Despite their reputation for being picky eaters (and just plain picky), cats love eating. Supply them with a continuous flow of food and you’ll find your cat making frequent trips to his or her food bowl to stuff himself.
However, cats are just like humans, so don’t be surprised if there’s a phase where your cat is rejecting the notion of eating. It’s not just him or her attempting to make your life difficult; this loss of appetite can stem from a range of reasons.
While most cats are super expressive and let you know when something doesn’t satisfy their majesties, some cats act perfectly normal, even when things aren’t.
In fact, studies exist that show healthy cats exhibiting the same behavior as sick ones sometimes. Understandably, this mysterious, unpredictable back and forth does nothing to appease even the most vigilant of pet parents.
What may appease them, though, is knowing the reasons behind your cat’s sudden appetite loss and what you could do to remedy them. Read on.
Loss of Appetite
The state where your cat isn’t showing any interest in food and shuns it for a period longer than 24 hours, this is known scientifically as “loss of appetite”. Some medical books even refer to it as anorexia.
Reasons behind Appetite Loss
While in some cases, loss of appetite can happen for no reason (cats—need we say more?), it more generally happens due to either medical, psychological or situational reasons.
Believe it or not, a range of reasons can affect your kitty’s mental health, from new foods to stress to something as simple as just not liking their food bowl. Here’s a breakdown of the most common psychological triggers for your furball:
As mentioned earlier, cats love eating, but this, in no way, means that your cat will be accommodating and settle for anything you put into the bowl—you’ve still got some tastes to fulfill.
Changing your cat’s diet can lead to your cat’s appetite loss, such as switching suddenly from dry food to wet, changing feeding time, or even switching brands.
If your kitty’s used to one particular type of food, the chances are that he or she won’t recognize anything else as food.
If you absolutely must switch your cat’s diet, do it gradually. Mix in the new food in small amounts with his old food, eventually increasing the proportion. But remember, force feeding your cat is an absolute no—only complete the switch if your cat likes it, too.
The Presence of Other Pets
There are no two ways about it—cats love having your undivided attention, even though they may act pricey and act like they don’t need it.
If you’ve already had your cat for a while and you’re introducing a new kitten or cat into the family, your cat may lose his or her appetite. The presence of another animal can lead to stress, fear, jealousy, and insecurity, leading to appetite loss.
Unsurprisingly, this extends to not just other animals, but other humans too, and this includes newborn babies and infants. If your cat doesn’t take a liking to the family’s newest member, it’s ‘bye-bye, food bowl’.
Food Bowl Issues
Your cat may not want to eat for a range of food-bowl-related issues, from placing it in the wrong location to using an inappropriate bowl to what you put into it.
Wrong Location of the Food Bowl
Cats are extremely habitual creatures, so changing the position of their food bowl may throw them off eating.
Additionally, if you have more than one cat and the cat in question needs to pass the food bowls of these others cats to get to his, the scent of other cats may throw him off (especially if they’re new and he or she is still not used to them or if the other cats bully him around these food bowls).
If your cat is afraid of the other cat, he may stay away from his bowl, especially if the latter stares aggressively at the former while he or she eats.
Also, don’t place your kitty’s food bowl near objects such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or any object that makes loud, scary noises—cats hate this.
Choose a location that’s peaceful and is not a place that other cats frequent—this can be one closed space or several locations around the house (but don’t subject these locations to change once you’ve placed the bowls).
Cats are also extremely clean animals, to the extent that they won’t eat at the same place where they relieve themselves. Therefore, placing the food bowl near the water or litter box is a big ‘no’.
Unsuitable Food Bowl
Cats hate it when their whiskers get touched, which extends to their food bowl as well. Deep bowls will touch the edges of your cat’s whiskers, making eating uncomfortable. Choose plates over bowls to serve meals.
Adding Medicines into the Bowl
Adding medicines into your cat’s food bowl, especially during deworming, is the most effective way of getting your cat to eat the medicine, but cats have a powerful sense of smell and can sniff out anything new in their food bowls.
