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Why won't my cat eat?

Grey cat not eating with food bowl in front of him advice

If your cat won’t eat, ensure they are well hydrated.

© Shutterstock

Is your cat just being fussy, not feeling well or eating at a neighbour's? There are many reasons why a cat won't eat.

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Published on the 12/08/2020, 09:27

Cats can be very fussy eaters, especially if they are not feeling well. Some cats will simply refuse to eat if they do not like the taste or texture of the food – some prefer wet or dry and sometimes show a strong preference for a particular food. As long as your cat is maintaining a healthy body weight, there is little cause for concern. But be aware that they may be getting fed elsewhere, so you may want to check with the neighbours. If your cat is simply underweight, then speak to a vet as there may be an underlying medical reason.

How can I make my cat eat?

You can’t make cats eat, but to test if they are inappetant because they are unwell or simply being picky eaters, try giving them favourite treats. If cats become dehydrated, they can feel unwell and nauseous, so ensure they have plenty of access to fresh water and encourage them to drink e.g. from a water fountain or with cat-specific electrolyte supplements. Keeping food available all the time can make your cat averse to the food, so remove the food if they haven’t eaten it after half an hour and offer fresh food later in the day. Warming food can help, as it will increase the smell. This is especially important if your cat has flu and a blocked nose, as their sense of smell and taste may be reduced.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk 

Is there an appetite stimulant for cats?

There are two main appetite stimulants for cats – periactin and mirtazapine. Both are available as tablets and mirtazapine is available as a gel to apply to the skin. Mirtazapine lasts for longer and is generally more effective, but it can have side effects and is not appropriate for use in some cases, such as liver disease

What is the best appetite stimulant for cats?

There are two main appetite stimulants for cats, periactin and mirtazapine, which are available as tablets and a gel applied to the skin. Both of these are prescription medications, so you will need to speak to a vet, who will check to ensure the medicines are safe and appropriate for your cat. It is important not to give an appetite supplement until a more serious underlying cause for poor appetite has been ruled out. Diazepam does increase appetite in cats, but the effects are very short-lived and there are other more marked side-effects, so it is not appropriate for use solely as an appetite stimulant.

What do you do when your cat won't eat?

If your cat won’t eat, the most important thing is to ensure they are well hydrated by encouraging them to drink. If they are otherwise bright and well, they may be getting food elsewhere. They will usually still eat a tasty treat, so this can be a good test to see if they are just being picky or truly off their food. If they are dull, unwell and not drinking it is important to see a vet.

What can I feed my cat to make it gain weight?

If your cat is underweight, make sure you are feeding the correct food for age and weight. Younger cats need higher calorie content and older cats need less. All cats have individual metabolisms, activity levels and other food sources, so the feeding guidelines on packets are just a guide. Use a body condition score guide to assess if your cat is underweight. If they are, then initially increase their daily calorie intake by 10 percent more each week to see if they are gaining body condition. If not, then it is important to see a vet as there can be underlying problems, especially in older cats.

What is the best food to fatten up a cat?

A fully balanced cat food fed at the appropriate amount to keep a healthy body weight is the best food for your cat. Wet food, such as tins, tray and pouches, contain a lot of water. Dry biscuits are more calorie dense, so are generally much cheaper than wet foods. Most people feed a combination, though some cats will prefer wet over biscuits or vice versa. It’s important not to let your cat get fat, as fat is very hard to shift in cats and can lead to numerous medical problems including diabetes, liver disease and arthritis.

What can I feed my underweight cat?

If your cat is underweight, it’s important to make sure you are feeding the correct food for age and weight. If they are not eating the food, then try alternatives. If they eat all the food you put down, then initially increase their daily calorie intake by 10 per cent more each week to see if they are gaining body condition. If they remain underweight, then it is important to seek veterinary advice as there could be underlying problems.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk 

Can probiotics increase my cat's appetite?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when delivered in adequate amounts, give a health benefit to your cat. There are several possible positive effects of probiotics on the gut, including modifying the gut flora, strengthening of the gut barrier and supporting the immune system. We know gut flora can affect body weight in people, so modifying the gut flora may have an effect on either appetite and/or how efficient your cat is at absorbing food from the gut.

When should I talk to a vet?

You should speak to a vet if your cat is underweight and not eating, or if they are dull and lethargic. If your cat is not drinking, this is a more urgent concern. If you cat is eating very well, but is still underweight, ensure you are feeding the correct amount and type of diet for their size and age, and if so then speak to your vet as there may be an underlying medical problem.

How should I talk to a vet about the best diet for my pet?

Diet is a huge factor in pet health. There has been a lot of research into the best diet for your pet, but a lot is down to personal preference for how you want to feed your cat, and what your cat likes to eat. Speak to a vet and they will be able to discuss appropriate options for you to try with your cat.

What should I ask the vet about probiotics and a cat's appetite?

Probiotics can be helpful in balancing the gut flora. They are usually given to help resolve diarrhoea in cats. If your cat has a poor appetite the vet will be wanting to check they are being fed the appropriate type and amount of food, and rule out any underlying medical conditions. Probiotics are not usually given solely as appetite stimulants, but they may be recommended by the vet as part of a treatment plan depending on the symptoms and cause of reduced appetite.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk