Cat Not Eating? 8 Things to Try When Your Cat Won’t Eat

Got a cat who won't eat on your hands? We've got a few suggestions to solve the issue of a cat not eating — and when to take a cat who’s not eating to the vet.

Black cat staring out from bowl filled with dry food.

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 pate. Ugh. Is your cat not eating? I know I’m not the only cat parent who has experienced a cat not eating, so here are some things to try when your cat won’t eat.

A tabby cat, lying down and sick.
Is your cat not eating? She might be sick or in pain. Photography by Eugene03/Thinkstock.

1. Make sure your cat not eating isn’t a sign that she’s sick

A cat not eating can be a sign that your cat is sick or pain, particularly if it continues for more than one meal. If this is the case, bring your cat to the vet.

2. If you’re committed to a specific cat food 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.

3. Heat up the cat food

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.

A fluffy white cat eating wet food off of a dish or bowl.
Cat won’t eat? Try adding a tempting treat to her food bowl. Photography ©RooIvan | Thinkstock.

4. Add something tasty to your cat’s food

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

5. Keep your cat’s dishes and bowls 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. A cat not eating might hate the smell of her dishes or food. 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 different cat dishes

A cat not eating might simply dislike his bowl. Some cats don’t like deep or narrow dishes because they constrict the whiskers. Flat-faced or brachycephalic cats such as Persians, Himalayans and Exotic Shorthairs should not be eating from plates or shallow bowls anyway.

7. Don’t hide medications in your cat’s 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. Remember — 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.

Tell us: Is your cat not eating? What did you do when your cat wouldn’t eat? Please share your stories and tips for a cat who won’t eat in the comments!

Featured Image: Photography by aleg baranau / Shutterstock.

This piece was originally published in 2015. 

Read Next: We’re Feeding Cats Wrong — Ditch the Cat Food Bowls and Change the Schedules


228 thoughts on “Cat Not Eating? 8 Things to Try When Your Cat Won’t Eat”

  1. I have 2 Cats that are going to be 2 in July. They are my life and they are driving me crazy when it comes to food. I put wet food down, sometimes they eat it and sometimes they wont . Most of the time, not. I put dry food down and they scoop it out onto the floor. I tried changing their food, changes their bowls, heated up their food, fed them what I eat, fed them at the table with me, everything. I honestly do not know what else to do.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I know they are spoiled and I truly think NO ANIMAL should have one bad day. I do spoil them, they are my girls. I do worry that they are not eating enough though.

  2. My 11 yr old male cat has decided not to eat his food. Our vet did a bunch of tests and he's fine. I give both cats ( I also have an 11 yr old female who eats everything) Fancy Feast, Friskies and 9 Lives. I have tried many different flavors as well. He will eat treats and real tuna, but not his food.
    Any ideas ?
    Thank you

  3. I have a rescue cat that is just getting over cat flue but she is hardly eating or drinking. Should I get some sardine oil and put in her food to encourage her to eat.

  4. Heating Cat Food in a microwave – is NOT good idea. Microwaves reverse the molecules in food – making the nutrients much less available (Obviously true for people food, too). Better to heat up food by placing a bowl of food in a pot/bowl of hot water – OR – if it's winter – place the food (In can or dish) on top of a radiator for a short while.

    1. Interesting. Microwaving refrigerated chicken to bring to room temp has worked in some cases for me but not microwaving refrigerated canned cat food. They don't like leftovers.

  5. I have 5 cats, ages 3-1/2, 6, 10, 12 & 15. They have dry food available at all times, but each of them get a small plates of different flavors of soft food each evening (one flavor per night). The youngest of the boys is bossy and likes to steal the soft food from the other cats' plates. They each have a special place where I put their dish. My 15-yr old DLH is very shy and lets the youngest (Mr. Bossy-boy) 'scare' her away. She uses the catdoor in the pantry and runs to the basement. Once I've put the food down for the 4 others I walk over to the door leading to the basement, lock the catdoor (so my 15-yr old DLH shy kitty can come back in when she finishes her food, but Mr. Bossy-boy can't go down). I open the main door, turn on the light for the stairs and place her food on one of the steps. She knows that when I shut the main door again, she is safe and she wont be disturbed. I also have a pretty calico who eats beside me and when she acts like she is trying to cover it up with her paw, I take it away, open a different variety to serve her with some special treats I buy just for her, which she gobbles down. Mr. Bossy-boy goes and sits by the door waiting for my DLH to come back through it, at which time I get the plate, unlock the catdoor so all the cats can go downstairs to use their litter boxes, & turn off the light. When the other cats are done eating I take any of their left over food & give it to Mr. Bossy-boy. Takes all of 10 minutes and everyone is happy. And, if anyone has a rabbit, mine loves roses petals (nothing sprayed with insecticides) from my garden, crisp cilantro, a piece of banana as a treat once a week, and another treat Vitakraft Nibble Rings, 5 or 6 each per day (she sits up for them) or drags her blanket across the floor, I clap and she runs to my chair to get her treat! Happy Day!

    1. That is cute. You bring up a good point that some cats won't eat with the others because they don't feel comfortable. I also have to deliver "personal meals" to the shyer cats. When my old boy had trouble tolerating food, I would shift to whatever he could keep down, which was usually a mousse. I also had to feed him smaller amounts more frequently as everything else was overwhelming.

  6. My cat likes to feel accompanied and cared for….. if Intake some kibbles out of the dish and put them on the counter, it’s suddenly like they are magical treats…. If Inpet her while she eats them, even better, and she will often keep eating out of the dish if Inam still petting her.
    Sometimes they just need the love, attention and mothering of this kind of interaction❤️🐱😻

  7. My cat’s favourite canned food is no longer being sold at the store so I ended up buying something similar for him to try. I mixed in a tiniest bit of the new food with the old one to tempt him into eating it but it hasn’t worked.
    I’ve recently taken him to the vet for his check up and am glad to report that he is doing very well. I am planning to order some of his old food online if he still refuses to eat but I am worried that it is no longer in production.
    What should I do if that is the case? My stores of the old food is depleting and I am worried that he will continue to hunger strike.

    1. Consider writing or calling the company to see if they have more of the food. Perhaps they can tell you where to find it or send you some directly. Also ask them to recommend a substitution. Keep trying other brands. Took me a long time to find a canned dog food similar enough to cat food that my little dog would eat it. She wanted the cat food.

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