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There comes a time in every cat owner’s life where they’re faced with the dilemma of how to stimulate appetite in their pet.
Maybe you are already at that point and you’ve been trying everything in the book, but your cat just won’t eat.
And the frustrating part is that you cannot afford to rest because you are worried. Seriously worried something bad might happen if you can’t get your pet to eat anytime soon.
Believe me, you are not the only one facing this challenge.
Cats turning their nose to a new meal or food they’ve been happily eating before isn’t a new thing. However, if you cannot find a way to get them to eat something very soon, the results could be life-threatening.
Imagine if you could stimulate appetite in your cat and get it to gulp down its meal, so your sanity can be restored. Well, you can have that!
Below I’ll show you how to stimulate a healthy appetite in your cat and get it to eat – plus some neat tricks to use in a worst-case scenario.
First, let’s try to understand why your cat is rejecting its meals. And the risks involved if it keeps this up.
Cats who don’t eat are at risk of hepatic lipidosis.
The reason cat owners worry when their pet goes for over 24 hours without eating is that the pet is at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis.
Hepatic lipidosis is a serious consequence of loss of appetite that happens when the body is undernourished or starving. When a cat starts avoiding food, its body starts metabolizing its own fat stores for energy.
The problem is that cat’s bodies do not handle this process properly when the cat is starving. The fat that’s released to the liver is not well processed. This often leads to the organ becoming overwhelmed and congested from all the work. This leads to a low-functioning, fatty liver.
Hepatic lipidosis will lead to serious illness unless it is treated aggressively, especially in cats that are already overweight. To reduce the risk of hepatic lipidosis or fatal, a cat must get some nutrients without delay.
So what could possibly explain poor appetite in cats?
Possible reasons why your cat has a poor appetite and won’t eat.
One of the key indicators that there’s a problem with your cat is a loss of appetite. This is one reason you need to always pay attention to your cat’s eating habits.
Kidney failure, infections, cancer, pancreatitis, and digestive problems, such as gas, colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting are conditions that might be responsible for the loss of appetite in your cat.
However, it isn’t always serious. Sometimes the problem could be a result of injuries, oral tumors, or dental disease. These will make chewing difficult and uncomfortable enough to cause your cat to stop eating.
Since it’s only a vet who can diagnose an illness in your cat, I recommend going there at the first sign of low appetite and unusual health changes, such as weight loss. Make sure your vet includes a comprehensive dental checkup. Especially if your cat favors chewing on only one side of its jaw or rejects dry food.
Change of environment.
Cats, just like humans, are creatures of habit. This means that even a slight change in its routine can disrupt its system and, in some instances, its appetite.
Many cats will hide and avoid eating when there’s a stranger in the house. And experiencing motion sickness, for instance when traveling by plane or car, can lead to loss of appetite in cats.
A cat’s appetite can also tank when you move to a new house or rearrange the furniture in the house. This is because cats view their environments differently from the way we do. For a cat, its territory is not just the building, but the way the things in it are arranged.
This is so true, especially for an indoor cat who sees very little of the world outside. When you move to a new house or switch positions of furniture, your pet gets really stressed trying to figure out what’s going on. And as such will have a low appetite for food.
To understand how this feels for a cat, imagine how weird it would be if you woke up one morning and your house was on the other side of the road or a different street.
Nothing is familiar anymore, right?
This one is closely related to the previous reason we just looked at. A cat responds poorly to change, especially to its food. If you’ve recently changed the type of food you feed your cat, it might stubbornly refuse to eat the new food.
Did your cat’s appetite drop shortly after it got some vaccine shots at the vet’s? If this is the case, then the drug might have disrupted your cat’s system. Vaccines, though a lifesaver for millions of animals, often cause unwanted or unpredictable side effects, especially when they interact with other medications or food. Poor appetite and lethargy are common reactions to these drugs and are usually temporary in most cases.
I don’t know if you’ve come across the term “whisker fatigue”. Maybe from your vet, cat product manufacturers, or one of your nerdy friends.
There are lots of gaps to be filled in what we know and what we don’t know about the subject. So, is Vibrissae aka “whisker fatigue” real?
Well, we are not quite sure.
It’s not a disease that veterinarians can test for. The idea is that a cat’s whiskers can become desensitized and stressed from repeatedly coming in contact with the side of the food bowl. Some scientists suspect that over time, the stress and discomfort caused can lower a cat’s appetite or contribute to it.
Although there’s not enough research to back up this claim, we can’t just brush it aside as bogus. However, this doesn’t mean you should go out and purchase a new plate. No, a low-sided bowl or even a stainless plate from the kitchen should do.
Psychological issues and others.
If a medical examination has cleared your cat of any physical illness, then it’s likely that your cat’s poor appetite is the result of anxiety or depression. Or, your cat might just be a finicky eater.
So, what can you do to stimulate appetite in your cat?
How do you get your cat to eat?
Rule out a medical problem.
