Is Your Cat Not Eating?

Is your cat not eating? Has he lost his appetite? There are many reasons why your feline buddy is not in the mood for chowing down, even if you spoil him with his favorite meal. The causes of this curious behavior can range in importance from being a finicky eater to serious health problems as dangerous as cancer or heart disease. We will try to mention the most common health and behavioral issues affecting your cat's refusal to eat.

Most cats are infested at one time or another by intestinal parasites. Often, they recover and develop a certain amount of immunity. However, if worms are causing a disease, there should be some change in the appearance of the stool. In turn, this is reflected by a decline in the general health of the individual. You will notice decreased appetite, loss of weight, diarrhea, anemia, and the passage of mucus or blood.

An acute respiratory infection is transmitted from cat to cat by direct contact with infected sputum, nasal secretions or eye discharge as well as contaminated litter pans and water bowls. The virus may be stable for 24 hours or as long as ten days. Clinical signs appear 2 to 17 days after exposure. The first signs are fever and bouts of sneezing. Next you may see nasal and/or eye discharge. It starts out clear and can become mucoid (containing mucous) or purulent (containing pus). This signifies a secondary bacterial infection. Cats with obstructed nasal passages exhibit open-mouth breathing. There are times where you might see an ulceration of the mucous membranes of the mouth (Stomatitis). This is particularly disabling, as the cat loses his taste for food. He might refuse to eat or drink. Drooling is common.

Your cat not eating , could also be a function of a nasal obstruction. In the cat the sense of smell is used primarily for self-orientation (recognition of threatening odors) and for appetite stimulation. A nasal obstruction is almost always accompanied by a complete loss of appetite.

One of the initial signs of mouth disease in the cat is a failure to eat. This is caused by pain in their mouth rather than loss of appetite. The cat will often sit beside the food dish and give every indication of wanting to eat. He might even take food into his mouth and quickly drop it. If you attempt to examine his mouth he usually draws back and struggles to get away.

Acute Gastritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach which produces severe and continuous vomiting that comes on suddenly. This most likely is caused by ingestion of an irritant or poison. Common stomach irritants include toxic plants, fertilizers, cleaning agents and antifreeze. Aspirin will also produce gastric irritation. Frequently, a cat with an upset stomach vomits shortly after eating. Later, he may stop eating altogether and appear lethargic, sitting with his head hanging over the water bowl.

A cat with impaired liver functions appears weak and lethargic and exhibits loss of appetite and weight. He may also suffer from vomiting and diarrhea, drink excessively, and experience pain in the abdomen.

Signs of right heart failure are less common than those of left-sided failure. As the right heart muscle begins to weaken, pressure backs up in the veins, causing congestive heart failure. The early signs of right-sided heart failure in the cat are lethargy, loss of appetite, shortness of breath and rapid pulse. In late stages you will observe weight loss, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, giving a pot-bellied look.

Anemia can be defined as a deficiency of red blood cells in the circulation. Signs vary considerably, depending upon the cause. Often they are overshadowed by the signs of the acute or chronic illness, of which anemia is but one of the associated symptoms. In general, anemic cats lack appetite, lose weight, sleep a great deal, and show generalized weakness.

Kidney failure causes an increase in frequency of urination. This large urine output must be compensated for by increased fluid intake. A constant supply of clean fresh water should be made available at all times. This step is important in helping the cat adjust to his reduced kidney function. As his renal function continues to deteriorate, he will begin to retain ammonia, nitrogen, acids and other waste products in his bloodstream and tissues (uremic poisoning). Signs of Uremia are apathy and depression, refusal to eat, loss of weight and condition, dry hair-coat, a brownish discoloration to the surface of the tongue, ulcers on the gums and tongue, and an ammonia-like odor to the breath.

An abcess of the Uterus (Pyometra) is a life-threatening disease to queens over 5 years of age that have never been pregnant. A queen with Pyometra refuses to eat, appears depressed and lethargic, usually runs a fever, drinks a great deal and urinates frequently.

Of course there are many instances where your cat not eating is a variable of a behavioral issue rather than an illness. Your cat may develop a preference for a food that is highly palatable such as liver, kidneys, milk, eggs, chicken and then refuse to eat a complete diet.

