Cat Not Eating (Anorexia in Cats)

Causes of anorexia   Diagnosing the cause   Encouraging your cat to eat   Treating anorexia  

Cat not eating

Anorexia is the loss of appetite for food. It is not a disease, rather it is a symptom of a disease or underlying problem. It may begin as a decrease in appetite at first, moving onto a complete refusal to eat.

It is very important to seek veterinary help if your cat refuses to eat for more than a day as they can quickly develop hepatic lipidosis which is life threatening.

Hepatic lipidosis is caused when a cat becomes anorexic and body begins to use fat stores as fuel. These fat stores are sent to the liver, to be broken down to supply nutrients.  Unfortunately, the liver sometimes becomes overwhelmed and is unable to process this fat as quickly as necessary, leading to a build-up of fat in the liver, which  interferes with normal liver function.

Causes of anorexia in cats:

It is very common for a sick cat to lose his appetite. Reasons can be split into fussiness, stress or sickness.

  • Fussiness could be because of a change in your cat’s diet, unclean food bowls, unsuitable location of food bowls.

  • Stress is a very common cause of cats to lose their appetite. Moving house, being bullied by another household cat (or dog).

A cat in pain, feeling sick, or feeling well will often lose his appetite. Anorexia is very common with the sick cat, there are potentially dozens of possible causes. Some of which include:

  • Abscess – A walled off collection of blood and other debris within the tissue. Often caused by a bite.

  • Addison’s disease – Insufficient secretion of adrenal hormones.

  • Anemia – Reduced number of red blood cells due to a number of factors such as disease or blood loss.

  • Bacterial infections.

  • Certain medications.

  • Coccidiosis – Protozoal infection, most commonly seen in kittens under six months of age.

  • Dental or mouth pain (gingivitis, tooth abscess, stomatitis).

  • Feline diabetes – A condition in which the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or because cells fail to respond to insulin.

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers.

  • Glomerulonephritis – Inflammation of the glomeruli, which are tiny filtering units in the kidneys.

  • Haemobartonellosis (Feline Infectious Anemia) – Infection caused by one of two “mycoplasma” (a type of bacteria) which attach themselves to the walls of red blood cells causing destruction.

  • Heartworm – Parasitic worm infection of the heart and lungs.

  • Histoplasmosis – Fungal infection primarily affecting the lungs and gastrointestinal system.

  • Hypercalcemia – High levels of calcium in the blood.

  • Injury or trauma.

  • Intestinal obstruction.

  • Ingestion of poison.

  • Kidney failure – Either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (slow and progressive), kidney failure is a medical condition in which kidney function begins to fail, leading to a build-up of toxins in the body.

  • Neoplasia (abnormal cell growth).

  • New or unpalatable diet.

  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas.

  • Portosystemic shunt – Abnormality of the liver caused by the abnormal development of blood vessels draining into the intestinal tract.

  • Pyometra – Bacterial infection of the uterus.

  • Stress (some possible causes of stress include; moving house, loss of companion, new pet/person in the house, hospitalisation, being boarded)

  • Vaccinations – They can make your cat feel a tiny bit unwell for a short period of time. Your cat’s appetite should return within a day or two.

  • Viral infection (Feline Herpesvirus, Feline Panleukopenia Virus, Calicivirus, FeLV and more)

There are many other causes of anorexia which haven’t been covered here.

How is the cause diagnosed?

As you can see, there are quite a lot of possible causes of anorexia in cats. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. Additional symptoms may give clues as to the cause of anorexia. However, your veterinarian will probably wish to run some tests. Some of which may include;

  • Database (complete blood count, biochemical profile, urinalysis) to check for metabolic disorders, inflammatory/infectious diseases or neoplasia.

  • Physical examination to check for wounds, abscesses, internal or external masses. Abdominal palpitation to feel the size and shape of the organs.

  • A complete oral examination to look for gingival or dental disease, check for a foreign body.

