Why Is My Cat Not Eating? Tips for Feeding a Picky Cat

11 Minute Read
Updated September 14, 2023

Cats can be picky about their food, but if your cat is straight up refusing to eat, you might have a problem. Find out why your cat is not eating and how to rebuild a safe and effective kitty meal plan. Cats are known for their selective eating habits. Occasionally they exhibit a concerning behavior: refusing to eat.

While it's not unusual for cats to skip a meal now and then, a prolonged loss of appetite warrants your attention as a responsible pet owner.


Reasons Your Cat is Not Eating

This article delves into the intricate web of reasons behind a cat's reluctance to eat. It will guide you through potential causes and offer practical solutions. This is to ensure your beloved feline companion's well-being.

Poor eating habits in cats can start suddenly, or you might see subtle signs of changes to your cat's normal eating habits. Take note of any changes to your cat's normal mealtime routines, as they could help you identify deeper issues. 

Here are some of the most common health issues that could contribute to your cat not eating and other poor eating behaviours.:


1. Stress And Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can profoundly impact a cat's well-being, including their appetite. Cats can also feel these emotions; they are not unique to humans. Environmental Changes often trigger stress in cats. Cats are creatures of habit. 

Minor alterations in their environment can lead to confusion and anxiety. This includes moving to a new home, rearranging furniture, or changes in household routines. Cats may retreat and refuse to eat in response to these unfamiliar circumstances.

The introduction of a new pet can also be a source of stress. Food avoidance may be a way for your cat to assert dominance or avoid conflict.

Loud noises or frequent disturbances are particularly distressing for cats. This is due to their sensitivity to sound. Construction work, thunderstorms, or noisy neighbours can create a stressful environment. In such situations, your cat might choose to hide and abstain from eating until they feel secure again.

Medical procedures or vet visits are common triggers of stress. Cats often associate these experiences with discomfort. Leading to anxiety that lingers even after returning home. This can result in a refusal to eat due to the negative associations.

Separation anxiety is another form of stress cats can experience. Cats can form strong bonds with their owners. when separated for extended periods, they may become anxious and refuse to eat. This often occurs during vacations or extended work hours.


2. Food Quality and Preferences

Abrupt shifts in a cat's diet can lead to food aversion. Cats thrive on familiarity. sudden introductions of new food can leave them uncertain or wary. This might manifest as a reluctance to eat unfamiliar food. 

Cats have discerning palates, and their taste preferences can be quite pronounced. They may choose not to eat if the taste or texture of their meal changes. It's crucial to provide high-quality cat food that matches the distinct flavour preferences of your pet.

 It's advised to gradually switch to a new diet for your cat. This involves mixing the new food with the old over a period of a week or two. Such a gradual introduction allows your cat to acclimate to the new taste and texture without abrupt changes.

Some cats have strong preferences for wet or dry food. Altering the texture of their meals without considering their preferences can lead to appetite loss. It's essential to be mindful of your cat's preferred food texture. Especially when making dietary adjustments. 

Cats can also exhibit sensitivities or allergies to certain ingredients in their food. If your cat has a food sensitivity, consuming the ingredient may result in gastrointestinal discomfort. It can even result in an allergic reaction, prompting them to avoid eating.

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3. Environmental Factors 

Cats are highly perceptive creatures. their surroundings play a significant role in their overall comfort and mealtime behaviour. The location of your cat's food bowl can greatly impact their eating habits.

If the feeding area is prone to frequent disturbances, such as high foot traffic, noise, or other pets, your cat may become anxious or distracted while trying to eat. This can lead to a decreased appetite.

In multi-pet households, competition for food can be a source of stress for some cats. Dominant animals may intimidate more timid cats, causing them to avoid the food bowl altogether.

Cats are known for their cleanliness, and a dirty feeding area can be a deterrent. If their eating space is unclean or cluttered, your cat may avoid it, as they prefer a clean environment.

Believe it or not, the material and shape of the food bowl can matter to cats. Some cats have preferences for certain materials (e.g., ceramic, stainless steel) and may be more comfortable with shallow or deep bowls.

