Grey cat not eating

The smell from warmed-up food may encourage your cat to eat.

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Why is my cat hungry but not eating?

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

There can be many reasons why a cat is hungry but not eating and you'll need to get your pet checked if it continues for more than a couple of days.

If your cat has stopped eating, this might be due to inappetence, meaning that they do not feel hungry for some reason, which could include nausea, pain or underlying illness. Other cats may still be feeling hungry but something else is stopping them from tucking into their food. Dental disease can be very painful and, in severe cases, could be enough to stop your cat from eating.

Cats can also be very fussy eaters and they may simply dislike the food they are being offered. In multi-cat households there is the additional complication of social interactions around meal-times, which can cause stress around feeding. Whatever the cause, if you are unable to tempt your cat to eat, you should seek veterinary advice after a day or two, or sooner if they are showing signs of being unwell. This is because cats gain essential amino acids from their diet, and there is also the risk of fatty liver particularly in overweight cats.

What can I do if my cat is not eating?

If your cat is not eating but seems otherwise bright and well in themself, you can try a few tricks to tempt them. An anorexic cat that is showing other symptoms may need a vet appointment, so you should contact a practice for advice.

What can I feed a cat who won't eat?

There are a few things that you can try to encourage your cat to eat. Smell is a strong stimulant of appetite and this can be optimised by warming up food, so that it is around body temperature. Test food by touch to make sure it is not too hot, so that your cat does not burn their mouth. You can also trial hand-feeding, as this can be a powerful stimulant for some individuals. If this does not work, you may need to trial some different food options, such as alternative cat food or plain boiled chicken.

How do you keep your cat hydrated if they're not eating?

If you need to change your cat’s diet, try to choose an option that is suitable for sensitive stomachs and easily digestible, as a sudden change in diet may cause diarrhoea. This latter situation will also worsen the risk of dehydration. A cat that is not eating is already more likely to become dehydrated because they will usually take on a significant amount of liquid from wet food. You can try to get them to drink more by offering the cooled-down cooking liquid from boiling chicken or white fish, as they will find this more tasty than plain water.

If you have a multi-cat household, make sure that there are enough food and water bowls for each cat to have their own, plus one spare. They may also prefer to eat in different rooms from each other, even if they seem to get on very well.

How can I help an older cat who's not eating?

Older cats are particularly prone to underlying health conditions that can affect appetite, such as kidney disease, which can lead to dehydration and nausea. Older cats can also suffer with arthritis, which can affect their joints or even their neck. You could try making it easier for them to reach their food bowl, either by placing a ramp next to it or by raising the food bowl.

If you are unable to tempt your cat to eat or they display other signs of being unwell, contact a vet. They could need some blood tests to look for signs of disease, although sometimes the cause is never fully known. The vet may recommend admitting your cat for an IV fluid drip, if they have become significantly dehydrated. As they become better hydrated again, this can help them to regain their appetite.

When should I speak to a vet?

If your cat has not eaten for 24 hours or is showing other symptoms, contact a vet. They may recommend an appointment for a health check and other diagnostic tests, or they may advise trialling a few other things at home first.

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

Depending on the cause of your cat’s anorexia, the vet may recommend specific dietary management. For example, a cat with kidney disease will require a therapeutic diet with the right balance of nutrients to support kidney health. Given there are so many reasons for a cat not wanting to eat, it is best to ask a vet for advice on nutrition and diet.

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