Why is my cat not eating?

My cat is very old and terminally ill with a number of illnesses including renal failure and heart problems. She has eaten quite well until recently. Now, she is not eating well and has lost a lot of weight. These are bad signs in an old cat.

Cats of any age can stop eating. Not eating is caused by a loss of appetite usually. My immediate thought is whether losing appetite is a sign of discomfort or pain. I think it must be. Or at least it is a sign of feeling unwell which is the same as discomfort. When I say losing appetite I mean that you have tried a wide range of foods including favorites and all have been turned down. And this causes weight loss.

I thought it would useful to look up all the reasons for a cat not eating in the best book on cat health (Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
– ISBN 978-0-470-09530-0).

Here they are:

– in older cats, cancer causes a drop in appetite and weight loss. Kidney disease and failure with anemia is another cause.
– gastrointestinal parasites. This means: roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms.
– toxoplasmosis – feline intestinal toxoplasmosis to give the full title.
– bubonic plague (a horrible disease caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis.
– upper respiratory infection – the other symptoms will be apparent.
– feline panleukemia – AKA feline distemper or panleuk.
– feline infectious peritonitis – AKA FIP – a common disease caused by a virus in the coronavirus group.
– feline leukemia virus disease complex – FeLV, a well known disease.

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– FIV – cat version of human Aids.
– histoplasmosis – caused by a fungus. Occurs in cats in central USA near Great Lakes, Appalachian Mountains, Texas and the valleys of Mississippi, Ohio, & St. Lawrence Rivers.
– cat scratch disease. This affects us as well sometimes. Less than 5% of infected cats develop signs.
– immune related skin problems.
– nasal obstruction for whatever reason as a cat’s sense of smell is important to appetite. A Nasal discharge is the classic reason due to virus and/or bacterial infection. Another is sinusitis.
– mouth disease – i.e. periodontal disease (gum disease).
– sore throat.
– liver disease.
– advanced diabetes.
– pancreatitis.
– hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
– dilated cardiomyopathy.
– feline anemia.
– heartworm disease.
– low blood potassium – feline hypokalemic polymyopathy.
– kidney failure causing uremia (urea in blood).
– obstruction of the urethra due to FLUTD (feline urinary tract disease).
– infection of the uterus – pyometra (abscess of the uterus).
– administering NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

That is the complete list. It is a long list. A loss of appetite is a sign of illness but you won’t know which illness unless it is obvious and until you have seen a good veterinarian.

You can look up almost all of these illnesses by using the search box at the top of the page.

I don’t consider fussy eating habits as loss of appetite. Cats will eat when hungry.

Have you had occasions when your cat has stopped eating? If so please tell us what caused it and how the problem was overcome. Thank you.

Comments for
Why is my cat not eating?

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Nov 24, 2011 Time
by: Dee

Take all the time you need, Michael. We will all still be here. So, don’t feel obligated to respond to anything. We know how it is.


Nov 24, 2011 My heart goes out to you
by: Rose

R.I.P Binnie you will be sadly missed by your daddy.

Nov 23, 2011 I am you, and you are me, and we are all together
by: Grahame

Dear Michael:

“I am you and you are me and we are all together.”

I hold you in my heart.


Nov 23, 2011 The Light
by: Dee

Just wanted to share with you what I experienced a few times with those pets (dogs included)
that were with me their entire lives:

Listen and you will. sometimes, hear her.
Some night, as you are drifting off to sleep, she will call to you one last time. It will be startling and you will know that she is on her way. You will just know it is goodbye.

Take comfort in this. You will be reunited.
I had a lot of success going through some of my grieving with Sylvia Browne’s (psychic) book ALL PETS GO TO HEAVEN.

Know that we all feel what you are going through as we have been there. Thank you for sharing with us.


