Loss of appetite can occur due to many things including both illness and stress. If your cat is not eating as they do normally, consult your veterinary clinic promptly, as periods of reduced food intake can have negative effects on a cat’s health. Even short periods eating less (three days or more) can have significant effects on recovery from illness, wound healing and the immune system, and cats are also vulnerable to liver problems caused by lack of food (hepatic lipidosis). Unlike dogs, which can cope with periods of reduced food intake, cats must be promptly treated to improve their appetite, or in some cases a feeding tube may be placed to supply nutrition while they don’t feel like eating. Medications can also be given to boost appetite.
There are many causes of a reduction in appetite, and these include any illness causing nausea (feeling sick) or pain for example. A cat may also eat less if they are dehydrated or constipated. Sudden changes in their diet or stress at home (for example the introduction of a new pet, or a new cat in the neighbourhood) can also put a cat off their food. Please see the Cat Carer guide on inappetence found at https://icatcare.org/advice-cat-carer-guides/ for more information on why a cat would eat less.
If an illness has been ruled out, or a cat is recovering from a surgery or has been stressed for example, certain techniques can be used to tempt them to eat, although if methods fail, veterinary advice must be sought promptly.
Tips and hints include:
- Avoid offering multiple types of food all at one time, this can be overwhelming for a cat
- Don’t try to offer a ‘prescription’ type diet when a cat feels unwell and is not eating much, if they need to eat this longer term it can deter them, they can be transitioned onto such a diet when feeling better
- Offer treats or strong-smelling foods such as fish or chicken, if permitted by your veterinary team, to encourage cats to start eating, remembering this is not a nutritionally complete way to feed a cat.
- Food can be slightly warmed to release aroma. The opposite can be true for nauseous cats where strong scents should be avoided and feeding a small portion of normal food at room temperature or slightly chilled is recommended
- Don’t offer human foods such as baby foods or gravies, as they may contain onion which can be toxic to cats
- Feed in quiet areas, away from the hustle and bustle of a busy house, large windows, or noisy washing machines for example. Many cats don’t like to eat near other cats for example
- Feed in shallow bowls, some cats prefer ceramic to reflective metal or plastic which can taint the food
- Position food bowls away from litter trays and water bowls
- Some cats like to be stoked or fed by hand, but this is individual and some cats prefer to be left alone and may even eat overnight when the house is quiet
- Never force food on a cat. Syringe feeding or pushing food into a cat’s mouth is stressful and can risk severe medical complications. It can also put a cat off eating altogether (food aversion)
Remember, if these methods don’t improve your cat’s appetite, consult your veterinary team as further treatment is likely to be needed.