Why is my cat not eating?

September 8, 2023 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
grey and white adult cat with green eyes standing near food and water dishes. not approaching dish, seems to have lost appetite.

What should you do if your bewhiskered buddy suddenly loses their appetite?

To stay healthy, indoor cats need to eat around 20 calories per pound every day. If your kitty’s not eating, they could dip below their ideal body weight, leading to health problems like a weakened immune system, muscle loss, and more. In fact, a loss of appetite may be a sign that your cat is ALREADY suffering from an undiagnosed health condition.

So if your finicky feline keeps turning their whiskers up at the sight and smell of food, you’ll need to figure out why and then take steps to help.

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Signs your cat’s not eating enough

If your cat isn’t eating enough, you might not realize it immediately. Here are some signs to look out for:

Changes in behavior

male Maine Coon breed cat lethargic and resting head on gray couch

Cats have their routines, and they're usually pretty consistent. When they start acting differently, it's time to take notice.

Sometimes it’s obvious. If your kitty transforms from food lover to food critic and once-empty bowls start to stay full, you don’t need to be a detective to figure out your cat’s not eating enough.

But it’s not all about the food. Poor eating habits can deplete your cat’s energy and dampen their mood. If your cat is less active than usual, becomes more withdrawn or lethargic, or seems uninterested in their favorite toys (or playtime in general), start paying closer attention to how much they’re eating.

Physical symptoms

Skinny old ginger cat looking down with sadness, isolated on white

Your cat's body can reveal a whole lot about their health. If you notice your kitty is losing weight or you can feel their ribs or spine more easily than before, something may be wrong. A healthy cat should have a stable weight.

Another physical sign to watch out for is your cat’s coat condition. A healthy cat usually has a shiny, well-groomed coat. If your cat's fur starts to look dull, unkempt, or greasy, it could be due to their disinterest in food.

So if your cat is shedding pounds or their coat loses its luster, it may be a sign that their appetite is on the decline, and you should pay closer attention to how much they’re eating.

Potential reasons for a cat's loss of appetite

So now you know your cat isn’t eating enough—but why? Here are some common reasons to consider:

Illness and medical conditions

Cats may have nine lives, but they’re not immune to feline health issues. And to make matters worse, they’re often experts at hiding their discomfort. That’s one reason why it’s so important to observe their eating habits; sometimes a diminished appetite is the only available sign that something is wrong.

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Multiple medical conditions can lead to a reduced appetite, including:

  • Infections: Infections of any kind can make your cat feel generally unwell, and cats who feel sick don’t tend to eat very much.

  • Urinary tract disorders: Any condition that causes discomfort in the abdominal area can lead to decreased appetite, as your cat may associate eating with pain.

  • Gastrointestinal problems: Digestive problems like inflammatory bowel disease lead to pain and nausea, which can make eating an unappealing prospect.

  • Kidney disease: Kidney disease is a common kitty ailment, especially in older cats. It often causes a reduced appetite. coupled with increased thirst and urination.

  • Thyroid issues: Thyroid problems can rev up your cat's metabolism, causing weight loss and a decreased appetite.

  • Diabetes: Untreated feline diabetes can lead to metabolic changes as well as increased drinking, either of which can make a cat feel less inclined to eat.

These are just a handful of potential culprits; any number of medical conditions can lead to a reduced appetite. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are essential for identifying and managing these conditions early.

However, if you notice your cat suddenly losing interest in food, don’t wait for your cat’s next scheduled appointment; seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

Dental problems

Vet dentist looking at red and swollen gums of a cat in a clinic, concept, examination and treatment of pets

Just like us, cats with dental problems tend to have some pretty miserable mealtimes.

Unfortunately, cats are susceptible to a number of dental conditions, including gum disease and broken or infected teeth. When your cat’s mouth hurts, they're less likely to chew their food thoroughly or at all.

Routine check-ups, which generally include dental checks, are a crucial way to learn of these problems before they become too severe. Preventative care like tooth-brushing and professional dental cleanings can also be a huge help.

But even if you make the best preventative efforts, dental problems can still emerge. So if your cat hasn’t been eating, look for signs of dental issues like bad breath, drooling, or pawing at the mouth.

