestinal bacteria, and irritable bowel disease. 

Hairballs & Foreign Objects

Of course, sometimes cats eat things they shouldn’t. Even hairballs can get caught in their stomach or intestines. The cat’s refusal to eat may indicate that they have an obstruction somewhere in their digestive tract, in which case they will either vomit, or need to be seen by their vet.

Disrupted Routines

Changes to their body or their surroundings can also cause your cat to lose their appetite. Recent vaccinations can cause your cat to avoid food. Changing your cat’s surroundings, like if you’re traveling or just moved to a new home, can also cause stress that may create a disruption for your cat’s eating routine.

Mood 

Your cat’s mood can also impact eating habits. If they are not physically sick, an emotional shift, such as being anxious or depressed, can halt your kitty’s desire to eat.

Diet Changes

Sometimes, the food is more of an issue than your cat’s health. Cats can take a while to adjust to new types of foods. If you’ve recently made a change to what’s in their bowl, that might explain your kitty’s reluctance to eat. Cats are notoriously finicky eaters, so even if your cat was eating one type of food just fine for months, it’s possible he suddenly no longer likes the taste of it. Heinze says that some kitties are sensitive to the shape or texture of food as well, and they may want wet food one day and dry kibble the next. Be sure to check dates on your cat food to make sure it is not spoiled or expired, and do a quick search to see if the food has been recalled if your cat is refusing to eat it.

Should I Call the Vet?

If you’ve tried several of the options to get your cat to start eating again but they don’t seem to be working, you’ll want to call your vet. If your cat refuses to eat, her body will begin relying on her fat stores. This puts additional strain on her kidneys, and if this goes on for too long can cause a dangerous condition called hepatic lipidosis, which can lead to liver failure. 

Reaching out to your vet when you notice a change in eating habits is always a wise choice. The sooner you pinpoint the problem, the sooner your kitty will be back on track. Your vet can help treat your cat and also help formulate a feeding plan that will provide the nutrients your cat needs. If your cat has gone without eating for too long more extreme measures—such as appetite stimulants, syringe-feedings or even placement of a feeding tube—may be necessary.

How Can I Encourage My Cat to Eat?

If you have figured out with the help of your veterinarian that it is not a health issue that is affecting your cat’s eating habits, you might try a few tricks to make meal time more enticing.

Human food is often alluring, but if you are going to use it to tempt your cat into eating again be sure to do so sparingly. Liver and canned tuna, for instance, may coax your cat into taking some bites, but large quantities of people food can be harmful to your pet. Commercial canned cat foods are a better alternative. 

If human food does get your cat eating again, you’ll need to reintroduce the kibble or wet cat food by slowly incorporating it into mealtimes.

Don’t leave canned food out in kitty’s bowl too long as it will become stale and your cat may continue to avoid it. Try again later with fresh food if the first attempt is ignored. 

To potentially avoid feeding issues in the future, experts recommend alternating your cat’s food among different brands and types of foods a couple of times a year so they are less likely to become finicky eaters. Since food aversion can be attributed to a number of factors—including disease or illness—it’s best to speak with your vet to rule out any health conditions that might be causing the loss of appetite. They’ll be able to recommend diet changes or a feeding plan that can help your cat get the nutrients they need.