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Cat anorexia: why is my cat not eating?

Tabby cat not eating advice

Anorexia in cats can lead to serious problems within a couple of days.

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If your cat isn't eating, they could just not like their new diet, but this could also point to something more serious...

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Updated on the 20/11/2020, 10:37

Cats can be notoriously fussy feeders and, if they stop eating their food, it can be down to something as simple as disliking a new diet. However, anorexia in cats can also indicate something more serious, including pain, dental disease, stress, gastrointestinal disease or blockage, raised thyroid levels, diabetes and more.

Whatever the cause, anorexia in cats can lead to serious problems within a couple of days, such as hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver. This is more common in overweight cats, but healthy cats can also be affected. This occurs when the body fat is broken down to meet energy demands and leads to fat deposits in the liver and complications with its functioning. Cats also gain essential amino acids from their diet and the lack of these can lead to severe health issues.

Why is my cat not eating?

Establishing why your cat won’t eat can involve a bit of detective work. Are they showing any other symptoms of illness or behavioural changes? If your cat is showing other signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea or lethargy this indicates an underlying health problem is likely. However, if your cat seems otherwise bright and well in themself, it’s possible that they simply don’t like the diet, are being fed elsewhere or are hunting. Stress and changes in the environment can also lead to anorexia in cats. Can you think of any changes such as new additions to the household or different food?

If your cat is showing symptoms in addition to the anorexia, contact a vet for advice. If they seem otherwise well, you can try tempting them to eat using the advice here. However, if they are still refusing food after 24 hours, book a vet appointment. Cats are very good at hiding signs that something else is going on, and it is best to avoid the health complications associated with feline anorexia.

Does my cat have anorexia?

Anorexia means that your cat is eating less than usual or not at all. If your cat stops eating the food that you are putting down for them, it is highly likely that they have anorexia. Occasionally cats will be getting their meals elsewhere – such as by hunting or by helping themselves to food put out for wildlife. Yet it can be difficult to know this for certain, so it is still worth getting your cat checked over by a vet.

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What can I do if my cat won't eat or drink?

In the short-term, you can try to get your cat eating by warming up a small portion of food to around body temperature, taking care that it does not become too hot. Warming the food slightly increases the smell, so that it is more appealing and this can tempt your cat to eat. You can also try different brands of food, as your cat may prefer these. Be aware that changing diet suddenly can lead to gastrointestinal upset and your cat may develop diarrhoea. However, anorexia can have very severe consequences, so encouraging your cat to eat is a more important priority in this instance.

If your cat is not eating or drinking, they are likely to become dehydrated. You could try boiling some chicken breast or white fish and offering the cooking liquid to your cat, as they may prefer the flavour of this to regular water. You can also try hand-feeding your cat, as this can help stimulate them to eat, although this will depend on the individual.

When should I see a vet?

If your cat has not eaten (or eaten very little) for 24 hours, you should contact a vet. If they are showing other symptoms or you are concerned, you should seek veterinary advice sooner.

What should I expect when I visit the vet?

When you visit the vet, they will take a history, which involves asking some questions such as when the anorexia started, other symptoms you might have noticed and what you have tried so far. They will also do a clinical examination, which will include feeling the cat’s belly. Depending on what the vet finds out, they may suggest other diagnostic tests such as bloods, x-ray or ultrasound.

The treatment for a cat that is not eating will depend on the cause of the anorexia. Some cats will need to be hospitalised, so that they can receive a fluid drip as they can become very dehydrated if they are not eating – ordinarily they take on a lot of liquid from wet food. Other treatment plans may include pain relief, anti-sickness medication, stomach protectants and antibiotics. If your cat has dental disease, they will probably require tooth extractions under a general anaesthetic, but may need to be stabilised on fluids first. Given there are so many causes of feline anorexia, there are many diagnostic, treatment and management plans too, and a vet will be able to talk you through the options for your cat.

What should I ask a vet about the best nutrition plan for my cat not eating?

At the vet appointment, you can ask for advice about what to feed an anorexic cat. This will depend on whether the cat is lacking appetite, or whether they are actually interested in food but it's too painful to eat. If your cat is anorexic due to an underlying disease, such as kidney problems, then a vet may recommend a therapeutic diet that has the right balance of nutrients to help manage this condition.

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