A common sign of illness in cats is a reluctance to eat, eating less, or refusing to eat at all. A loss of appetite is termed ‘inappetence’. Inappetence refers to a lack of appetite, whereas anorexia refers to a complete lack of food intake, where a cat consistently refuses to eat and weight loss occurs. It is very stressful for carers when a cat won’t eat, and it’s a worry when cats refuse food.
There are many reasons why a cat may go off its food. Cats can be notoriously fussy eaters, and a change in their diet may lead to food avoidance. Therefore, always introduce a new diet to your cat in gradual stages, adding the new food as a small proportion of its existing diet and increasing this gradually. This may be done by offering the new food next to the old food and gradually reducing the amount of the new food.
However, a cat going off its food can indicate that it’s feeling unwell. Many diseases depress a cat’s desire to eat; therefore, it’s always important to monitor your cat’s eating, and remember that periods without food can be very serious to cats. As a species they can develop liver problems if they go without food even for a short time. Conditions such as dental disease, liver problems, intestinal problems, infections, and cancerous processes are just a few that can affect a cat’s appetite.
If your cat is eating less than usual, or worse, not at all, you should take it to see a vet as soon as possible. It’s important to get the cause diagnosed and treatment started to minimise weight loss, which can lead to further health problems.
If no physical health issues causing inappetence can be identified, then the cause of appetite loss may be psychological. Inappetence can be caused by stress, in which case it’s important to identify the cause of stress and try to reduce it. There may be a trained member of the veterinary team at the clinic who can assess your cat’s environment and routine to identify any causes of stress, or seek the help of a trained behaviourist. See our advice page on stress in cats.
In conclusion, it’s important to take your cat to a vet for a health check if you notice a change in appetite, to get to the root of the problem and for appropriate treatment.