Why Is My Cat Not Eating?

Something off with your cat's appetite? Here are some reasons for a cat not eating—and what you should do to get your kitty happily chowing down again.

We generally think of dogs as much more voracious pets than their feline counterparts. In fact, in pop culture, you’re probably more likely to see a fictional cat lapping up a bowl of milk than eating from a food bowl. (And that’s a problem for a whole separate reason!) But make no mistake—your kitty should be eating her food, and if you suddenly notice your cat not eating, you should pay attention and try to figure out why.

Why is my cat not eating?

If you notice your cat not eating, the first thing to do is ask “Why is my cat not eating?” Though it certainly could be a serious issue, your cat not eating could have a much more simpler reason, too, so there’s no need to immediately rush out to the vet before you’ve at least tried to identify an underlying reason. On the other hand, though, don’t ignore the issue altogether. “Despite their air of indifference, cats are sensitive creatures,” explains Daniel Rotman, Founder of PrettyLitter. “If your cat stops eating, you know that something is up.” And if you’ve got a pup, here are some reasons your dog isn’t eating, too.

Cat not eating: Stress or environment change

Your cat may not be sick, but if he’s been impacted by some significant change, his response might manifest in a decreased appetite. Have you moved into a new home? Gotten a new pet? Suddenly started staying home a lot more—or started going out again after months of being home all the time? These external factors can contribute to your cat’s appetite suddenly being a little wonky. Here are some things that could be making your cat anxious.

“If there has been a recent change in your household that could alter your cat’s daily life, and there are no other concerning behaviors or symptoms, some time to adjust may be all they need,” Rotman says. “If this is the case, your cat might start eating again once he gets used to the change.” To help Kitty better adjust to the changes, “you can try providing comfort and patience, like making sure they have access to familiar objects or giving them positive attention near their food bowl,” Rotman suggests.

But if the stress is more serious, it might not work itself out like this, and a vet visit might be in order to get your cat eating a healthy amount again. Rotman says to “keep a close eye on your cat’s behavior and eating habits.” If he’s very stressed, it’ll manifest in other ways besides just his eating habits. “It’s important to observe their behavior and environment in conjunction with their mealtime behavior,” he says. You know your cat best, so see if you spot any other behavioral changes that could signal that all is not well with your kitty. Behavioral changes big and small can also be signs it’s time to take your cat to the vet.

Cat not eating: Problems with food

The simplest answer to the question “Why is my cat not eating” is that there’s something off about her food! And this is what you should consider “if your cat is not eating but is otherwise acting normal,” Rotman says. If this is the case, it’s likely not a bigger health or behavioral problem but really is about your cat’s chow. “Check for expired food or the introduction of a new flavor they may not like,” Rotman suggests. And even if you didn’t change Kitty’s food lately, keep in mind that the cat food brand itself could’ve changed up its recipe. You wouldn’t eat food that had gone bad or a new taste you really didn’t like, so why would you expect your furry friend to? If you need to switch out your cat’s food, consider one of these best dry cat foods that vets swear by.

Cat not eating: More serious health problems

Of course, this is the possibility that you’re especially worried about if you notice your cat not eating. Your cat may not feel like eating because he’s sick. If this is the case, you’ll probably notice other behavioral changes besides just not eating, but if he’s shunning the food bowl, that’s a pretty telltale sign. As Rotman says, “Ceasing to eat, referred to as anorexia, can be a direct symptom of underlying disease or a side effect caused by pain or distress.” If the issue persists and/or you notice any other signs your “healthy” cat is sick, you could have a bigger problem on your paws.

As for the illness in particular, it could be any number of health conditions, some more serious than others. But Rotman says there are a couple of likely candidates. It could be as simple as a toothache or sore gums: “Dental or gum disease would make chewing on dry food quite painful.” But it could be a host of other issues, too. “Many types of health issues including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory disease, and viral infections could be the culprit of a reduced appetite,” Rotman says.

Cat not eating: What should you do?

If you’ve ruled out any issues with the food itself, and you’ve kept an eye on Kitty to see if it’s just a temporary stress reaction, it’s time to consult a vet. And since there are so many potential reasons for a cat not eating, it’s best to have an expert diagnose it.

“It’s important to bring your cat to the vet…not only to address potential health issues but also because it can be dangerous for cats to suddenly stop eating,” Rotman explains. While a cat not eating can be a sign of an underlying health issue, it’s also pretty darn unhealthy for your cat to not be eating, period; that in itself can grow into a bigger problem. For instance, Rotman warns, “Overweight cats who stop eating can develop liver disease that, if left untreated, can be fatal.” Just like any animal, cats need food! Follow your vet’s advice on how best to get your cat to start eating again. And make sure your cat is getting the best of the best by checking out the absolute best diet for cats, according to vets.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine.