Why Is My Cat Not Eating At Meal Time?

Posted by Dr. Jessica Herman on

cat not eating from bowl in grass

Cats are notoriously picky eaters but skipping meals entirely can be cause for real concern. When cats stop eating, their bodies run out of reserve protein and they have to burn fat for fuel. The urgent need for energy leads to a condition called hepatic lipidosis, which can cause liver failure.

It’s important to figure out why a cat is not eating and get them back on their food. The first step is making sure the situation isn’t a serious feline health emergency.

Signs of an Emergency

Lack of appetite can signal a major medical issue. Drop everything and contact a vet if a cat isn’t eating and is showing any of the following symptoms:

  • ‌Vomiting
  • ‌Diarrhea
  • ‌Lethargy
  • ‌Labored breathing

Cat parents might be wondering, “Why is my cat not eating?” The problem might be a simple gastrointestinal infection, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Lack of appetite is often one of the first signs of cat digestive issues, constipation being the most common. Cats who won’t eat because they’re constipated often show other related symptoms, including:

  • ‌Dry, hard, or bloody stools
  • ‌Straining or crying in the litter box
  • ‌Unproductive trips to the litter box
  • ‌Changes in grooming habits
  • ‌Weight loss

Wondering how to help cats’ digestion? Hydration, extra fiber, and maybe a dietary supplement can help, but don’t wait too long to consult with a vet. If a cat hasn’t eaten in 48 hours or had a bowel movement in the same amount of time, visit a veterinarian right away.

Dental Problems

Cats can develop tooth and gum problems that make it painful to eat. When that happens, many cats avoid eating. Red flags include:

  • ‌Drooling
  • ‌Bad breath
  • ‌Blood around the mouth

With the right dental care, eating can become a comfortable experience again.

Respiratory Illness

Congestion can interfere with a cat’s sense of smell, making them not want to eat. Some time in a warm, moist environment like a recently run shower may help clear the congestion and restore the cat’s appetite.

Stress or Anxiety

Cats are sensitive creatures who thrive on routine. If there has been a change in the household—a recent move, a new pet or baby, or a schedule change—a cat may not feel like eating.

Arthritis in Older Cats

If an older cat won’t eat, check for signs of joint pain. The culprit may be arthritis. Cats often avoid eating if they’re in pain. If it hurts to get to the food bowl, they might be even less inclined to make the effort.

How to Help Cats’ Digestion

As with most cat medical questions, the first step to dealing with a loss of appetite should be to consult with a vet. Treating the underlying condition, whether physical and emotional, can help the cat want to eat again.

Meanwhile, cat owners can try some simple cat behavior tricks, such as:

  • ‌Warming the food in the microwave
  • ‌Offering fish or other stronger-smelling foods
  • Switching gradually to another brand of food
  • Hand-feeding


For more help with a cat who isn’t eating, become a Fuzzy member today and access 24/7 Live Vet Chat. The Veterinary Support Team is always available to offer personalized advice about all sorts of cat health questions.

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