Stress and anxiety

Feline anxiety can manifest in all sorts of obvious ways, from scratching and biting to constant meowing. But sometimes anxiety symptoms can be subtler. An anxious cat may lose energy, become reclusive, or—you guessed it—stop eating.

Feline anxiety can stem from many different causes, like a shift in their daily routine, a move to a new home, or the addition of a new family member (whether human or furry). Separation anxiety in cats is also more common than you’d think.

Try to recognize the sources of stress in your cat's life. Giving them a safe and predictable environment can go a long way toward reducing their anxiety. Among other strategies, you can also offer them ample playtime, provide cozy hiding spots, and make your home a kitty exercise haven.

Recent dietary changes

Cats can be very particular about their food. They often become attached to a specific brand or flavor, and any dietary changes can be met with fierce resistance.

To help your cat adjust to a new diet, it's a good idea to make gradual transitions. Mix a small amount of the new food with their old one and slowly increase the ratio of the new food over several days or weeks. This gradual change can ease your cat into accepting the new fare without causing a sudden loss of appetite.

Also, be sure to consult your veterinarian before you start a new diet. Your vet will help you keep that diet balanced and nutritious and will also steer you clear of any unsafe foods.

What to do when your cat stops eating

Domestic gray longhair Maine Coon cat with big belly, out of focus, lies near bowl of food, refuses yummy from gluttony or illnessYour cat’s sudden food strike may not be anything to panic about. And even if it is due to a medical condition, there may be plenty you can do to help if you seek your vet’s guidance.

Here are some essential steps to follow when your feline friend stops eating with gusto:

Consult your veterinarian

If your cat’s appetite has plummeted, a vet visit may be in order. As a general rule of thumb,  you should seek vet care within 24–48 hours of noticing a pronounced dip in your cat’s food intake.

You’ll also want to keep close tabs on your kitty’s day-to-day activities and their physical condition. Is your cat suddenly more lethargic and withdrawn than usual? Are they drinking less water? Are they suddenly losing weight? All of this information can be valuable to your vet. 

Your vet will conduct a thorough physical exam, including a dental exam, and ask about your cat's medical history and any recent changes in behavior or environment. Your vet may also recommend certain tests, like blood work or urinalysis. If a medical issue is to blame, your vet is likely to identify it.

If the problem DOESN’T have to do with a medical condition, you may need to make changes to your cat’s diet. Your vet can offer you guidance there as well.

Offer your cat different foods

A black and white adult cat eating dry cat food from a white ceramic bowl on top of a table with place mats

Cats can be quite picky when it comes to their meals, and their tastes and preferences can change over time. Just like humans, cats can develop new cravings or get sick of the food they’re used to.

So if your cat’s not eating, it may be time to get creative. Try offering them a variety of different foods, including different flavors and textures. Some cats prefer wet food over dry kibble, while others might enjoy a different protein source. Cat-safe treats or toppers might pique their interest. And you can try warming their food slightly; this can give the food a stronger aroma and make it more appealing to your cat's sensitive nose.

The goal here is to find something that tickles their taste buds, captivates their nostrils, and encourages them to eat. Remember, patience is key when you’re trying to entice a picky feline. Be prepared to experiment with different options.

And not to belabor the point, but you should always consult your veterinarian before you significantly alter your cat’s diet. Your vet can help you craft a balanced, nutritious diet that doesn’t include any unsafe foods. On top of that, your vet may guide you toward safe vitamins and supplements for cats that can provide them with essential nutrients that they’re not getting from food.

How cat insurance can help

Hopefully, your finicky feline simply needs a more exciting diet. But if their appetite has shrunk due to a health condition, cat insurance may help reimburse you for the diagnosis and potential treatment.

And the optional (non-insurance) ManyPets Wellness Plan helps by reimbursing you for preventative care like routine dental care, checkups and vaccinations, parasite prevention, and vitamins and supplements—up to $150 per year for each of these four categories, or $600 per year total.

If you take care of your cat’s preventative care, you may help them steer clear of appetite issues before they ever start.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.