Sick Kitty: What to Do When Pets Won’t Eat

Ever wonder why cats won’t eat, or why your dog snubs the bowl? All pets lose their appetite once in a while. It’s normal if pets won’t eat for a meal or two.

Some pets are just picky by nature, but healthy dogs and cats make up for a missed meal with the next serving. As long as the pet acts like he otherwise feels good, loss of appetite for one or two days isn’t cause for concern. Longer bouts of anorexia become serious, especially with senior kitties, like my Karma-Kat.
pets won't eat

My Cat Refuses To Eat!

Magical-Dawg and Seren-Kitty were never finicky eaters, and ate pretty much anything we offered. Bravo had more discriminating tastes, and Shadow-Pup also prefers people food to what’s in his bowl.

But Karma-Kat is a bit of a glutton, and will scrounge for more when the bowl is empty. Since his recent multiple trips to the vet for routine vaccinations and dealing with his aural hematoma, he’s lost his appetite.

It’s important to know your individual pet’s routine and preferences. You can use treats to strengthen your bond and make cats friendlier. Read about how dogs eat and how cats eat for a baseline behavior. That way, you know a change in behavior points to a problem.

pet won't eatWHY PETS WON’T EAT

Nearly any illness can cause a pet to refuse to eat, though. Life-threatening diseases such as distemper or kidney failure, parasites such as hookworms, a sore mouth from dental problems, or just the stress of a mother-in-law visiting the family, could prompt anorexia. High outdoor temperatures also can kill pet appetite. Shadow-Pup once ate a dryer sheet and vomited all day, and refused to eat. Annual vaccinations also can affect the appetite for a day or so.

Any sudden loss of appetite that lasts over two days needs medical attention—sooner, if the pet acts sick. Puppies and kittens have fewer fat and fluid reserves and can’t go without food longer than about 12 hours before needing medical help. Toy breed puppies are prone to potentially deadly drops in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) if they skip a meal. Signs of hypoglycemia are weakness, drunken-type gait, and sometimes seizures. Lift the pup’s lip and put Karo Syrup, honey or something similar on the gums, and once he’s conscious, feed him.

A horrible disease of cats, feline infectious peritonitis, can cause them to stop eating. Learn more about FIP here. Cats, especially pudgy kitties, can also become gravely ill with liver disease by skipping just one or two meals, so I’m extra careful about Karma since he’s packed on a bit of weight. For overweight cats, refusing to eat can start a chain reaction that moves fat cells into the cat’s liver. Hepatic lipidosis or “fatty liver disease” can kill the cat.

Many cats get recurring upper respiratory infections lose their appetite. For more information about cat colds and dog coughs, see this post.

Snubbing the Bowl Requires a Vet Diagnosis

If your pet stops eating, you’ll need a diagnosis from the veterinarian to figure out why. But often it’s perfectly legal to tempt his appetite with healthy people food for cats, or for dogs. Offer wholesome tidbits like a sliver of lean beef or chicken, or spike his kibble with no-salt meat broth. That will also help you decide if he’s just being finicky, or really has a problem that needs medical attention.

Cats suffering from upper respiratory infections often have stuffy noses. If they can’t smell their food, cats won’t eat. Use a humidifier in a small room to help open up the breathing passages or run a hot shower so the pet breathes steamy air in the bathroom for ten minutes a couple times a day. Warm water on a cotton ball gently cleans off the plugged nose to keep it unblocked.


Eating the WRONG food or gobbling too fast can upset pet tummies and cause anorexia.


Tempt your pet’s appetite with pungent-smelling foods. Many cats relish tuna juice from a can of water-packed tuna, while dogs often live for liverwurst. You can also offer meat-based baby food. That’s not only very palatable for most cats and dogs, but is easier to eat if the mouth is sore from respiratory infections or dental problems.

Studies have shown that 95 to 98 degrees is the most attractive food temperature, especially to cats. Warm the food and test it against your wrist–close to your own body temperature is the right range. Anorexic cats often will lick food off a spoon or your finger more readily than out of a bowl, so hand feeding helps get nutrition in him until you can see the veterinarian.

Leaving food out in front of a reluctant eater for long periods at a time overwhelms and “wears out” the appetite centers. That will kill any appetite the pet may have left. Instead, offer your reluctant eater a small amount of food, and when he’s had his fill or refuses to eat, take it away and try again an hour later.


This morning, I warmed up some wet food and Karma lapped up two tongue-swipes of the food. He also drank some water and eliminated normally. His ear still tips over, but the swelling hasn’t increased. He also started inviting Shadow-Pup to play, so it’s clear he’s on the mend.

It’s also clear I need to teach the boys to play more gently, and avoid biting/tugging on ears. Karma doesn’t act like he’s a senior citizen, and I want to keep it that way. Oh, I’m already supervising meal times, since both of ’em seem to prefer each other’s food. There’s another opportunity for upset tummies!

Do you have pets that steal each others’ food? How do you manage the marauding maniacs? Do tell!

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6 thoughts on “Sick Kitty: What to Do When Pets Won’t Eat

  1. I’m glad Karma Kat began eating again and I hope he continues to get better! Our retired vet recommended the meat based baby food. The kitties love it!

  2. It is so scary when a pet decides not to eat. I always think the worst, but every time except once, it was a passing thing. Warming up the food is a great idea! I hadn’t thought of that one. It makes sense that they would enjoy their food warm.

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