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What to Do When Your Cat Gets Fussy About Eating

Cat won't eat? First, rule out medical issues, then try these tips to make food tempting again.

 |  Jan 22nd 2014  |   8 Contributions


Nothing unsettles me more than when my cat's eating habits suddenly change. That's because I know that a change in eating habits can mean a number of things. Decreased eating may be an indicator of lots of different medical issues. It can also simply mean that your cat is reacting to changes in her environment. Here's what I do when my cats get fussy about food.

Get kitty checked out by the vet

Depending upon the situation, you might want to get your cat checked out right away if she is suddenly being fussy. Change in eating habits may be symptoms of disease, medical issues, or oral issues.

In my experience, one of my cats who suddenly started eating a whole lot less turned out to have a mass on his intestine. In this case, the change was fairly obvious. He had always been a cheery, extroverted cat with a good appetite. Suddenly, he was eating less, losing weight, and a lot less interested in interaction. These were all signs for me to act.

In other experiences, a sudden change in eating habits can mean a painful tooth. It can also point to oral issues such as tumors. In the case of two of my cats, before my vet had actually diagnosed likely oral cancer, the cats suddenly stopped being interested in dry food and wanted only canned food (I feed both). If an oral condition makes it painful to eat, the fact that the cat prefers canned food will make more sense once you have a diagnosis. But it always helps to have as much information as you can, so get blood work, or an exam, or more diagnostics, if the situation calls for it.

Of course, many other things can lead to appetite changes. Be prepared to tell your vet if there have been recent changes in the household. Tell your vet how frequently and in what amounts your cat is or isn't eating. Note whether there's a preference for canned or dry food, if you feed both. All this information, along with tests and exams, can give you and your vet a clear picture of what is going on with your cat.

Make food tempting

Depending on what's up with your cat, there may be ways to get her appetite back. This will obviously depend on the diagnosis. My cat with the intestinal tumor never got back to regular levels of eating, despite everything I tried. On the other hand, my cats who have had other issues were able to be tempted to eat.

My vet suggested these tips for making food tempting:

  • If your cat seems to prefer canned food, bring it to room temperature, preferably with a microwave. Don't overcook it -- it shouldn't be too warm or too cold, as this could put a cat off the food, especially if oral issues are involved.
  • Try drizzling something tempting over the food, such as good broth or even a little tuna juice. My vet is not crazy about the tuna juice option as the stuff can be salty, but it could work in the short term to get your cat interested in food.
  • Tempt your cat with things they really love and maybe don't get all the time, like small chicken or turkey pieces. Put a few pieces on their regular food and see if this helps.
  • If your cat is being very finicky, try tempting them with a meat or poultry type of baby food. Bring it to room temperature first.
  • If you have the patience, mix up the food types. Try several different kinds of cat food, and rotate. 

Chester got very fussy about eating after one of his buddies suddenly passed away.

I have also noticed that when my cat gets finicky, the appearance of fresh canned food interests him more. For example, Chester has been finicky about his eating since his buddy Karma passed on about a month ago. An exam and blood work ruled out any obvious medical issues.

I normally feed everyone canned and dry Natural Balance, and Chester is still interested in dry Natural Balance, but became less interested in the canned Natural Balance. So I introduced Fancy Feast, which he loves. (I think he also loves the sound of those cans being opened.) I hope to get him back on the Natural Balance and off of the Fancy Feast in the future, but right now, I'm happy that he's eating.

I know that appetite changes in our cats can indicate so many things. You really need as clear a picture as possible, so it's best to get all the medical information you can first. Then, if the situation calls for it, use these tricks to get your cat's appetite back.

What have you done when your cat's appetite changes? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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