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

KarmaBlueChair Yesterday, Karma-Kat got sick. He snubbed the bowl. Yes, I’m worried, particularly since he’s usually such a little chow-hound.

All pets lose their appetite once in a while and may snub the bowl for a meal or two. Some pets are just picky by nature, but healthy dogs and cats tend to 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.

Magical-Dawg and Seren-Kitty have never been finicky eaters, and eat pretty much anything that’s offered. Karma-Kat is a bit of a glutton, and will scrounge for more when the bowl is empty.

But a few days ago, we received a PAW-some box full of dog treats to review (Magic is a very happy doggy!). As I set up some photo ops, Karma got into the act and beat the dog to the schnarf-op. Yesterday, he ate a bunch of Magic’s dog treats—he LOVES them!

But too many proved to rich for the boy’s tummy and later that day threw ‘em up. His tummy was so upset, he “whoopsed” twice more. I know he felt bad because he didn’t pester for food or attention, and just wanted to sleep. I’d been invited to attend a local theater production last night and worried the whole time I was there, and when I returned home, he’d been sick one more time. Oh no…


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.

Any sudden loss of appetite that lasts more than 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 particularly 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.

Cats, especially pudgy kitties, can also become gravely ill 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.

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. 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.


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, which encouraged me he was on the mend. I had a lunch meeting, and resolved to take his temp and get him to the vet if Karma hadn’t improved by the time I got home.

When I returned from my meeting, Karma seemed more alert, so I offered him a bit of plain non-flavored yogurt. Many cats like the flavor, and it’s soothing on ify tummies and helps re-balance “good” gut bacteria. He wasn’t particularly interested, though, and Seren for once stole HIS food instead of the opposite.

Karma followed me into the master bath (his purr-sonal space) and actually went to his bowl. So…I offered again a tiny amount of warm wet food and this time, he ate! Yee-haw! He kept it down and asked for more a couple hours later, and has started inviting Magical-Dawg to play, so it’s clear he’s on the mend.

It’s also clear I need to teach the boy to read, and avoid anything treats that say “dog” on the package. Until then, I’ll have to be much more vigilant going forward, to avoid any future pig-out problems.

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

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!


Sick Kitty: What to Do When #Pets Won’t Eat — 10 Comments

  1. Glad Karma is on the mend. Over the summer nine out of my ten cats have been sick while I myself have been recovering from pneumonia. It has been a little overwhelming to say the least. The vet tells me she has been seeing an unusually high number of kitties with upper respiratory infections.

    I’ve been doing as you suggested for the sick kitties but it is very upsetting for the others when they don’t get the perceived treat they deserve too. 🙂 I’ve had to harden my heart for the time being and just worry about the sick one I’m trying to tempt with food.

    The vet finally gave me a powder to put on food for everyone to try to keep them from getting re-infected. Right now I have one very sick kitty who is on antibiotics and cortisone and another I’m keeping an eye on. The one I’m keeping an eye on is the one who originally infected the others. I noticed her eye was watering last night. Yay. (That was very tired sarcasm btw).

    The thing that worries me most is they are getting up in years. So far (knocking on wood) the oldest kitty at thirteen hasn’t gotten sick but the eleven year old was hit pretty hard and is still recovering. The really sick one is nine and I could go on. I just pray they all get better soon. And stay that way.

    • Oh Angela, so sorry. It’s so hard to get ahead of URIs with multiple cats. Seren has been do healthy until last summer and now struggles with intermittent schneezles. Hope your kitties and YOU all soon recover fully.

  2. I separate Bentley and Pierre when they eat. Our Golden Retriever would always leave Bentley four or five kibbles. It was so sweet. Tucker was a wonderful friend and we still miss his loving ways. ♥ I hope your crew gets to feeling frisky.

    • Aww….Thanks so much for the kind thoughts. Karma is still a bit subdued but he just did his usual “toe chasing” under the covers so I think he’s nearly back to normal. 🙂

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  4. Sorry I’m running a little behind on my reading but I love this blog and always I learn something. So glad Karma is so much better. In cooler/cold weather I do heat my cats food. They eat much better when I do that. I’m like you – I worry myself into a frenzy if any of my cats are under the weather, especially my older ones. I do have a question though. My almost 10 year old 23 lb. Thomas sometimes eats and then immediately throws up. I’m not sure if he has a sensitive stomach, gluts his food down too fast or what. Sometimes he goes right back and eats again and it stays down. And then Termite wants to eat it – YUCK! I was hoping he would outgrow that but no such luck. SMH

    • Patricia, if he immediately “loses his lunch” it’s likely regurgitation from either bolting too much food at once, or sometimes if it’s cold they’ll regurgitate. You could slow him down by giving smaller amounts at a time. For dogs, we often recommend putting a ball in the bowl so they have to eat around it; that slows things down. And yes, he MIGHT just have a sensitive tummy. *s*

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