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What to Do When Your Cat Won't Eat
Declining Their Food Can Have Lethal Consequences
In humans, anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by unhealthy, intentional weight loss and often by an abnormal fear of weight gain. Anorexics don’t eat enough food to maintain good health.
In cats, it’s a totally different situation. First of all, feline anorexia is not an eating disorder or even a disease unto itself. It’s a symptom. Something is making the cat avoid food and it takes a lot of detective work by a vet to get to the bottom of it.
The problem is there isn’t a lot of time. An adult cat can suffer serious consequences if they go without food for more than 24 hours. For a kitten that’s less than six weeks old, 12 hours without food can be fatal.
When a cat goes without food, an army of fat cells is sent to the liver to be turned into energy. The problem is, a cat’s liver isn’t very efficient at processing fat, which results in a life threatening fat build-up called feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, which can cause liver failure and death.
The causes of feline anorexia can be either psychological or physical, and while the vet tries to sort things out, given that the cat can’t offer any verbal clues, life saving measures need to be taken.
Options include force-feeding, syringe-feeding, tube-feeding, and/or the use of drugs that stimulate the appetite. Force feeding usually ends up in a wrestling match. The result is a cat that doesn’t trust you or that resists food even more. You’ll probably agree that one of the other options is better.
EXPLORING THE CAUSES
Where does one begin? The psychological causes can be as obvious as a new food that the cat doesn’t like, or as subtle as new furnishings that look and smell like she’s someplace else. There are many emotional events that could cause a cat to go off diet.
And it’s the same situation with physical causes. It could be one of a number of things. Does she have infected gums that cause pain when she eats? Does an upper respiratory infection impact her ability to smell her food and therefore cause her to refuse it? Is she suffering a digestive problem that claims her appetite, or is there some other viral or bacterial infection going on? Obese cats, for reasons not yet understood, seem to be prone to the condition.
At the first sign of your cat refusing food and the reason isn’t obvious, check in with your vet. They’ll offer suggestions to get your cat to eat. If the cat resists, you’ll probably have to bring her in.
The veterinarian will complete a detailed history and conduct a thorough physical exam, usually including lab and X-Ray, to seek out the cause. Until the cause is found and the condition is corrected, you’ll have to do whatever it takes to get nourishment into the cat.
The prognosis is inconsistent simply because there are too many variables involved. The simple lesson from this article should be: if your cat refuses food and you can’t determine the reason, call your vet and make them aware of the situation. They’ll take it from there.