A lack of appetite is a frequent cause for concern amongst cat owners. There is a long list of potential causes, some more serious than others. Cats are very good at hiding signs of illness, which means that getting to the bottom of the cause can take a bit of detective work.
Here, we look at some of the most common causes, potential treatments and what you can do to prevent issues.
A good place to start looking is in the mouth. As well as losing their appetite a cat with mouth or tooth problems might dribble more than usual, stop grooming properly or develop bad breath. Loose teeth and dental infections may be the culprits, especially in older pets. Younger cats can develop a severe and very painful form of gum inflammation (gingivitis), that causes redness, ulceration and bleeding. This condition requires treatment with anti-inflammatory painkillers. Sometimes antibiotics or even tooth extractions may be needed.
The stomach and intestines are another common source of problems. Just like us, an upset tummy can make food seem unappetising, but if signs such as sickness and diarrhoea persist your vet will often recommend tests to check for more serious problems such as an intestinal blockage or a condition called pancreatitis which causes abdominal pain and inflammation.
Anything that causes a fever can reduce your cat’s appetite. Abscesses, often caused by an infected bite from another cat, are very common, particularly in uncastrated males. You may notice a hot, painful swelling often on the face or legs, giving you a clue as to the cause. Your pet may need the abscess opening up and cleaning out or antibiotics to clear the infection.
In cats that aren’t vaccinated various forms of “Cat Flu” can be seen. Affected cats will often sneeze, have a runny nose and seem quite unwell. The combination of running a temperature and a blocked nose will make them very reluctant to eat, and careful nursing is key to their recovery.
Feline kidneys seem particularly prone to damage over their lifetime. In older cats a reduced appetite, often alongside weight loss and increased thirst, could point towards a diagnosis of kidney failure. Although serious, if caught early this condition is very treatable with the right food and medications.
As well as medical problems it is important to consider behavioural problems that could contribute to a reluctance to eat. Cats can be very particular about the siting of their food bowl and the dishes used. Bullying from other cats or fear of household members may make the cat reluctant to seek out their food bowl (this is why one food bowl per cat, plus one spare, well spread out is recommended). They may also develop aversions to certain food especially after a period of stress that they associate with that food such as a stay in hospital.
Sadly there are also more worrying reasons your cat may not want to eat. Like us cats can unfortunately suffer from forms of cancer. Those that affect the mouth and stomach or intestines can particularly affect their appetite. Any cat that does not want to eat at all for more than a couple of days or that has a reduced appetite and is losing weight over a period of time should be taken to your vet to be checked over to rule out more serious problems.
It is not uncommon for any unwell cat to eat less than normal. As well as the problems discussed, many conditions from heart problems through to arthritis, and from bladder problems through to side effects of medication can cause a reduced appetite.
Although cats are notoriously picky eaters it is important to take changes in appetite seriously especially when accompanied by other signs such as weight loss. Consult with your vet and be sure to rule out illnesses before forking out on yet another variety of cat food to tempt your fussy feline.
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