Using a bowl that aligns with your cat's preferences can encourage them to eat. Cats often thrive on routine, and alterations in their feeding schedule can lead to a loss of appetite. This might happen when the feeding times shift abruptly or become inconsistent.


4. Age-Related Changes

As cats age, several factors can influence their dietary preferences and habits. Older cats often experience changes in their metabolism. Their energy requirements may decrease, which can lead to reduced appetite. 

Additionally, older cats' digestion may be less effective. This makes it harder for them to process some meals. Age increases the prevalence of dental issues such as tooth decay and gum disease. A decrease in appetite might result from biting and eating while experiencing tooth and gum pain.

Similar to how aging affects people, cats can also lose their sense of taste and smell. Due to this decreased sensory experience, food may seem less attractive and may cause a drop in appetite.

Arthritis and other mobility problems can affect an older cat's ability to access food or use the litter box. 

These problems may make a cat reluctant to eat. Cats' organs, especially the kidneys and liver, may not perform as well as they once did as they get older. Their metabolism and appetite may be impacted by this.

Some older cats may require specialized diets to support compromised organ function.


5. Dental Issues


Dental problems are common among cats. they can significantly affect their ability to eat comfortably. Gingivitis and periodontitis are common dental conditions in cats. They involve inflammation and infection of the gums and tooth-supporting structures.

As these conditions progress, they can cause significant pain and discomfort. This makes it painful for cats to chew and eat.

Tooth decay, although less common in cats compared to dogs, can still occur. Cavities or caries can lead to sensitivity and pain. This is particularly true when chewing, causing cats to avoid solid foods.

While relatively rare, oral tumours can develop in a cat's mouth. These growths can interfere with eating, causing pain and difficulty in swallowing. 

Cats can break or fracture their teeth, especially if they chew on hard objects or have an accident. A broken tooth can be extremely painful and discourage a cat from eating. 

This condition is known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). It is a painful dental disease where the cat's body mistakenly reabsorbs its own teeth. Cats with FORLs may experience significant discomfort when trying to eat.


6. Medications

Medications can influence a cat's appetite. They are vital when addressing potential eating concerns, especially if your cat is on prescribed medications.

The negative effects of some drugs used to treat various medical issues in cats include appetite suppression. These negative side effects include nausea, altered taste perception, or gastrointestinal discomfort. 

They can all make a cat turn away from food. The timing and administration of medications can also impact a cat's appetite. For instance, if medication is administered close to mealtime, your cat may associate the act of eating with the medication's taste or any discomfort it may cause, leading to a reluctance to eat.

Long-term medication regimens may cause prolonged appetite suppression. Cats can become conditioned to the effects of medications over time. This makes it necessary to address this issue proactively. 

Some medications are compounded into treats or hidden in food to make administration easier. If your cat detects the medication's presence, they may avoid the food altogether. making it essential to explore alternative administration methods.


7. Parasites

A cat's digestive system is prone to parasites like tapeworms. They cause inflammation and discomfort in the intestines as they develop and multiply. Loss of appetite often results from this discomfort. 

It sometimes comes as a stomachache. It's normal for both people and animals to be averse to eating when their stomachs don't feel right.

The nutrients in the cat's body are consumed by parasites. In a sense, they rob the cat of some of its nutrients. Despite eating, the cat still feels somewhat hungry as a result. Once malnutrition sets in, it significantly reduces appetite.

Some parasites, particularly the vicious ones, emit toxins as they live in the cat's body. These poisons might further upset the cat's stomach, resulting in pain and discomfort. You don't want to eat when you're hurt; the same is true for our pets.

Then there are the ticks and fleas, which feed on the blood. They can anemicize a cat by sucking its blood. They feel weak and exhausted when they have anemia. so eating is not particularly appealing.

Additionally, the presence of parasites acts as a warning sign for the cat's immune system. In an effort to fend off the invaders, it kicks into overdrive. Contact a vet straight away if you suspect your cat has parasites and isn't eating properly.

They'll know how to assist and restore your kitty friend's appetite and health.


