Most of the time, Stretch is a cat that has never seen a dish of food she didnt love. But when shes sick, she could match any finicky feline. A sick cat is rarely a hungry cat, says Kathryn Michel, DVM, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Not eating can be a sign of many different illnesses, including gastrointestinal disease, renal failure, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and heart disease. Upper respiratory problems that prevent cats from smelling their food decreases their appetites as well. In addition, cats are sensitive to oral pain, so periodontal disease that makes chewing painful can also cause them to stop eating, she adds.
So can an abrupt change in diet. Texture and familiarity are important to cats. If you suddenly switch from pointy dry food to round pellets, your cat may not recognize it and may hold out indefinitely until her favorite food returns. If youre switching her to a healthier diet, it is better to introduce the new food gradually.
Cats actually do go on hunger strikes, warns Michel. Engaging in a battle of wills with a cat is not a good idea. There are health risks involved, and if a cat is already underweight, the risk is greater, says Michel. But in any case, if a cat is not eating after three days, we become very concerned! And with good reason.
Discovering the cause
Not eating can result in a depressed immune system and protein malnutrition, both of which deter healing. Cats rely on protein for energy, yet they cannot store it, so they need a constant source, explains Michel. Another condition particularly common to overweight cats that stop eating is idiopathic hepatic lipidosis, a disease that can lead to liver failure.
To help determine why your cat is not eating, try switching back to her previous diet and see if she resumes eating. In some cases, says Michel, the cause may be the environment rather than the food. Try to create a quiet, low-stress time and place for your cat to eat, recommends Michel. Make mealtime separate from medication time.
Your kitty may need a little extra attention or hand feeding at mealtime. Or, she may simply need a better food bowl. Try offering food in a wide, shallow bowl, so the sides dont interfere with her whiskers, says Michel. Small amounts of fresh food offered frequently work better than a big bowl left out all day, she adds.
Plastic bowls can get bacteria in the cracks and crevices; heavy glass is a good choice because it cleans nicely and has no metal or plastic taste. Cleanliness is imperative; old or spoiled food will cause kitty to avoid the food bowl at all costs.
Tempting the feline palate
As for the food itself, Michel says that foods higher in fat, protein, moisture, odor – and surprisingly, higher in acidity – are more tempting to a feline palate. Feline fanciers report varying degrees of success with chicken, tuna fish, scrambled eggs, and canned special prescription diets available from your veterinarian – the smellier, the better! Cats dont taste sweetness, so varying that will not enhance the foods appeal to a cat as it would to us, explains Michel. However, warming the food up may, since it enhances its odor.
Never force-feed a struggling cat or you may unintentionally create an aversion to food. Back off! warns Michel. Associating food with nausea will compound the situation. Gulping or drooling when you dab food on your cats mouth or paw are signs of food aversion, says Michel. You can try a novel food item with which she has no negative associations. Ice cold food is also less likely to spark nausea because it is tasteless and odorless.
If these tricks arent working, see your veterinarian. If your cat is losing weight, she may need immediate treatment for dehydration and/or illness. Your veterinarian may try a feeding tube or as a last resort, an appetite stimulant like cyproheptadine. Sometimes, it seems as though a cat simply forgets how to eat, says Michel. As her loving caretaker, you need to remind her.