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What to Do When Your Cat Won’t Eat (Vet Answer)

Dr. Paola Cuevas (Vet)

By Dr. Paola Cuevas (Vet)

cat refuses to eat dry kibble

Food is basic need for all animals and under normal circumstances pets are really looking forward to food and treats. As a rule, if a cat refuses to eat, this is a very clear indicator that something is going on.

The medical term for this condition is “anorexia”. Anorexia is a sign of a very large list of possible causes and underlying diseases. A cat refusing to eat for 3 days is at extreme risk of dehydration and organ damage. If you noticed today that your cat did not eat, please do not wait until tomorrow when it might be too late. If your cat is refusing to eat, please bring him up to medical consultation immediately.

What Are Some of the Possible Causes of Anorexia in Cats?

  • Upper respiratory infections or nasal polyps: causes loss of smell and appetence of food.
  • Injury, trauma, infection of inflammation in the oral cavity.
  • Obstructions in the gastrointestinal tract caused by foreign objects or masses.
  • Pain of diverse origins like foreign objects and spines, abscesses, fractures, or tumors, etc.
  • Serious systemic diseases: such as pancreatitis, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, kidney disease, congestive heart failure and others.
  • Neoplasia and cancers.
  • Behavioral: usually caused by changes in the environment, the habits, fear, and anxiety.
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How Will the Veterinarian Diagnose the Cause of The Anorexia?

Once at the clinical consultation, all the specific information you can share with your veterinarian can be very useful for the case history. The veterinarian will proceed to perform a complete physical examination, checking the mouth, eyes, and nose of your cat, he will palpate his abdominal area looking for inflammations, masses, or any other abnormalities. The veterinarian might request a blood sample and possibly some diagnostic imagining such as X-rays or abdominal ultrasound. In addition, the veterinarian might test your cat for retrovirus.

veterinarian checks mouth of the maine coon cat
Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

What Will the Treatment for The Cat’s Anorexia Be?

The treatment will largely depend on identifying the underlying cause. Bacterial Infections such as gastroenteritis or respiratory infections can be treated with oral antibiotics. Abscesses will need incision, drainage, and debridement, followed by oral therapy. Masses, polyps, fractures, tumors, and some obstructions require surgical treatment. In some extreme cases your cat might need to stay in the hospital with intra venous therapy to restore the hydration and electrolyte balance.

Complex cases of gastrointestinal disease might need the cat to be fed using a tube. The details of the tube placement and feeding technique depend largely on the specific case some of these cases require days of hospitalization. In addition, the veterinarian might prescribe some pain management medication to your cat.

The veterinarian will find an appropriate treatment for your cat’s specific case after identification of the underlying cause of the anorexia. It is important to search for professional advice and follow the veterinarian’s recommendations and prescriptions. Please never try to medicate your cat with medicine that works for you, many human medications are toxic for cats.

veterinarian feeds the cat using a syringe
Image Credit: frantic00, Shutterstock

What Can You Do If the Veterinarian Thinks That the Cat Is Healthy?

If the veterinarian finds out that the cat is not suffering from any underlying disease, and all test results are within normal parameters, this are very good news; your cat is healthy! However, the case is not over until the cat resumes to normal eating habits.

Once you have ruled-out any potentially life-threatening situation, the veterinarian might recommend any of the following:
  • Improve overall balance and quality of the diet. Chose products that are nutritious and have a good balance of fats and proteins.
  • Try to make a change in the cat’s food, to make it more attractive to your cat. You can experiment adding moisture with flavorful broths, adding palatable food topping such as cat’s wet food, warming the food, and even changing the shape of it, for example smaller pieces.
  • Try to recognize any environmental change that can be causing the anorexia. Sometimes little details such as a fridge’s noise becoming louder in the same room of the cat’s plate can be the triggering factor for the anorexia.
  • In a multiple cat household, it is important to always observe the social structure and interaction between the cats. Territorial displacement, dominance and aggressions might be the reason for one of the cats not eating. If you identify any of these cases as the possible cause you can try some of the following strategies:
  • The addition of pheromone diffusers to the environment. Pheromone diffusers look like electronic air fresheners, they plug into electrical outlets and required periodic cartridge changes. The cartridge contains synthetic chemicals that mimic naturally occurring pheromones and have a calming effect on the cats. Felilinkway MultiCat is a good quality product.
  • Increase the number of plates and the distance between them.

Under any circumstance, let the displaced cat without food. As an owner, it is your responsibility to provide a safe space for each cat to feel comfortable and free of stress. You might have to consider keeping the cats apart, and work towards gradual socialization. Consult a specialized cat behaviorist if the problem persists.

shorthair cat near cat bowl with wet cat food
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

Additional Important Information and Recommendations

  • Anorexia should be treated as a serious condition. Immediately inform the veterinarian if the cat continues refusing to eat a day or two after the consultation. A change of treatment plan might be in place.
  • It is a good cat owner habit to keep your cat under close observation every time he is under a medical treatment or is recovering from a disease.
  • In many cases, anorexia becomes recurrent or partial. Partial anorexia is when the cat eats less and loses weight gradually overtime. Keeping regularly records of your cat’s normal weight and diet can help you identify this problem at earlier stages, increasing the chances for a successful treatment.
  • Always make sure that your cat’s diet is nutritious, well balanced, and adequate for the specific stage and condition of your cat.
  • Dry food should be consumed within a month of opening to avoid changes on the texture or it becomes rancid.

Featured Image Credit: Elena Kutepova, Shutterstock

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