Top 6 Reasons Why Your Cat Isn’t Eating

Usually, when people tell us that their cat is not eating, they choose words such as “picky” or “spoiled.” Do you strive to provide the best for your cat, but he still says no? We too have been there, but as ungrateful as your cat appears, there is probably a logical explanation of why your cat may not be eating.

scotish fold cat not eating food
Photo by LightField Studios

In this article, similar to when we taught how to encourage your cat to drink more, you will learn what may cause your cat to become a picky eater, and most importantly, how to entice your cat to eat.

  1. Medical problems. There are so many possible medical reasons for a loss of appetite or anorexia in cats. We can’t list them all, but we can talk about groups of them.
    • Painful eating. If your cat feels pain as he tries to eat, he will instinctively try to avoid this unpleasant activity, even if it means starving. Common examples of causes of pain are dental problems, a jaw fracture, or spine problems. See, there are not only actions that cause chewing to be painful; your cat may also have difficulty in maintaining its posture while eating. You can find more about the symptoms of pain in cats here.
    • Digestive problems. If any part of your cat’s digestive system is not functioning normally, it may make your cat feel sick and make it avoid eating. Examples of causes of digestive system trouble are a foreign body, tumors, or inflammation in any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus.
    • The immune system purges the body. In the case of many illnesses, inflammations, or infections, your cat’s immune system may “command” the body to purge itself. This purging not only includes vomiting or diarrhea but can include not taking in food as well. You’ve probably noticed–when you are sick, food does not quite appeal to you.
    • Others. There are health-related reasons for a cat not to eat. Sometimes your cat may even lose its sense of smell and find it hard to identify the food. The possibilities are many, and the best way to know whether or not your cat’s eating patterns have changed due to medical causes is to look for supplemental symptoms, like lethargy, the cat not eating and throwing up diarrhea, or lameness. And, of course, you should also visit a veterinarian. Be wary if your older cat is not eating, as this situation has some prevalence when it comes to underlying medical causes.
  2. New food introduced.  Many cats, especially those who have been fed dry diet since birth, may fail to recognize anything else as food. Cats may go hunting without being hungry, and NEVER eat what they catch, because they have no clue that a mouse is edible. If you need to change your cat’s food, you should do it gradually. Mix the old food with a little bit of the new menu. Gradually increase the amount of new food.
  3. Routine and environment change. If your vet confirms your cat’s health, and you did not introduce new food lately, yet he suddenly develops a food aversion, then something must have changed in the environment. Did you move your cat’s stuff? Or maybe a new person recently moved in or has started to visit often, or you have added new furniture or had some home repair done. Some other routine changes can also affect your cat’s appetite, like scheduling meals at different times of the day or a change in your cat’s food type, as mentioned above.
  4. Stress. Stress may show in several ways, and it can also both decrease and increase your cat’s appetite. You likely know this from your own experience, but could your cat be stressed? Yes, of course. Solve the problem, and your cat’s appetite may return to normal.
  5. Wrong food bowl location. Most commonly, the food bowl location is too scary for a cat to visit.  For example, the owner has two or more cats, and one of them is passively bullying the other one. The owner may not even notice that every time the second cat tries to approach the bowl, the first one stares aggressively at it, and the second cat eventually decides to go for a meal later… an opportunity that rarely comes. There are other reasons why your cat may be afraid to approach the bowl, for example, because it’s too close to another animal, such as an angry dog, or even to an object, such as a washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Also, take note that this problem is not only about whether the bowl resides in a frightening location. It may also be that your cat has to pass that location to reach the food. Switch your cats to scheduled meals, and make sure that you feed the timid one in a closed room.  If you free feed, make sure that the food is accessible in more than one location.
  6. Food too close to litter box or water. The litter box, water, and food all have to be in separate locations. Why? Because they are in separate areas in nature. A cat won’t eat where he poops, and he won’t drink where a dead animal (dry food) lies. Some cats may develop a water aversion or may poop outside the box when there are such arrangements, but there are cases when food aversion arises instead. The solution is simple, whether or not this is the only reason for your cat not eating. If your cat’s food bowl is next to water or the litter box, move it.
Cat not eating because the food is in near their litter box?  Images showing a human toilet with a fork and knife to show that if your cat's litter box is near where they eat, they won't like it.  Just like we wouldn't like eating near a toilet.
Is your cat’s food bowl too close to the litter box? Move it!
  • Food bowl too small or too deep. Our suggestion: don’t use bowls. Use plates! Cats don’t like their whiskers touching anything, because whiskers are designed to sense motion and even air currents. Every time your cat has to reach into a deeper bowl, his whiskers are touching the edges. This causes so-called whisker stress. Some may find this slightly uncomfortable, and some may find it extremely disturbing, but we can agree – it is unpleasant to some degree.
  • Medicine is put into the bowl. It may be okay if you need to put a dewormer now and then into your cat’s food. But if you need to medicate your cat regularly, putting the medication into the food is not the best way to do it. Cats have a powerful sense of smell, and their survival instincts tell them to check what they eat, especially if it is something they have not caught themselves. This is the reason why cats smell their food before they eat it. If you have to pill your cat regularly, you can use treats. Or, if your cat loves raw food, you can use a chicken heart, one of whose ventricles is an ideal hiding spot for a pill.
  • Additional tips:

    1. Don’t starve your cat! Has your cat not eaten for more than two days? Then he is at a high risk of damaging his internal organs permanently. If your cat stops eating – visit a vet. If your cat does not eat the new food, switch back to a previous menu, and introduce the new one more gradually. There’s more than one reason to do this, and we will talk about it next week.
    Is your at's food bowl "empty"?
    Too often, people assume that cats are not eating because they are spoiled and that they WILL eat when they are hungry enough. That’s not the case; cats can die from hunger even if their bowl is “half full.”
  • Sprinkle something delicious over your cat’s food. It may be grated cheese (a smelly one), or it may be small meat chunks. You can also buy some special food additives, usually made of tuna, that you can sprinkle over your cat’s food to make it more appealing. However, use this to get your cat eating at first, but solve the fundamental reason why your cat is not eating much in the first place.
  • Heat the food. The laws of physics state that particles move more quickly when the temperature is higher. That means that the scent also moves better. Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell, and if they find food they did not catch themselves, they have to sense it. If the canned food is right out of the refrigerator, it does not smell strong enough. Pour some boiling water over the food (a very small amount; you want to heat it slightly, not make soup out of it) and stir it. Cats naturally eat food at the average body temperature of their prey. Is similar for most mammals, humans, rats, cats, mice… slightly above room temperature, if we talk in relative numbers.
  • Use canned food. Most cats find this food more delicious, and many cat owners feed canned food as a treat. But why not do a complete switch? There are many benefits of wet diets for cats. If your cat loves canned food but does not want to look at the dry, then that is how it’s supposed to be.
  • While it’s more common that cats are hungry all the time, picky eating habits are still widespread problems that cat owners face. Is your cat a picky eater? Have you tried some of the above tips?

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