At times it might become necessary to adjust a cat's diet due to an illness. If he refuses the new diet, the procedure for switching over is as follows: To 80 percent of the original food add 20 percent of the new food, mix together thoroughly and feed the mixture until the cat accepts it. When this is accomplished, increase the amount of new food to 40 percent. Increase the new portions in this manner until the switch is complete.

A very rare eating disorder in cats is Anorexia Nervosa. This is a condition in which the cat refuses to eat, loses weight and begins to starve himself. A deep-seated insecurity or nervous stress usually is at the root of the problem. A veterinary examination is needed in this instance.

References: The Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M and James M. Giffin, M.D. - First Edition

Cat Health: Intestinal Parasites

Cat Health: Upper Respiratory Infections

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Comments 16 comments

LRobbins profile image

LRobbins 7 years ago from Germany

Very informative article, I had no idea there could be so many reasons for a cat not eating. I have the opposite problem with one of my cats-he eats too much.


hglick profile image

hglick 7 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Thank You LRobbins,

Yes, unfortunately I have the same problem with my cats (LOL)


stars439 profile image

stars439 7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Very helpful information. Your articles are a great help to us. God Bless You


hglick profile image

hglick 7 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Thank you very much stars


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

man you are the coolest cat out there - you love cats and you love music - someone give this angel his wings!


hglick profile image

hglick 6 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Thank you for the kind comments epigramman


Debbie 5 years ago

Mty 12 year old gret tabby stated outside all night and vomitted the next day; then for 2 weeks lost a lot of weight. Afer 3 weeks began eatting a quarter of what he did eat before. Now 6 weeks later is still slightly lethargic, thin, eating a little, and is no longer sleeping between my husband and myself but in a bedroom chair, on the bathroonm rug. He has slept between us for all the years he has been with us......


hglick profile image

hglick 5 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Debbie, this eating and behavioral change suggests that there is definitely something bothering or ailing your cat. You should definitely have him examined.


Nisaa.N 5 years ago

my cat has recently got a cut on its right leg and since then it has been refusing to eat. could you please help me with my cat's this kind of behaviour.


hglick profile image

hglick 5 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Nisaa.N The cut on your cat's right leg might have something to do with him not eating, but refusal to eat for lengthy periods of time could signal something more serious. Definitely have him examined by a vet.


Bernie 3 years ago

My cat has stopped eating food and will not operate her eyes


hglick profile image

hglick 3 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Bernie, I would get your cat professional help right away. She might have ingested poison.


Tim 3 years ago

One thing that a good vet will tell you is that your cat can also stop eating as a reaction to being in any way sick. Most cats who are having a problem will Decide to stop eating. We found this out about our cat when he stopped eating. we of course too him to 1 vet who botched the blood tests, gave him about a minute of I.V. and said she didn't know what was wrong with him. then gave our weakened cat a small shot of Valium so that it would inspire hunger (give him the munchies). but we went to a better Vet who did All the right work, and noticed something that wasn't obvious to us.. My cat is a big boy. but when he stopped eating, he only slimmed in front and in back.. but not in the middle. an X-Ray showed that he has a heart condition which is authoring a huge water mass in his abdomen (litterally the size of a grapefruit) so we are treating that now.


hglick profile image

hglick 3 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Tim, You made a very wise decision in questioning the first vet after the bad blood test. Most people would give up. Hope everything works out.


Angel 3 years ago

my cat stopped eating for 2 days.. she's loosing weight.. and doesn't sleep with her eyes closed.. and she's soooo light., doesn't have the strength to run.. i took her to the vet.. and they gave her fluid because she's dehydrated and gave her anti-biotic as well.. i was told she has a fever one hundered something.. i don't quite remember.. and then gave me some pills for her.. but im still worried and i try not to.. 'cause i have faith she'll be back to normal but everytime i see her it looks like she's dead.. breathes slowly.. i don't know if i should take her to a vet again.l een though it's going to hurt my wallet but i just want her to be well :\


hglick profile image

hglick 3 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY Author

Angel, It seems as though they are treating her for an upper respiratory infection. This is not always an easy diagnosis. Make sure they are checking her blood work as well. I've seen too many strange cases involving these symptoms.

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