Nov 23, 2011 So very sorry
by: Barbara

Michael my heart goes out to you, it’s the most awful but the kindest and the bravest thing we ever have to do for our beloved cats, when you are over the first raw grief I hope you can take comfort in the knowlege that Binnie had a wonderful life with you, RIP Binnie beautiful girl x

Barbara avatar

Nov 23, 2011 So sad for you
by: Ruth

Michael there are no words to help you at this sad time.
You did the kindest final act you ever could for Binnie’s sake, you set her free.
No greater love could anyone show a loyal and much loved pet.
R.I.P dear Binnie xx
Take care Michael xx

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Nov 23, 2011 Binnie
by: Michael

Binnie was euthanised today at about 12:10 and she was cremated at 1 pm. She is now at peace with me in my home, next to my previous cat companion, Missie, who died 17 years ago.

It was hell to go through. Terrible stress and buckets of tears. The tears will continue to flow but now it is over I feel better because I was grieving her passing for months, long before she passed on as she slowly died.

The vet (an excellent lady vet) agreed with us saying that when a terminally ill cat conclusively stops eating it is a sign to do the right thing for the cat.

She passed away serenely. Just feel asleep.

I’ll write an article about it soon. Thanks to everyone for the support. It is beautiful to receive this support. It is genuinely appreciated.


Nov 23, 2011 You and Binnie
by: Dee

You and Binnie are in my thoughts and prayers.

Nov 23, 2011 putting the cat first
by: Grahame

Michael, thought of you all night. When you will, please update us.

Nov 23, 2011 putting the cat first
by: Grahame

Ruth, it’s important to me to stress that I would only put feeding tubes and meds into the picture IF there was a reasonable chance of progress towards an acceptable recovery for the cat. I said that in my recent post to Michael, but it seems to have been mislaid or ignored.

I agree with you and Michael: buying time just for us is not putting the cat first.

Nov 23, 2011 You will know
by: Ruth

Thinking about you Michael, yes listen to the vets thoughts but also know in your own mind the right thing to do.
Keeping an old ill cat alive by medication and feeding tubes is no quality of life.
We had a cat a few years back with cancer, the vet said she could give him a few more days for our sake.
He was PTS there and then for HIS sake.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

I agree. Thanks. I will always do what is right for her…Michael.

Nov 22, 2011 Damn! It’s tough.
by: Grahame

Michael, Having been through this myself (as you know), I am reliving it now in empathy with you.

This might well reach you after that cat is down, but have you/had you considered having the vet to your cat’s home and not to stress her with travel and the vet’s surgery?

My gauge or touchstone is whether or not the cat still responds to me, is capable of any pleasure. In the case of a very ill cat with the potential to improve, I would myself do watchful waiting. If indeed the time is up and no amelioration is possible, then I suppose that euthanasia is the way out. I cannot second guess you on this. I am sad that it has, apparently, come to an end for you two. This is the price we pay for loving. The universe is neither kind nor just.

If the cat has any potential to live on meaningfully, then the placement of a stomach tube for feeding could bolster an inappetant cat. If the cat could not tolerate the anaesthesia necessary to place such a tube, then a naso-gastric tube could be placed, if it would help the cat. It is good that you are going to take further advice, and I would have expected no less from a man of your convictions.

FWIW: when researching Cat Sasha’s inappetance, I encountered the opinion of several vets that once an aging cat stops eating, the jig is up. If my own vet concurred, he did not act on it out of respect for me and my obvious deep devotion to my Cat Sasha.

Damn! It’s tough.

Thinking of both of you,


Nov 22, 2011 Tomorrow
by: Michael

We are going to the vet’s tomorrow. I will ask for advice. In my mind, tomorrow is the day because as you say, Ruth, I know it is time to say goodbye.

If I delay I do it for me and that is not right.

Thanks for the support. She has eaten the fancy vet’s food but only a little.

