Your cat may eat less or stop eating for a variety of reasons. Most cats have the occasional ‘off’ days when they don’t eat or finish their dinner. But not eating can signal more serious concerns and should be investigated by a vet.
Eating less or not eating is also called anorexia or poor appetite. It suggests your cat either can’t eat or doesn’t want to eat. The causes may vary from simple dislike of the food on offer, to serious dental disease or an underlying illness. Treatment and outlook depend on why your cat won’t eat. Always speak to a vet if your cat stops eating or if they’re eating less for more than a day, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms.
What to do
What to do if your cat has a reduced appetite
Find out whether they:
- Want to eat but physically can’t
- Don’t want to eat /aren’t interested
- Are being prevented from eating
- Are acting normally or have any other symptoms
- Check they’ve not been fed elsewhere
- Consider whether they could have started hunting or hunting more
- Check their mouth for evidence of injuries or broken teeth. But don’t get bitten!
- Make sure they’re drinking
- Check your cat food is in date and looks/smells as it should
- Check they haven’t eaten anything they shouldn’t
- Check side effects of any new medicine to see if they include tummy upsets
- Check your cat’s weight as an indication of more severe problems
- If you have more than one cat, check that they all get equal opportunity to feed
Common causes of reduced appetite in cats
Feeling hungry is a natural response to the body’s need for the energy and nutrients in food. The body sends messages to the brain to trigger hunger when it needs energy and building materials. Hunger is a ‘biological’ need.
Appetite is different. It’s the desire to eat. Appetite can be closely tied to hunger. But other factors, including emotions, behaviour and environment, can also affect appetite. Many cats come looking for food even when they’ve just been fed. They can’t be ‘hungry’.
Possible reasons for:
- Reduced hunger – less need for fuel:
- Ageing – older cats need less food
- Reduced activity or convalescing
- Neutering (although appetite behaviour may not change in some cats, resulting in weight gain)
- Reduced awareness of hunger – the brain fails to register need for fuel and/or to trigger appetite:
- Brain injury
- Reduced appetite – real or apparent loss of interest in food:
- Eaten too many treats between meals
- Hunting and eating live prey
- Holding out for something better!
- Severe pain anywhere in the body, such as arthritis
- Feeling nauseous – ‘real’ loss of interest or aversion to food:
- Tummy bugs
- Hair balls
- Illness; especially pancreatitis, cancer, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease
- Infection – cat bite abscesses or fight wounds, urinary tract infections
- Certain medicines – some painkillers and antibiotics
- Balance problems – vestibular disease
- Wanting to eat but can’t – physically struggling or unable to eat, though hunger and appetite are unchanged:
- Severe dental disease and tooth injuries
- Ulcers on tongue or throat (stomatitis)
- Muscle or jaw weakness
- Nerve problems causing swallowing difficulties or weakness
- Chewing pain – pain in the ‘hinge joint’ of the jaw or severe middle ear pain
- Traumatic injury – broken jaw
- Foreign body in mouth
- Neck pain – unable to lower head to food bowls
- Cancer of mouth, throat or jaw
When to worry
When to worry if your cat’s appetite is reduced
If your cat isn’t eating, it’s always best to talk to your vet.
This is particularly urgent if your cat is:
- Not eating anything and/or not interested in food
- Losing weight
- Acting differently – cats won’t make it obvious when they’re in pain, so look out for changes in behaviour or habits
- Wanting to eat but can’t
- Dropping food or eating on one side
- Showing other symptoms- vomiting, diarrhoea, changes in drinking habits
- Developing jaundice – a yellow tinge to their gums or the whites of their eyes
Tips to reduce some preventable causes of reduced appetite in cats
- Keep your cats mouth healthy with good dental preventive care, including brushing your cat’s teeth and regular vet checks
- Feed a balanced diet appropriate for your cats age and lifestyle
- Feed healthy treats in moderation
- Regularly groom long-haired cats to reduce risk of hairballs, and use a hairball preventive/treatment like Katalax if your cat does get hairballs.
- Worm your cat regularly to reduce the risk of tummy upsets (and more!) from worms
- Keep your cat up to date with their vaccines
Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day for advice, call us now if you have any concerns about your cat.
Things to look out for if your cat isn’t eating
Clues that your cat is eating less than usual, and the possible causes include:
- Being quieter than usual and/or becoming withdrawn
- Spending longer outdoors hunting
- Drooling saliva
- Going to food bowl and walking away
- Taking longer to eat or eating on one side of the mouth
- Dropping food
- Leaving food
- Not asking for food at regular mealtimes
- Losing weight
- Having low energy
How to help with a reduced appetite at home
If your cat is eating less, it’s important to find out why.
Depending on the causes of eating less, the following measures may help to resolve the issue. Or at least help your cat to cope while the underlying problem is investigated and treated.
- Making sure your cat continues to drink water to prevent dehydration.
- Offering special sugar and salt solutions for cats while they aren’t eating. These are available to buy in pet shops or online. Or ask a vet for a suitable home recipe for your cat.
- Offering softer food if your cat is struggling to chew or dropping food.
- Feeding warm tempting foods, like chicken and rice. Possibly adding salt-free gravy. Warming food heightens the smell, making it more appealing to cats. Especially good for cats who are recovering from surgery or an illness:
- Offering food by hand to encourage your cat to first start eating
- Treating for hairballs
- Feeding Hills Prescription Diet a/d to support recovery
- Reviewing feeding requirements as your cat gets older or has other illnesses
How can vets help cats with a reduced appetite?
When your cat is eating less or not eating, your vet will aim to find and treat the underlying cause.
- Treating underlying illnesses
- Carrying out dental surgery
- Repairing fractures/injuries
This is usually enough to restore appetite. But if appetite is still poor despite treatment, vets may use the following for a short time to help improve or kick-start eating:
- Appetite stimulants: mirtazapine, cyproheptadine, capromorelin
- Anti-sickness/anti-nausea medicine: maropitant, omeprazole, ondansetron
- Pain relief
- Prescription diets
- Feeding tubes: nutrition is an essential part of recovering from acute illness. If your cat hasn’t started eating again, your vet may place a feeding tube. Feeding tubes take liquidised concentrated food directly to the stomach. The tube is removed once your cat starts eating again by themselves.
Are some cats at more risk of a reduced appetite?
Cats who are most likely to stop eating or refuse food include:
- Older cats
- Cats who go outdoors
- Cats with other illnesses- heart disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis
- Cats who scavenge – risk losing their appetite because of eating things that cause tummy upsets
- Long-haired cats are prone to hairballs
- Cats with dental disease
Other causes of reduced appetite in cats
Other potential causes of eating less or reduced appetite include:
- Being bullied by other pets in the house
- Household changes
- Travel and kennels
- Female cats during seasons (‘on heat’)
- For unneutered male cats, the presence of a female in season