Is your Cat Anorexic or Just Being Picky?

Cat weight loss due to illness
Photo by brownpau on Flickr under a CC license.
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My cat is barely eating. I give him all his favorite foods so why is he refusing to eat?

Since having a finicky feline can be extremely frustrating for kitty guardians, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that this is a question that many cat owners ask themselves from from time to time. It is indeed worrisome and puzzling. This said, there is a difference between “finicky” cats and kitties without an appetite; a possible symptom of feline anorexia.

According to Vets Now “Anorexia” is defined as having a loss of appetite. Finicky cats are hungry but for one reason or another suddenly turn up their noses at even their favorite food. But when a kitty’s eating habits suddenly change and is continuously refusing to eat, the cat could be anorexic.

Anorexia can be caused by serious underlying medical conditions, such as kidney or liver problems, dental pain, or an intestinal obstruction. Stress can also cause a cat to stop eating; therefore a quick trip to the veterinarian is in order to get to the bottom of what is causing the cat to be anorexic. Additionally, underlying medical problems may be present if a cat has an insatiable appetite and is constantly begging for food.

Your veterinarian will inquire about your cat’s recent medical history and to arrive at an accurate diagnosis will ask if you have noticed your cat vomiting frequently and if he has been losing weight. These important questions help your veterinarian decide whether your cat is actually hungry and is showing interest in food, or if your cat is attempting to eat but backs away from his food dish; or if your cat is simply not interested at all in eating.

Picky cat?
Photo by Photo Flickr User: Karlis Dambrans

To rule out certain diseases, your veterinarian most likely will perform blood and urine tests. It is also possible that your veterinarian may recommend a series of x-rays to aid in making a precise diagnosis.

The treatment for your cat’s anorexia will be dependent on the findings of the underlying cause/causes of your cat’s inappetence. If it is due to underlying disease, the treatment will be based on the diagnosis.

Should dental disease and the pain of aching teeth be at the root of your cat’s inability to eat, your veterinarian will most likely recommend that the troublesome teeth be extracted under general anesthesia. Once these rotten teeth are removed, your cat will be greatly relieved and be able to start eating again with gusto. And since cats don’t actually chew their food, many people are greatly surprised by how well they manage without them.

To help prevent hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), a serious and often fatal complication which can result from a cat’s refusal to eat, it’s extremely important to entice a cat to start eating again as soon as possible.

Fortunately there are several tricks that guardians can use to whet their cat’s appetite. Try offering kitty a variety of brands of canned cat food. Cats often find strong- smelling foods such as sardines or tuna quite appealing. To make the aroma of the cat food more tempting to the cat, heat it up in a microwave for about 5-10 seconds to warm it up to body temperature. If you don’t have access to a microwave, try adding in some warm water into the food.

You can also try adding some tasty and tempting goodies such as rare roast beef, turkey or boiled chicken bits. Another popular enticement is sprinkling the food with tasty treats such as Temptations or bonito flakes.

Try using shallower dishes. Many cats prefer eating from plates or teacup saucers because the deep or narrow dishes constrict their whiskers. If your cat is receiving medications do not hide it in the food. Cats are generally put-off by this deceptive tactic!

But the most important thing is to get the cat to eat! If your kitty is refusing to eat the most nutritious, highest quality food, jump-start their appetite by feeding them any cat food that suits their fancy until their appetite is back to normal. I call this the “kitty Crack” method. Then slowly start switching your kitty back to a more appropriate cat food.

What other tricks have worked for you to entice your kitty back to eating? Please share them with a comment.

17 thoughts on “Is your Cat Anorexic or Just Being Picky?”

  1. One trick I’ve tried with some success is to smear a tiny dab of wet cat food on the end of their nose. They should instinctively want to lick their nose clean and sometimes that little taster of food can be enough to kick-start their appetite.

    • Neat idea. When I was giving Charlie Lysine in a paste to help minimise the infection we though he had I put it on his nose like that or even on his paw. The nose is best because cats instinctively lick it. I even put it on his front teeth.

  2. My daughter has a cat who seems ageless, they think he is about 15 years or so old. He actually was a from a feral cat colony who decided that was not the life for him. lol He has a form of herpes which causes him to be very thin. He receives medication every day and can be picky about what he eats. What is strange he will eat as long as he is being watched, when she turns to leave he leaves the food. Her vet encouraged her to try and get him to eat more if possible. She is now using some special treat which comes in tube and he seems to enjoy it. Yes sort of expensive but she thinks he is well worth it.

    • Interesting comment. What I find is that if I gently stroke my cat as he/she has his head over the food bowl, it seems to encourage him to eat. This may be a variation on what have mentioned.

  3. Thanks Lisa for that great tip! I will store it for future reference in CASE. Funny thing- is I find that Hills (UGH) A/D is a food that few cats can resist also. It is made especially for cats that are sick and won’t eat. While I detest Hills with a passion, I do keep a case of it on hand for emergencies.

    By the way, “Anorexia” simply means loss of appetite especially when prolonged. The term for the condition in which humans will not eat- due to a mental disorder is called Anorexia Nervosa and is different than just the term “anorexia.”


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