  • Abdominal x-ray and or ultrasound to check for abnormalities in organ size and shape, gastrointestinal obstruction or neoplasia.

  • Thoracic (chest) x-ray and or ultrasound to check for abnormalities in organ size and shape, cardiac disease, inflammatory infections/diseases.

  • Fecal exam to check for parasites.

If a possible cause is suspected, more specific tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

How can I get my anorexic cat to eat?

It is so easy for a sick cat to lose his appetite, but there are ways you can try to encourage him to eat.

  • Heating up food can help release the odours, this can be enough to stimulate his appetite. Food should be heated up to around body temperature (think the temperature of a mouse).

  • A cat with a blocked nose (common with cat flu) has problems smelling. Wipe away nasal discharge regularly and use a humidifier which can help the discharge drain from the nose.

  • Offer him highly palatable food such as tuna, prawns or shredded chicken.

  • Tiny ‘gourmet’ cans of cat food are another food most cats love.

  • Try hand feeding him, it may be the push he needs to eat.

  • Offer him a small about of food but often.

  • Ensure your cat is feeling safe and comfortable. If he is not feeling well, he may need some space on his own (away from the noise and other pets).

  • If he is sick enough to require hospitalisation, speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of making visits to him. I had a hospitalised cat who wouldn’t eat for the veterinarian, but I was able to hand-feed him during visits.

  • Syringe feeding involves removing the fine needle from a syringe, adding some moist food and syringing into the cat’s mouth.

  • Place the food bowls in a position which is easy for your cat to access. A cat who is in pain, for example, may find it difficult to bend over and eat his food. Raising it can make it easier and more comfortable for him.

  • Make sure his food bowls are clean.

  • Add a little tuna juice to his food.

  • Place some grated cheese over the top of his food.

  • Try a nutritional supplement (available from your veterinarian) such as Nutrigel. This high-calorie product is squeezed into the mouth and can a) help to sustain your cat while his appetite is down and b) kick start his appetite.

How is anorexia treated?

Treatment is aimed at finding and treating the underlying cause of anorexia, offering supportive care and stimulating the appetite. Aside from tailored treatments depending on the individual causes, your veterinarian may do the following:

Encouraging your cat to eat – Obviously getting nourishment into your cat is important. Offering small amounts of strong tasting food such as tuna or a highly palatable paste such as Nutrigel.

Appetite stimulants – These may be prescribed to encourage your cat to eat. Mirtazapine is an antidepressent which can also stimulate the appetite. Maropitant citrate is an anti-emetic (vomiting) medication which can also relieve nausea, which is a common reason why cats lose their appetite. Mirtazapine and Maropitant can be used together in some cases. Other appetite stimulating medications include cyproheptadine (Periactin) an antihistamine and corticosteroids such as prednisone.

Tube feeding – If the above methods don’t work and your cat is still not eating, your veterinarian may have to tube feed your cat until his appetite comes back. A feeding tube is a plastic tube which is placed either through the nose (naso-esophegal feeding tube), through the skin of the neck and into the esophagus (esophagostomy feeding tube), or through the wall of the abdomen and into the stomach (gastrostomy feeding tube). A short general anesthetic is required to insert the esophagostomy or gastrostomy feeding tubes. Soft and watery food is then placed into the feeding tube to provide your cat adequate nourishment until his appetite returns. A cat with a feeding tube may be treated in house, or once the tube is inserted, may be treated at home.

Supportive care – Such as fluid therapy to treat dehydration.


Cats can be quite sensitive to changes in diet, if you do want to (or need to) change his diet, it is recommended you do so gradually over a few days. Start by adding a small amount of the new food to his regular food and slowly increase the new food while decreasing the old.

A loss of appetite is often one of the first signs that your cat is feeling unwell. Always be alert and aware of how much your cat is eating and seek veterinary attention if he does stop.

Related articles:

How can I get my cat to eat?   Cat symptoms

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