Nov 22, 2011 My thoughts are with you both
by: Ruth

Michael there is no nice way to say this but to put it simply if an old ill cat stops eating much she is saying she’s had enough of life and is winding down.
I can’t remember what it’s called but our vets have a special food for cats who won’t eat, they only need a tiny bit of it to keep their internal organs going a bit longer.
If Binnie still has quality of life you might try some of that, I’m sure your vet will have some or tell you where to get some.
Since you told us she was so ill I’ve hoped and prayed every day that she would choose to leave you like our Ebony left us. She completely stopped eating the day before she died, visited her old haunts the next morning then lay down, went into a deep sleep and peacefully died.
We were so very thankful she chose to go herself because we knew the time was coming when we would have to choose for her …..
for her sake.
I’m in tears as I write this because I feel for you so very very much and only you who knows Binnie well can make the decision. You WILL know when it’s right to do so, I promise !
My thoughts are with you both xx

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Nov 21, 2011 Listen to your heart and “hear” what your sweet girl has been saying
by: Dee

You know the answer without me telling you a hundred stories.
It took me a L-O-N-G time and many mistakes to accept that there is a time when my interventions and heroics were worthless and unwanted. It is THEIR life, THEIR plan, and THEIR right to implement.
God Bless you and your girl/

Nov 21, 2011 bad sign

I don’t know much about the underlying causes but experience has taught me that when a cat stops eating it’s usually a sign of something being seriously wrong and it often means that the cat will be dead soon.

Our last cat died age 19 and he stopped eating a couple of days before he died. He went downhill so quickly that by the time we got him to the vet he could barely lift his head and they put him to sleep.

Nov 21, 2011 Lack of smell/taste
by: Elisa

The same as suffered by elderly people. Food either doesn’t smell or taste as appetizing as it used to. Allow your cat to sit by you as you eat in case anything interests her. Even my toothless Cocoa will indulge on foods I least expect. He wanted baked beans a few nights ago. Furby enjoys spinach pizza and squash baked with egg and cheese. Just keep trying and perhaps she will decide some foods are to her taste.

Nov 21, 2011 Great story
by: Michael

Thanks Grahame for sharing that. I am going through something similar now. I think your comment will be useful to visitors. It shows how a certain disease can cause a cat to stop eating and it also shows us how hard the decision is to end a cat companion’s life when the cat has been a companion for a long time.

Cats can be our longest companions, bar none. That counts and it binds us.

Nov 21, 2011 my experience with feline anorexia/inappetance
by: Grahame

Michel, at your request:

My Cat Sasha, of beloved memory,formerly an eager eater, abruptly stopped eating. No food would tempt him, except that once he jumped up and grabbed a cheese sandwich out of my hands, and then he jumped up on our bed and wanted to play. This was after he had received subcutaneous fluids from the vet. How did he manage this? Sasha was a cat with great heart. I admire him.

He drank more water than had been his wont. He lost weight, most apparent in his flanks. He had been a solid, if plump cat. He turned jaudiced, indicating that hepatic lipidosis had set in.

He was diagnosed with plasma cell cancer. A monoclonal gammopathy was revealed upon electrophoresis. This is a very dire finding. We put him on a naso-gastric feeding tube in an attempt to reverse his liver problem(s), but we knew that we could only buy a couple of months because of his cancer. I loved this cat unreservedly and was prepared to buy as much time with him as I could so long as he was not in pain and could still respond adequately. Quite frankly, I could not bear to put this cat down. I did not have to do so: his last kindness to me was to die quietly at home with me present. Needles to say, he got a lot of affection from me and the other cats.

He was a most excellent cat and tolerated our interventions with equanimity. Was he in some pain? Most likely he was, but he was a stoic cat and hid it well. The only time he cried out during this horrible time was when he vomited in his carrier box on the way to the vet’s consulting rooms.

Most amazingly and most precious, Sasha greeted me at the door up to his penultimate day. Where he got the strength is a source of wonderment. Of course he had lost a lot of energy, but his coat was still sleek and thick. After a few short days on the feeding tube, he died quietly at home.

One of my endearing memories of Cat Sasha was the day he had been castrated. He came home shortly after surgery and we installed him on a baby’s absorbent but water proof pad. The anaesthetic had not worn off enough for Sasha’s hind legs to get going, but he wanted to get to his own litter box. He would stand, and fall over; then he would try again, and later yet again. I wanted to carry him, but he demurred: he was going to do this himself! He dragged himself by his front paws to his litter box in the loo, and then back to his pad. As I have said: he was a cat with heart, and I love him as much as ever. I still sing to him (in the form of his photograph)in the morning, so very reluctant to end this lovely custom of ours. He died in February, 2011 at 17 years of age.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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