Opt for specially-designed treats to feed your cat medicines, instead of mixing them into your cat’s regular food.
A new place, new furniture, and new people can all contribute to your furball’s appetite loss. This includes moving to a new home, a new person visiting you frequently or you changing your interior decor.
This also extends to traveling with your kitty. Cats are very prone to motion sickness and won’t eat anything when feeling so.
Though all of the above reasons ultimately cause stress, a range of other reasons can also stress your cat out, such as a change in schedule, trauma, your absence, lack of sufficient play and activity, or being confined, to name a few, and manifest in various ways.
For all that people say about cats being indifferent, your cat may be affected by you being sick or unwell and get stressed by that, too.
Ultimately, a cat’s pickiness can’t be discounted. Cats are super fastidious and picky, and may refuse to eat if you serve them food they don’t like, if it’s too cold or stale, if the bowl is unclean, or just because they may not feel like it.
Various medical reasons can be behind your cat’s sudden disinterest in food, the most common being dental disease.
Poor oral health can cause inflammation, rotting teeth, toothaches, abscesses and other injuries in the mouth, causing pain to your cat when he or she eats and leading to him or her staying away from food.
Gastrointestinal diseases could be another cause and can be caused by reasons such as cancer, intestinal changes, digestive problems, colitis, pancreatitis, parasites, foreign bodies in the stomach (such as stuck hairballs) and just plain old gas.
Gastrointestinal diseases manifest in the form of constipation, vomiting, diarrhea and significant weight loss and should be brought to the attention of your vet as early as possible.
Respiratory diseases can also cause loss in appetite.
Lastly, recent vaccination may throw your cat off food for a while, due to the shock and trauma that your cat goes through in the process. This is temporary and is usually resolved within a couple of days.
Why Appetite Loss Should Worry You
Your cat not eating enough is a cause for worry, even if it ultimately does turn out to be due to your cat being just that—a cat. (Read stubborn and picky.)
Food is a highly important component in your cat’s life, just as it is with all organisms. Animals need the energy from their stored fat for when they don’t eat—no prizes for guessing where the fat comes from.
Your cat also needs protein, highly necessary to keep the liver running and also for processing stored fat before it turns into energy. Insufficient protein can also lead to hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), leading to liver failure.
You may want your obese cat to lose weight, but don’t resort to rationing food in order to achieve this, especially suddenly. If your obese cat stops eating suddenly, hepatic lipidosis can set in quickly, and left untreated, can turn fatal.
What You Can Do
As mentioned earlier, your kitty’s complete refusal to eat is not something that should be taken lightly—it can turn out to be more serious than it looks.
However, it’s extremely important to remember that whatever the cause behind your cat’s appetite loss is, force-feeding is not the answer. Similarly, starvation isn’t the answer to your cat’s obesity.
If you’re trying to encourage your cat to eat in this period, try mixing in new food eventually. Use treats, play with your cats more often so that they work up an appetite, ensure the food never goes stale, keep the bowl clean and feed your cat with your hands.
You could also try topping the food with something delicious that your kitty loves, make him or her feel comfortable while eating, and if you’re serving wet food, keep an eye on the temperature of the food.
Lastly, always keep an eye on your kitty’s health.
The Final Word
If you feel like you’ve done everything possible to remedy your cat’s appetite loss, always turn to your vet. If it’s already been 24 hours, going to the vet is a must.
Cats don’t literally have 9 lives; fatty liver disease is a real threat that can set in quickly and require hospitalization for recovery.
Keep your cat comfortable, ensuring that its surroundings, especially while eating, are calm and quiet. If you must take your cat on your travels, carry his favorite food with you—cats need comfort food too.
Ultimately, always be vigilant. Monitor your furball’s health, mood, habits and lifestyle, just as you would with a newborn baby. Make an effort to know your cat and you’ll find that it’s easier to get to the bottom of things.