If your cat suddenly stops eating, the list of reasons why is long. A kitty who’s reluctant to eat her cat food could simply have a tummy ache that will pass or a serious medical condition.
Learn more about why your cat might not be eating and ways to help ensure she gets the nutrition she needs to stay healthy, below.
Medical Reasons Why Cats Won’t Eat
“Inappetence is one of the most common signs cats display when they aren’t feeling well,” says Dr. Deborah Linder, a research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
If your cat won’t eat, some of the medical causes behind it could include gastrointestinal disease, kidney or heart problems (including chronic kidney disease) an instestinal obstruction, diabetes, an upper respiratory infection or fatty liver disease.
Dr. Frank McMillan, director of research studies for the Best Friends Animal Society, says medical inappetence in cats can generally be broken down into two categories: being physically unable to eat (from something like toothache) or not wanting to eat (a psychological issue resulting from another medical problem).
Medical reasons why cats might not want to eat can also include food allergies (which are rare), reactions to vaccines, tumors, or as a result of toxicity or poisoning (like consuming household cleaners, insecticides or poisonous plants, like geraniums or lilies), McMillian says. Certain antibiotics can also cause a cat to lose her appetite.
So, when should you call your vet? McMillan recommends waiting 48 hours to see if your cat will start eating again. After two days of not eating, book an appointment with your vet to rule out an illness. If your cat isn’t eating and it’s accompanied by another symptom (like swelling in the back), take your cat to the vet immediately.
Environmental Reasons Why Cats Won’t Eat
Changes in the household, including the addition of a new pet or the loss of an old pet, might also stop your cat from eating. According to McMillian, moving to a new home or even rearranging the furniture might upset your cat and stop her from eating temporarily.
“What a cat perceives can be quite different from what we perceive,” says McMillan. Cats may also be sensitive to odors, certain vibrations or noises (like the washing machine or plumbing), which can keep them from eating. To combat this, try feeding your cat away from an area where you cat might be too overstimulated by other concerns, McMillan says.
Behavioral Reasons Why Cats Won’t Eat
Cats, just like us, can be finicky eaters, and your cat might not be eating simply because she doesn’t like the food you’re giving her.
“Cats are more creature of habits than dogs and they can easily get locked in to a certain type and texture and flavor of food,” says Dr. Joe Bartges, professor of medicine and nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia. “Giving variety early in life can help prevent this from happening.”
Try feeding your kitten a variety of foods as soon as possible to discourage your cat from becoming a picky eater. It’s also important to be familiar with what types of food your cat likes so you can find a brand of food she will eat regularly.
“A full dietary history is crucial to knowing food preferences for each pet (e.g., dry, wet, flavor, texture, etc.) and then offering foods that are familiar to them,” says Linder.
Cats who stop eating may also be experiencing other behavioral issues. Some cats won’t eat when their owners are away on vacation, or if they are experiencing anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness or fear.
“These are hard to pin down in cats or any animal because we can’t ask them,” says McMillan.
How to Encourage Your Cat to Eat
If your feline friend won’t eat, McMillan suggests heating up her wet food in the microwave. He also recommends adding tuna juice, chicken broth or small amounts of baby food to your cat’s food.
Additionally, Linder says that keeping cat food in the fridge can help cats suffering from nausea. If your pet has taste aversions, you also could try using new dishes each time or disposable dishes to reduce the chances of your cat smelling traces of an old food she might not like.
A more social cat might need a little companionship to eat. Try sitting and petting your cat while she eats. Conversely, if your cat isn’t social, try placing her food in a quiet area of the home where she feels comfortable and can eat in peace. Linder also recommends using automatic feeders, which can provide your cat with a sense of routine.
Linder suggests logging or keeping track of how much exactly your cat is eating daily during meal times. This can help your vet gauge how serious the issue is and help him or her come up with a nutrition plan. Above all, work directly with your veterinarian to help determine the cause of your cat’s inappetence and work on a solution that is best for her.
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.