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This Is Why I Freaked Out When My Cat Stopped Eating

Not eating can indicate some serious health concerns -- so it was time to see the vet.

Angela Lutz  |  Sep 18th 2015


On a normal morning, my cat Phoenix starts meowing at the bedroom door before the sun has risen. In this case, it’s not hard to guess what’s on her mind: She’s hungry, and she wants to be fed NOW. No, not in five minutes; Phoenix does not have a snooze button.

What usually happens: I roll out of bed, and morning feels like a bunch of knives stabbing my face (I am really not a morning person). I shuffle to the kitchen and clumsily dump a cup of food in each of the cats’ bowls before stumbling half-blind to the coffeemaker. Phoenix is always the first to chow down; my other cat, Bubba Lee Kinsey, is right behind her.

When Bubba Lee Kinsey stopped eating one day, I kinda freaked out.

When Bubba Lee Kinsey stopped eating one day, I kinda freaked out.

But one morning a few weeks ago, Bubba Lee Kinsey was nowhere to be found. While Phoenix had breakfast, I scoured the house and found my 14-year-old gray kitty sleeping on a pile of shoes in the closet. Thinking perhaps he didn’t hear the unmistakable sound of kibble hitting ceramic, I picked him up and carried him to the kitchen. Instead of eating, he started dry heaving.

Something was definitely wrong. Before panicking, I waited a few hours and tried to feed him some of his favorite treats. He wouldn’t touch those, either, nor would he have anything to do with the wet food he loves as much as I love chocolate croissants.

I’ve read about what to try if your cat won’t eat and learned it can help to try hand-feeding him or warming his food to enhance the smell, which is largely what attracts cats to their chow of choice. Neither of these tricks worked with Bubba — and that’s when I panicked. Not eating can be a sign of a number of health concerns, some serious and some less serious. Here are a few possibilities — most of which mean it’s time to see the vet.

Bubba Lee Kinsey is 14 years old. I've had him since he was a kitten.

Bubba Lee Kinsey is 14 years old. I’ve had him since he was a kitten.

1. Not eating can lead to fatty liver disease

If cats go too long without eating (more than a day or two), they can develop hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. Being obligate carnivores, cats require a lot of protein, the lack of which can quickly lead to malnutrition. This is especially problematic for obese cats — and let’s just say Bubba Lee Kinsey’s belly floof consists of more than just soft, cream-colored fur.

Also a concern, particularly for older cats, is chronic kidney disease. Symptoms include loss of appetite and nausea, both of which Bubba was experiencing. Without treatment, kidney disease can be fatal, but if caught early it can be treated.

Bubba Lee Kinsey is a prolific napper -- but not during dinnertime!

Bubba Lee Kinsey is a prolific napper — but not usually during dinnertime!

2. Cats are experts at hiding their pain

Like a bitter lover in a dying relationship, cats are excellent at pretending everything is fine when it’s not. If a cat suddenly stops eating, it’s possible that he has been sick for a while, and the symptoms have now become so severe that he can no longer conceal his discomfort. This is especially problematic if the cat is not drinking water, which fortunately was not the case with Bubba.

If a cat is also not using the litter box, he could have some kind of intestinal blockage or other gastrointestinal issue — for example, maybe he has GI inflammation or a parasite, or maybe he ate that rubber band you accidentally dropped on the bathroom floor the other day. In any case, timely medical attention is vital.

Bubba Lee Kinsey loves napping on shoes. Can you spot him in this picture?

Bubba Lee Kinsey loves napping on shoes. Can you spot him in this picture?

3. Not eating can be a sign of stress or depression

Just like humans, your cat’s emotions can affect her appetite. Cats are creatures of habit, so a sudden change to their daily routine can be upsetting. If she’s feeling stressed due to a change in her environment or the presence of a new pet, for instance, she may respond by skipping dinner.

4. Does my cat not like his food anymore?

Cats are notoriously finicky eaters, but Bubba Lee Kinsey has always eagerly devoured whatever manner of food I’ve unceremoniously plunked before him at mealtimes. Granted, I try to feed him the good stuff (Royal Canin when I am able), but even when I’ve had to switch to cheaper cat food, he still eats it without complaint.

Even more than breakfast, Bubba Lee Kinsey loves shoes.

Even more than breakfast, Bubba Lee Kinsey loves shoes.

In any case, if your cat suddenly stops eating, it can be a sign that he’s sick of whatever you’re feeding him, or if you recently changed his diet, he might disagree with your choice. In these cases, it can take trial and error to find a variety of food that your picky kitty likes.

5. Not eating can be a sign of dental disease

Anyone who has ever had braces or any kind of oral surgery can attest that dental pain is one of the worst kinds of pain, so it makes sense that a cat with sore teeth wouldn’t want to bite down on hard bits of kibble. Especially for older cats, a dental exam should be an essential part of any vet visit — and so should cleanings, when advised.

Even though Phoenix is younger than Bubba Lee Kinsey, her teeth are worse.

Even though Phoenix is younger than Bubba Lee Kinsey, her teeth are worse.

Fortunately, Bubba Lee Kinsey started eating again!

I was moments from taking my senior kitty to the emergency vet clinic when he finally ate a few treats from the palm of my hand. Relieved, I waited until morning before attempting to feed him some wet food, which he gladly devoured. I’m assuming he ate something that temporarily upset his stomach — but we are going to the vet soon, just to be safe.

Read more on cats not eating:

About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.