When To Be Concerned About Your Not Eating

Discovering the underlying reason for your cat's poor eating habits is key to helping solve this issue. Cats are prone to picky eating behaviours, but sudden or prolonged food refusal is likely a sign of trouble.

Loss of appetite in cats is a complicated problem with many potential reasons, like underlying medical illnesses, nutritional changes, environmental factors, age-related changes, medications, parasite infections, and behavioural problems. 

Careful veterinary attention, routine checkups, and individualized treatment programs are necessary. This will aid in correctly detecting and treating any underlying illnesses or suffering in order to resolve this issue.

What To Tell Your Vet

    • The type of food you feed
    • How often and how much you feed
    • Where in your home your cat eats
    • Any changes to routine or environment
    • Digestive concerns or changes to bathroom habits
    • Any signs of lethargy or illness

With this information, your vet can help you rule out serious health concerns and guide you in choosing the right cat foods and the right mealtime routines to encourage regular and consistent feeding.

What Not To Do When Your Cat Refuses Food

Whether or not an underlying condition is contributing to or causing your cat's food refusal, there are a few things that you should never do unless you first talk to your vet about the risks and proper techniques:

Don't Force Feed Your Cat - It might be frustrating when your cat refuses to eat, but resist the urge to force feed them. If your vet recommends feeding or watering your cat with a syringe, make sure they properly explain the safest and least stressful ways to do it. 

Don't Starve Your Cat - The tough love approach can be helpful with picky eating behaviours, but going too long without food can lead to serious health risks in cats. Your cat shouldn't go more than 36 hours without eating. 

Don't Punish Your Cat - Cats can't tell you what's wrong, so when their actions suddenly change, it's their body's way of raising a red flag. Instead of getting mad or frustrated, try to figure out the cause. 


What to Feed a Picky Cat


If you've ruled out all possible health concerns to explain your cat's lack of appetite, then you might be dealing with a picky cat. Cats who refuse to eat the same food day after day can be a challenge to feed a complete and balanced diet. 

They may eat treats or human foods but refuse to entertain the thought of eating their regular kibble or canned meals.

If no health concerns can be identified by your vet, then you should consider that your cat's poor eating habits are a behavioural problem. While this can be frustrating, you can retrain your cat to eat the food you offer with a few simple tips and some perseverance:

  1. Don't Give in Too Quickly - Frequently offering new foods or adding meal toppers to your cat's diet at the first signs of pickiness can encourage them to skip meals just to get what they want. 
  2. Feed More Meat - Cats are carnivores and are drawn to diets rich in healthy animal proteins. Whether you feed dry cat food, canned cat food or even raw cat food, stick to formulas that prioritize meat and use as many fresh and natural ingredients as possible. 
  3. Try a Different Bowl - Some cats hate it when their food bowls touch their sensitive whiskers. Try switching to a saucer-style cat bowl to make eating more comfortable. 
  4. Make Meal Time Fun - Try making dinner time a game. The more exciting the eating process, the more likely that your cat will want to eat. A cat puzzle feeder can be a great tool for making each meal a challenging but enjoyable game.
  5. Rotational Feeding - Do your best to find a cat food brand that offers a variety of formulas to allow you to occasionally change up flavours. This will make food less boring and can help to satisfy the whims of a picky eater.

Wet cat food is an easy option for feeding picky pets. They come in a variety of flavours and textures to give your cat more variety. They can be fed as a complete diet or in combination with another food format. 

Another great choice for picky pets is testing out raw, freeze-dried, or dehydrated cat food. These meaty diets are loaded with plenty of animal proteins and have a texture and scent that cats tend to prefer. 

Here are a few brands of cat food that your cat might just love:

One final tip for dealing with a picky cat is to never let them go too long without food. Cats can be stubborn and may go longer without food than is safe. Skipping a meal won't hurt a healthy cat, but missing 3 or more could lead to a dangerous drop in blood sugar.


Written by

Kristen Parker

Pet expert Kristen has spent 12 years following her passion for animals as a writer and editor in the pet industry. Her expertise includes dog and cat health, care, nutrition, feeding, grooming, behavior, and training.


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