Cat Lost Appetite: 5 Reasons Why Your Furry Friend Won't Eat

A cat who's lost their appetite sat next to a food bowl

Key takeaways

Cats can be fussy eaters, or they eat anything in sight. It depends on your kitty's personality. However, when they stop eating completely, we can start to panic.

To get them the care they need and know what to do next, you should try to identify what is causing the loss of appetite.

In this guide, we're exploring the top 5 reasons why your cat won't eat before sharing our expert tips on how to encourage your cat to eat again.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. 5 Reasons why your cat might stop eating
  3. How to get your cat to start eating
  4. Caring for your cat when they're sick
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

5 Reasons why your cat might stop eating

It's an owner's worst nightmare when their kitty refuses food. As we know, our cats are usually hungry for the next snack or meal, so when they don't exhibit this behavior, we can begin to worry. Not eating is usually a sign of another issue, so it's important to observe your furry friend's eating habits.

1. Dental issues

If your cat stops eating, it could be because they are experiencing pain or discomfort in their teeth when they try to chew. It's essential you take great care of your cat's teeth otherwise certain diseases or issues will begin to arise.
To see whether it's your cat's teeth causing a problem, try the following steps:

Mash up wet cat food instead of crunchy dry food and see if they're more interested in eating

Look at their teeth and see how clean or dirty they are

If they eat, observe whether they struggle to chew or drop bits of food as they eat

Pet parents should clean their cat's teeth at least once a week. However, realistically, this happens a lot less frequently. But don't panic. Your vet will be able to clean your cat's teeth properly and take care of any dental issues they are suffering from. It's important to get them checked quickly because dental disease, gum disease, and other health issues can develop from their teeth going untreated.
a cat sat next to lots of food bowls but not eating

2. Pain

Pain in other parts of the body can also decrease a cat's appetite. When cats can tell they are injured or sick, they will isolate themselves. This is an instinctual cue to be alone, which often leads to their usual routines and habits being disrupted.
Common indications that your cat may be in pain include:

Excessive licking: In an attempt to soothe their pain, cats will repeatedly lick or bite the area that's causing them discomfort. This is an obvious sign of distress and one you should take note of.

Sleeping more or less: Lethargy, moving slowly, and sleeping more can all indicate a cat suffering from pain. However, restlessness and inability to sleep can also indicate discomfort.

Vocalizing more: Meowing, yowling, hissing, and even purring can show your cat is in pain. Purring is how cats self-soothe and heal, so even though you may associate it with happiness and calmness, it can also show that your cat is suffering.

Limping: This is a more obvious signal that something isn't right. Alongside limping, your cat may not be able to run as quickly and may struggle to jump up or clean themselves in a certain way.

Expert Insight: It may take a lot of observation and patience to understand where your cat's pain is coming from. But at the first signs of discomfort, you should take them for a check up to get them the care they need.
A cat in pain sleeping

3. Stress

Ongoing stress and fear can cause your cat to go into fight-or-flight mode or 'survival mode.' This will lead to them:


Running away

Isolating themselves

Not eating or drinking

Not only can stress reduce your cat's appetite, but it can also cause other health issues, like urinary tract infections. This is why it's essential you identify what's causing their distress. Common reasons include:

New visitors: Cats are very territorial animals and having a safe space they can relax and feel confident in is extremely important. When new people come into their environment, they may struggle to feel safe, leading to high levels of stress.

New pets: Similarly to visitors, other animals in their space threaten their territory and safety. If you are introducing new pets into their environment, it's essential you do it gradually with boundaries to respect your cat's home.

Loud noises: A stressful environment is often a loud one. That can be loud music, construction work, or lots of people. This can frighten your cat and lead to ongoing stress when they can't relax.

Neglect: When a cat is neglected, their fight-or-flight instinct will be triggered, leading to stress. This could include lack of attention, being left alone for long periods of time, not being fed enough, not having access to clean water.

