Is your cat asking for food but not eating? This behavior is one of the most worrying signs in cats and can send owners into a frenzy of panic! If your cat is asking for food, it must be hungry. So why are they refusing to eat whatever you put in their bowl?
I’ve been dealing with this issue recently with my furry friend. My cat is always begging for food whenever I am in the kitchen, only never to eat what I put down. So, I did a lot of research into the possible causes of this behavior and share them with you on this page!
Before you worry, your cat’s refusal to eat might be nothing to stress about. They might dislike the food you’re providing, or the food may have spoiled. However, their loss of appetite could be caused by dental conditions, depression, oral injuries, and other health issues. Keep reading to help you figure out which applies so you know how best to solve the problem.
Why is My Cat Asking for Food But Not Eating?
There are two main reasons for cats not to eat their food. Either (1) they don’t like the taste of their food or (2) there is an underlying medical condition or injury causing pain or discomfort when eating. Below are more specific examples and a close look at the possible causes.
1. Spoiled Food
If your cat is not eating much but acting normal, the cat food has likely passed its expiry date. Thankfully, this is easy to check; look at the box and see whether the best before date has passed. If so, throw the food away and buy a new bag. If you no longer have the original packet, smell the food and see if it has a nasty odor.
Foul smells coming from your cat’s food are a good indication it needs to be chucked. In fact, the smell is sometimes a better indicator to use as, in some cases, cat food will have spoiled despite still being well within its expiration date. Premature spoiling tends to happen when you don’t store cat food correctly and is more common in the hotter summer months.
The storage of wet cat food is particularly crucial. Unopened cans can be stored in a cool, dry place. Once a tin or packet has been opened, it can only last up to four hours at room temperature before the leftovers must be discarded. You can safely store opened wet cat food in the fridge, but it must be covered tightly and used within four or five days.
2. Dislike of Food
If your cat keeps asking for food but is not eating, it might not like the food you’re putting in its bowl. I recently switched to a cat food for urinary crystals and my kitty hated it! Cats are very fussy creatures and may dislike the flavor or texture of their food. Some cats prefer fish whereas others prefer poultry, and some prefer wet cat food while others like kibble.
Food is very personal, so there is no right or wrong cat food to choose. To discover their preferences, you must pay attention to their likes and dislikes. If your cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats, it likely prefers the flavor of these treats over their food. A little analysis can get you a long way!
In some cases, cats refuse to eat all commercial cat food, and you might want to revert to human food. Anyone that does this needs a good knowledge of foods cats can and can’t eat. You also need a decent understanding of cat nutrition to ensure your furry friend gets a balanced diet, so speak to your vet before making any drastic changes.
3. Dental Diseases
Dental diseases are common in cats, especially older felines. Their teeth naturally decay throughout life as plaque and tartar accumulate on their surface. If you notice your older cat not eating but drinking, dental diseases are a likely culprit!
There are several types of tooth and gum disease, the main three being gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption. Each makes the mouth extremely sensitive and thus makes eating painful. Your cat is begging for food because it is hungry, but when it comes to eating, it causes too much discomfort. As a result, your hungry kitty refuses to eat.
Gingivitis is the mildest type of dental disease, and refusal to eat is one of the earliest signs. When untreated, this develops into periodontitis and tooth resorption. As the disease progresses, you might notice inflamed gums, bleeding from the mouth, and eventually tooth loss.
As soon as you see the signs, you should call your vet. It is a progressive disease, so catching the plaque build-up and eliminating it early on can prevent the condition from worsening. While your cat refuses to eat, switching to a wet diet might be beneficial. Wet food is a lot softer than dry food and gentler on your kitty’s sensitive teeth and gums.
4. Food Allergies
Most cats are fussy eaters that show some preferences regarding mealtimes. However, sometimes cats aren’t just being picky – they’re actually allergic to their food. Food allergies are more common than owners realize, with protein the most likely culprit.
You’ll likely see your cat throwing up after eating and other signs of digestive upset if they’re allergic to something in their food. It is this digestive discomfort that is deterring them from eating their dinner. They still want food and are begging for something different on their plate! But as long as you provide foods they’re allergic to, they’ll keep refusing to eat.
It is important to note that allergies can develop at any stage of your cat’s life. Your cat might happily eat the same food for years only to develop an intolerance later in life. Brands also frequently upgrade and improve their recipes, and a minor change could trigger an allergic response in your feline.
5. Feline Depression
Feline depression is sadly relatively common in cats. Our furry friends are creatures of habit and quickly become stressed by changes in their environment or routine. When these are substantial changes, they can badly impact your cat’s mental health.
