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Affection Eating in Cats
My parents are savvy pet guardians. My dad is a former rodeo cowboy who had a summer job herding cattle when he was a teenager. I grew up in a 4-H household brimming with animals. We administered our own shots, delivered our own babies, and dealt with many medical conditions. However, this past year my parent's cat had an issue that they were unfamiliar with. Luckily, just that year I'd begun working under a behaviorist at an animal shelter and was able to help them.
My parents had two cats. Those two cats had spent every day together for six years since they adopted Fuge, the younger cat. They cleaned each other and slept together. They had a very strong bond. Unfortunately the older cat suddenly died and Fuge was left alone. Fuge spent the first few weeks in very obvious depression. A normally active cat, she started spending all of her days sitting on the window ledge. A month later she appeared to be feeling better and resumed normal activities. My mom called and said she thought that the mourning period was over for her cat.
A few weeks later my mom called again. She said that she was getting Fuge checked for worms. Fuge's food was always kept in the laundry room, and my mom said that every time she went to do a load of laundry the cat would run in and start furiously eating, but she was still losing weight. My parents free feed their cats and multiple people fill up their food bowls so they don't have a general estimate of how much food is actually being consumed.
I had just learned about affection eating at the animal shelter. Affection eating is a common ailment in the animal shelter, where animals have just lost their homes and are more likely to be depressed. Cats who are affection eaters need attention while they eat. In the shelter we had a team of volunteers who would visit with each affection eater to promote their eating.
In my parent's case they were able to move Fuge's food into a room that they were in more often. With her food in the living room, Fuge began to gain weight again. It turned out that she did not have worms, and was having a behavioral issue instead.
Affection eating in cats is a psychological issue, but it can be a serious one. A depressed cat won't eat, even as the cat gets very hungry, if it is not getting the attention that it requires. Cats do not have bodies that are able to turn large amounts of fat into energy and when their bodies go into starvation mode it can cause fatty liver, a condition that can lead to the death of the cat.
If your cat suddenly stops eating, especially after an emotional loss, it's important to involve your vet. The condition can be very serious. The reason for the sudden change in appetite could be physiological in nature. If the vet can't find anything wrong it is a good idea to increase the amount of attention that you are giving your pet, particularly at feeding time. For some cats simply moving their food into a room that is occupied a larger percentage of the time is enough; for other cats you may need to pet the cat as it eats each meal. Hopefully as the cat recovers from the loss they will start eating again without needing the constant attention.