August 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Reasons for a poor or no appetite in cats include stress, illness, and even just a preference for a tastier food. Changes in how your cat is fed, such as location or type of food or food bowl, can affect how much your cat will eat. Changes in environment or people/pets in the environment can also cause a cat to eat less or stop eating. Appetite issues can also be caused by a medical condition. A poor appetite for longer than a couple of days can lead to serious health issues, even if the initial cause was not due to a medical problem.

Signs That Your Cat Needs to See a Veterinarian

  • Decreased or no appetite for more than two days
  • Inability to eat (i.e., difficulty chewing/swallowing)
  • Jaundice (i.e., yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes, etc.)
  • Pain
  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Poor appetite accompanied by other signs of illness (e.g., lethargy, sneezing/nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and sudden weight loss)

Encouraging Your Cat to Eat

  • Place food and water bowls away from litter boxes, and in a quiet, private and accessible location away from the path of people and other animals. Use clean food and water bowls. Don't just add food on top of previous food remnants.
  • Provide dry food throughout the day. Offer canned/wet food at least four times per day. Leave the food out for 15-20 minutes, and then throw out the uneaten portion. Fresh food is more enticing than stale food.
  • Feed a strong smelling canned food (e.g., tuna, salmon), and warm it slightly. Good smells stimulate the appetite.
  • Adding tuna juice, chicken broth, or chicken baby food to canned or dry food may entice your cat to eat more. Be sure that the chicken broth or baby food do not contain onion or garlic, as these ingredients are toxic to cats.
  • Some cats are social eaters, so try talking to your cat quietly and scratching his/her head during mealtimes.
  • If your cat is new to the household, here are some good tips on how to make your cat's transition to a new home as stress free as possible: SFSPCA Bringing Your New Cat Home.

Common Causes of Appetite Issues

  • Stress
  • Changes in environment or diet
  • Undesirable/unpalatable food
  • Health problems (e.g., Upper Respiratory Infection, Cancer, Gastrointestinal obstructions.)
  • Dental disease
  • Pain

Treatment of Appetite Issues

  • Treatment of any underlying medical issues.
  • If dehydration is present, then subcutaneous or intravenous fluids may be needed.
  • Medication may be used to treat any nausea or pain.
  • Short-term appetite stimulants may be prescribed.
  • In some cases, a feeding tube may be placed temporarily until your cat starts eating on his/her own.

Helpful Links