A stressed out cat hiding

4. Health issues

Underlying disease and health issues can also contribute to a cat's loss of appetite. In fact, changes in your cat's diet and eating habits can be the first sign of a health problem and one you should take seriously. Issues that will cause a reduced appetite include:

Kidney disease

Respiratory diseases

Gastrointestinal disease


These can impact your cat's gastrointestinal tract, ultimately resulting in a loss of appetite. However, they can also lead to a lot more serious problems and, if not treated appropriately and quickly, death.

Changes in your cat's diet and eating habits can be the first sign of a health problem and one you should take seriously.

A cat being checked over by the vet

5. Dirty food bowl

Cats are surprisingly hygienic animals. If their food bowl is not cleaned regularly, they will be reluctant to eat from it. As part of your regular cleaning, ensure you fully wash out the bowl and any leftover food.
Similarly, cats are likely to stop eating if their food is old or has been left out. Similarly to human food, cat food can spoil if left out and can be dangerous to your kitties. Make sure your cat only has access to fresh food so they have positive associations with their eating place.
a cat sat by a food bowl not eating

How to get your cat to start eating

Your first step as a responsible pet parent is to take them to the vet to get to the bottom of their loss of appetite. A cat not eating is an unhappy cat, and that's the last thing we want! After your vet visit, you can try the following steps to get your kitty eating:

Try a mix of wet food and dry food: Changing up your cat's diet can be effective if they've stopped eating. Trying new food, like different brands, flavors, and textures may encourage your cat to take a bite. My fussy little furry friend needed a change in food every few weeks to keep her interested!

Try little treats and snacks: Rather than expecting your kitty to eat a full bowl of cat food, start small. Even tiny mouthfuls and snacks will help energize your cat and get their nutrients back up. Cat treats, like Dreamies or liquid treats out of a tube, can help gradually reintroduce eating.

Try human food: If you have a particularly spoilt cat, they may be holding out for some tasty human food. And this is no bad thing! Roast chicken and boiled rice helped nurse my kitty back to health after a long period of illness, so see what may take their fancy.

Try a liquid diet: Blended up food and liquid treats can help get your cat the vitamins and nutrients they need without them having to chew. This can be particularly effective if your furry friend is suffering with painful teeth.

A cat surrounded by different food options to try and encourage them to eat

Caring for your cat when they're sick

It's devastating to see your beloved feline friend unhappy. It can also be frustrating when you don't know how to help. The key is patience and love. Keep trying different foods and keep giving them plenty of love and cuddles. They'll need some extra affection to keep their spirits up, so why not spoil them a little?
It's best not to let your cat outside when they are in a more vulnerable state. They may become disoriented and confused, which can lead to them getting lost and unable to find their way home. They may also not be able to defend themselves against other animals and territory fights with other cats.
Also, try not to leave them alone for long periods of time. You should observe them carefully, and if you're not there for a few hours, you may miss important signals and cues for their health.
A cat owner cuddling their cat


What causes loss of appetite in cats?

Many things can cause a loss of appetite in cats, like dental problems, pain, stress, and health problems.

When should I worry about my cat not eating?

If your cat hasn't eaten for over 24 hours, you should get them checked up at the vet. Longer than 24 hours without food can start to harm your kitty and cause damage.

How can I get my cat's appetite back?

To encourage your cat's appetite to return, try purchasing different food and treats. You can also try switching to only wet food or only dry food. Sometimes, some human food as a treat, like roast chicken, can also be enough to get them to eat.

Do cats go through phases of not eating?

Cats, like humans, will often go through phases where their appetite will diminish or increase. This is normal as they grow and the seasons change. However, if they aren't eating at all, you should take them to the vet for a check-up.

Do cats lose their appetite as they get older?

As cats age, many will start eating less and less. They may lose interest in some of their favorite food and treats, but if they stop eating completely, ask a vet for advice.

What happens if a cat doesn't eat for 3 days?

If a cat doesn't eat for three days, they can become very weak, lose a lot of weight, and develop health issues. It's essential you take them to the vet so they can get the care they need.

Final thoughts

It's always important to act quickly in these situations. Providing alternative food is a good first step, but if you can't encourage your cat to eat, you should take them straight to the vet.
A professional will be able to give them the nutrients they need and identify what is causing the loss of appetite. Remember, your cat may not be feeling their best, so some extra cuddles and love are essential!

Written by

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Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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