Always monitor your cat’s eating habits. If your pet fails to eat at least half of its meal each time it is served or stops eating anything for more than 24 hours, then you need to see the veterinarian ASAP. Remember, a low appetite is often the warning sign that your cat is sick. And, early intervention can go a long way in reversing or managing the underlying cause of poor appetite.
Try a different cat bowl.
A cat might simply stop eating because it has had enough of that “silly” bowl. We’ve already looked at whisker fatigue and how some bowls can constrict a cat’s whiskers.
If you think whisker fatigue is the problem, then find a plate or wider bowl with shallow sides. This will reduce how often your cat’s whiskers are squished against the feeding bowl.
Stainless steel is the go-to option since it is durable, easier to clean, and doesn’t harbor bacteria that can lead to a stained chin or cat acne.
Alternatively, you can consider other feeding techniques that engage the cat’s natural instincts.
What do I mean?
Cats are predators. And predators are not used to gulping down one or two big meals then call it a day. No, they’d rather hunt and eat little bits here and there. The fun is in the chase or hunt.
Feed your cat periodically, in a way that requires it to move around, sniff, and “hunt” for its meal. Something as simple as an interactive food puzzle can help give a cat an outlet for pent-up energy and prevent rapid weight gain.
Another thing worth taking into account is where your cat eats.
No matter how hungry they are, most cats will find it difficult to concentrate on eating if their food bowl is located in noisy or heavy-traffic areas, close to the litter box, or in the presence of other animals.
It is best to create a dedicated cat feeding area in your home because what seems like minor changes to a human can stress your kitty out, big time.
Heat up the cat food.
Do you preserve your cat’s food in the refrigerator? Then you cannot serve your cat the same food just like that.
What you should do is microwave the food for about 15-30 seconds to restore the smell of the food and make it just a bit warmer than room temperature. In the absence of a microwave, you can mix some warm water in the meal.
To completely avoid having to go through this, then consider feeding your pet small rations throughout the day.
Is your cat finicky?
People joke about cats being picky eaters, but in reality, it’s not funny when your cat refuses to eat.
If your cat is finicky, there’s definitely a reason for the behavior because finicky eaters aren’t born, they are made.
Kittens develop varied taste when introduced to different meals after being weaned from their mother. The ones that are fed the same food often reject unfamiliar food later, or simply lose interest in eating.
I found a well-written article that explains how to change a cat’s food without it rejecting or losing appetite in its meals.
Avoid hiding medications in your cat’s meals.
If you think it’s cool to grind medicine pills and mix them with your cat’s meal, then I’m here to tell you it isn’t. Some medicines are really bitter and while cat’s taste buds are inferior compared to ours, they can still taste ‘bitter’. And when they do, the cat might associate the smell of the food brand with the bitter taste and decide never to touch it again – yes, animals evolved this way to avoid poisonous foods.
So ask your vet before sprinkling your cat’s food with cat vitamin powder, bonito flakes, or trying the pill-in-food trick.
Turn up the affection and mental stimulation.
Most times, low appetite in cats is the result of stress and lack of mental stimulation. If you are changing houses, just been busy, or missing a family member, consider using Feliway diffuser to help your cat cope with the anxiety and stress it might be going through.
Now is the time to charm your cat and win it over with affection.
See if you can get your cat interested in its favorite toys. Most cats love chasing the light of this interactive automatic cat laser pointer. Offer your cat a paper grocery bag or a cardboard box that still smells fresh to play in. A cat that is happy will be more inclined to eat.
Use their nature against them.
Cats love to groom themselves!
This means that when food spills on their fur, in a place that’s within reach, they’ll lick it off. If your cat won’t even taste the food, let alone eat it, then you can simply wet the food and smear some on its front paws.
Your cat will be forced to lick it off. This will get him to taste the food and once your cat has licked off the food, hold the bowl close to his nose. In most cases, it’s enough to stimulate appetite in a cat and get it to start eating from the bowl.
Worst case scenario option.
In a worst-case scenario, it’s okay to spoon- or syringe-feed your cat its Gerber Chicken & Gravy baby food. Mixing a little bit of water will make it more consistent for feeding with a syringe.
Aim for 1.5-2 oz. jar on the first day and gradually increase to 3.5-5 oz. daily. However, this isn’t a long-term solution. A pet that is unwilling to eat without assistance after days of assisted feeding needs help ASAP.
So, when should you give the vet a call?
When should you call the vet?
How do you know when something is worth calling the vet for?
Whenever you’re in doubt!
The vet is there to help you keep your pet in optimal health conditions. It’s better to err on the side of caution and contact the vet whenever you notice changes in your cat’s behavior – whether gradual or sudden.
Now that you have an idea of what could be causing low appetite in your cat, and how to stimulate appetite in the cat and get it to eat, you can help your cat get back to full health.
If all these tips and tricks fail to stimulate appetite in your cat, then it’s time to visit the vet for care and evaluation. On the other hand, if these tips make your cat resume eating, but it isn’t eating like it normally should, it is still imperative that you seek out expert help instead of assuming it’s a stomach upset that will go away on its own.
Chances are if the problem is diagnosed and treated early, your pet is likely to recover fully.