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8 Things to Try When Your Cat Won't Eat

If your cat is healthy but refuses food she once enjoyed, here’s how to get her eating again.

 |  Jul 16th 2013  |   68 Contributions


My cat, Bella, has been driving me crazy. She’s decided that “I’m not gonna eat that!” is her new favorite game in the world. As food goes, Madame won’t have the chicken -- that would be the super-premium raw frozen organic chicken, which she has eaten with gusto for months. Madame also won’t have the duck, because it’s too rich and makes her throw up. Instead, Madame would prefer the rabbit (which, naturally, costs about $8 more a bag than chicken or duck), or, if you please, some low-carb, grain-free pâté.

What's for dinner, Mama?

Oh, that. *sniff* I don't think so!

I know I’m not the only cat parent who has experienced this particular brand of frustration, so here are some tips to help you get your cat back on track.

1. Make sure your cat is healthy

A decrease in appetite or refusal to eat can be a sign of sickness or pain, particularly if it continues for more than one meal and your cat isn’t getting any other food like prey or a meal from your neighbor down the block.

2. If you’re committed to a brand, try other flavors

If you have an ethical or medical reason you need to stay with a certain brand of food, see whether it comes in other flavors. Think about trying other brands that might provide the same medical or health benefit. Your cat might find the change refreshing.

If your cat goes outside, her lack of appetite may be due to hunting or getting a meal from a neighbor. Cat staring at a mouse by Shutterstock

3. Heat it up

If you’ve kept your cat’s food in the refrigerator, five to 10 seconds in the microwave will heat it up to about body temperature, and the smell will become attractive to your cat. If you don’t have a microwave, try mixing some warm water into the food instead.

4. Add something tasty

Try sprinkling your finicky cat’s food with a tempting treat like bonito flakes or cat vitamin powder.

5. Keep your cat’s dishes clean

This is especially important if your cat eats canned or raw food because germs can start growing in scraps of leftover food and cause illness. Also, cats are instinctively driven to avoid consuming putrid-smelling meat. If you use plastic dishes, replace them with metal or ceramic because they’re easier to keep clean.

6. Try shallower dishes

Some cats don’t like deep or narrow dishes because they constrict the whiskers. Flat-faced cats such as Persians, Himalayans, and Exotic Shorthairs should be eating from plates or shallow bowls anyway.

Cats usually prefer to eat out of shallow dishes so their whiskers don't get stressed and they can see what's going on around them. Kitten eating kibble by Shutterstock

7. Don’t hide medications in her food

Once upon a time, I ground a pill up and put it in my cat’s food. What I didn’t know was that the medicine was really bitter. My cat refused to touch it, and she never ate that particular brand and flavor of food again. Some medications come in flavors that appeal to cats, but they’re few and far between. Ask your vet before trying the powdered-pill-in-food trick.

8. Choose your battles

Is it really that important to you that your cat eats just one flavor of just one brand? Even if you love pizza, you’d get sick of it if you had to eat it every day for the rest of your life. This is the approach I’ve taken with Bella, and frankly, it’s what I should have done from the start. Cats need and deserve some variety in their diet, just like us.

Has your cat suddenly turned up her nose at her food? What did you do in response? Please share your stories and tips in the comments!

Well, Mama -- it's about time you got the right idea and gave me the food I want!

Read more about cats and food:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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