Your Cat Won't Eat
By Kim Boatman
Cats have a reputation for being particular about their diets, because
they like their favorite foods served at just the right time and place.
If your cat quits eating, however, your swift action
is critical, says Dr. Marla J. McGeorge, a veterinarian
who runs a feline-only practice
in Portland, Ore. "If your cat doesn't eat for more than a day,
it should go to the veterinarian," she advises. "It doesn't
take very long for cats to develop a liver disease from not eating." Liver
failure occurs when fat accumulates in the liver due to a lack of protein.
Recognizing the typical reasons cats stop eating is a first step in protecting
and helping your kitty.
Your cat's loss of appetite could be caused by one of these issues:
• Respiratory infection The ability to smell is a trigger for your cat
to eat, says McGeorge. If your kitty sneezes, suffers from watery eyes and sounds
congested, it probably won't show enthusiasm for its dinner.
• Nausea If your cat frequently licks its lips, approaches the food dish,
then backs away, it's likely nauseated, says McGeorge. It's difficult to tell
if your cat has eaten something that upset its stomach or if it suffers from
liver disease or other illnesses that cause nausea. Your veterinarian might order
laboratory tests that will help clear the mystery, says McGeorge.
• Pain or trauma It's a good idea to examine your cat for wounds or injuries,
says Dr. Josie Thompson, a veterinarian who runs a cats-only clinic in Walnut
Creek, Calif. The resulting pain or underlying infection could understandably
decrease your cat's hunger.
• Ingestion of foreign objects or poison Plants, string, ribbon and pieces
of toys can become obstructions, possibly even poisoning your kitty.
• Age-related issues "Older cats are more at risk due to kidney problems,
bowel disorders, heart disease and cancer," explains Thompson. Older cats
might suffer from arthritis, limiting their ability to bend to food bowls located
on the ground. As cats age, such dental problems as abscessed teeth and bleeding
gums can make eating painful.
• Change in food or location Changing your kitty's food abruptly can lead
to a loss of appetite, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville-based cat behaviorist.
Moving the location of your kitty's food dish may also cause problems. For example,
cats won't eat if their dish is too close to their litter box. Your cat will
also avoid meals if it feels threatened by another animal in a multi-pet household.
• Household changes The addition of a new pet, the departure of your son
or daughter for college, or a move can all affect your cat's appetite. Pay special
attention to your kitty's food intake during such times of transition.
What You Can Do
If your cat isn't eating, try to entice it with these four steps:
1. Heat the food. The aroma of warm canned cat food just might
tempt your kitty. However, make sure you just add warm water instead
of microwaving, cautions McGeorge. Microwaves can heat unevenly, and
you risk scalding your cat's mouth.
2. Offer food by hand. The attention you pay to your cat while
you feed a few morsels by hand can make a difference.
3. Adjust for age. Consider soft food if your elderly cat
has tooth issues. Elevate the food bowl if your kitty is arthritic.
4. Provide a safe, quiet location. Make sure your kitty is
comfortable with the location of its food dish. Set up several feeding
stations in a multi-cat household.
Your veterinarian remains your best resource when your cat quits eating.
Some owners hesitate making the call, figuring their cat's appetite might
return or worrying they'll make a veterinary visit for no reason. "The
big message from me is to bring your cat in," says McGeorge. "The
best thing you can hear is your cat is fine."