One common cause of cat depression is the loss of a loved one, such as a human or pet they’re bonded closely with. Cat depression after a new kitten is also likely as your old cat feels like losing its space and attention from you. Injury or illness that causes intense pain or is debilitating can also dampen your cat’s mood and cause them to feel low permanently.
When depressed, you’ll often see your cat sleeping all day and not eating. However, many cats still run after their owners in a begging-like fashion. They’re not actually asking for food but rather love and support. Other cats become quiet and withdraw from all social interaction – it all depends on your kitty and their coping mechanisms.
I recommend speaking to your vet if you think your kitty could be depressed. They’ll work with you to find the cause and an actionable solution. This might involve something minor like using pheromone products or pharmaceutical intervention like daily administration of anti-anxiety drugs.
6. Injury and Oral Trauma
Cats may refuse to eat if they sustain injury to the mouth or digestive tract. Like dental diseases, the action of eating with an injury causes pain. However, this doesn’t stop your cat from feeling hungry! They’ll beg for food but struggle to swallow even a mouthful when it comes to eating.
Trauma ranges from mild to severe. At the milder end are injuries such as a splinter from a bone lodged in the gums. Comparatively, broken jaws or obstructions further down the gastrointestinal tract are more severe issues that cause more intense discomfort.
Aside from refusing to eat, there are other traumatized cat symptoms to look out for. This includes visible signs such as swelling, bleeding, and redness at the injury site. Your cat injured cat will show behavioral changes, too, including yowling or becoming more withdrawn. Call your vet to assess your cat so you can get any trauma corrected.
7. Begging for Attention
When a cat is asking for food but not eating, it could be a sign they’re not asking for food – they just want some attention. Many cats annoy their owners when they are bored and know that meowing and begging will get you to give them some love. Our cats are master manipulators!
If your cat is begging for food out of boredom, they should still be eating their main meals of the day. When cats eat nothing and show no interest in food, we know something is wrong. Cats will starve themselves in some situations, and it only takes a cat not eating or drinking for 3 days for the situation to become life-threatening.
But assuming your cat is eating its regular meals and just not eating the extra food it asks for, boredom is a likely cause. Make sure you spend quality time with your cat every day. Their environment also needs to be enriching, with plenty of toys, scratching posts, and cat trees. This is especially true for indoor cats who don’t have the outside world to explore.
What To Do When My Cat is Asking for Food But Not Eating?
If your cat is asking for food but not eating, your first step is to determine whether or not they’re actually hungry. A cat that meows and follows you around the kitchen isn’t necessarily hungry – they might just want your attention. A good way to tell is by asking yourself the below questions:
- Is your cat pawing at its food bowl or cupboard the food is stored?
- Does your cat stop meowing after it’s been fed?
- Does your kitty attempt to eat the food you put down instead of refusing immediately?
If you answered “Yes” to these questions, your cat is probably truly hungry. So, why is your furry friend refusing to eat? Well, any of the above situations could apply! You need to remain calm and take your cat to the vet. They’ll be able to run an analysis and figure out whether there is an underlying condition responsible, providing treatment when necessary.
You can also change your cat’s diet to see if this helps encourage them to eat.
Below are some of my favorite tips and tricks to use at home:
- Offer Different Foods: If your cat isn’t eating the food you’re putting down for them, try changing to different food. Always opt for high quality as your cat deserves the best! Your vet might recommend a specific type of food at your appointment or prescribe hunger stimulants you can add to their regular diet.
- Change to Wet Food: If your cat has sustained an oral injury or is suffering from dental disease, you need to feed your kitty wet food. This is gentler on their sore mouths and can encourage them to regain their appetite. Remember to choose high-quality foods.
- Improve Their Home Environment: As cats can beg for food to get attention, you should try and make their home environment as stimulating as possible. Provide plenty of exciting toys, cat trees, and scratching posts. A more stimulating home environment can also help to ease mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
It can seem paradoxical when your cat asks for food but does not eat. Yet as you’ve learned, there is some logic behind this behavior. Cats that refuse to eat (but still feel hungry) usually dislike the taste of their food or suffer from a medical condition that’s making them reluctant to eat.
Take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice their appetite decreasing. Your vet can run tests and determine what is wrong with your furry friend. Once diagnosed, your veterinarian can begin to address the problem. This might involve cleaning or removing some of the teeth or could be corrected by changing your cat’s diet.
Either way, your vet knows best! Follow their advice, and your cat’s appetite should return in no time.