As cat parents, we never really know what cat we’re going to experience from day to day. Cats do their own thing, and it can be hard to keep up while they’re gallivanting around the house or sleeping in the cupboard.
However, we do know our cats, and we understand when something is off. Any cat not eating is one of the most obvious signs something isn’t quite right. While cats may act normally, they sometimes have an interesting habit of, you know, just deciding they don’t want to eat.
There are many reasons why cats may choose not to eat. If your cat is acting normal but still isn’t eating much, our best answer is that your cat is stressed. However, there could be other reasons for their lack of appetite as well. This includes something as simple as them not liking their food or something more serious like kidney disease.
In this article, I run through all the reasons why your cat is not eating but acting normal. Plus, you’ll find some suggestions on how you can increase their appetite. A healthy appetite is key to having a healthy, happy cat!
Basic Causes for Cats Not Eating (But Acting Normal)
It is easy to panic if you notice your cat isn’t eating.
However, if your cat is not eating but acting normal, you usually don’t have much to worry about. Indeed, many of the basic causes for cats not eating are thankfully not severe. They’re usually down to cats being fussy with their food or feeling temporarily sick:
- The type of cat food
- They’re getting old
- They’re suffering from motion sickness
- They are feeling stressed
In this section, I look at all of these basic reasons for a cat not eating but acting normal in more detail.
1. The Type of Cat Food
The obvious reason your cat is not eating but acting normal is likely due to the type of food it’s eating. Cats are notoriously finicky about their mealtimes. If they don’t like what is in front of them, they might point blank refuse to eat it. Has your cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats? This is another sign they’re just being picky – they can and will eat, but only what they want!
The preference your cat has for its food will be unique. My cat loves wet food but will also happily eat a bowl of kibble. As far as cats go, she’s pretty chilled about her dinner. However, some cats will only eat dry food or wet food. Others only like a specific brand or a certain flavor.
If you have recently changed your cat’s diet, it’s highly likely they don’t like the new food you’ve bought them. I suggest going back to the old cat food you used and gradually switching to the new food, little by little. This makes it more likely that your cat will accept their new food. You might have to revert to your old cat food if they don’t or try another brand.
If you have not recently changed your cat food, this reason is unlikely. However, it is still worthwhile seeing if the brand has changed its recipe. If they have, even this could be enough to make your cat turn its nose up. You might then have to search for new cat food that your cat will eat.
2. They’re Getting Old
Do you have a senior cat? Older felines tend to be less interested in food than younger felines. This is because as cats age, their senses start to dull. This happens to all senses, which explains why you might see older cats acting more disoriented. However, it also affects their sense of taste and smell.
If your cat cannot smell and taste, they simply won’t get as much enjoyment from eating. Think about it, would you enjoy eating a delicious cupcake as much if you couldn’t smell and taste it as you used to? Probably not! It’s likely your older cat feels the same and is just disinterested in their food.
Please note that medical conditions are much more common in senior cats, so watch for other signs of illness. If there are no other symptoms and you see your older cat not eating but drinking, it’s likely just old age. But if there are any other indications something is wrong you should take them to the vet.
You also want to encourage your elderly cat to eat a healthy amount. You can do this by making the food more enticing. For example, heating wet cat food slightly will make it give off a stronger smell. For older cats that are losing their ability to smell, this can make a big difference in their desire to eat.
3. Motion Sickness
I used to suffer from awful motion sickness when I was a child. Every time we went on a long car journey, I would always end up feeling sick the majority of the way. But did you know motion sickness isn’t solely a human feeling? Cats can also suffer from motion sickness when they travel.
Now, cats hate traveling at the best of times, so throw feeling sick in the way and it can really shake them up. They feel sick and stressed at once! This is bound to make anyone and anything lose their appetite. So if you have recently been on a car journey with your cat and have noticed they’ve stopped eating, this is probably why.
In this case, their eating habits should return to normal after they’re recovered from the journey. If you have moved to a new place, it might take them longer to adjust and get their appetite back. Be patient, and if it hasn’t returned in a few days then speak to your vet.
4. Stress or Anxiety
I just said travel can make cats get stressed. However, this is far from the only thing that can make our furry friends feel anxious and worried. Just like humans, cats can become stressed and anxious for a variety of reasons. Some examples include:
- Loud noises such as nearby construction or fireworks
- Moving to a new home
- Letting strangers or new animals in your house
- Other cats in the neighborhood infringing on their territory
- Changes to their routine
- Using a different cat food or litter box
Cats can also react to the emotional states of their humans. If you’re stressed and anxious, and your tone of voice changes, your cat will usually react to you.
If your cat is stressed, it is common to see your cat not eating but acting normal. Their psychological state is manifesting as a physical sensation of sickness. Other signs of stress you might see are increased hiding behavior, increased lethargy, and tense body language. They might also unlearn learned behaviors, such as using their litter tray.
If you think your cat is stressed, you should help calm them down. Mostly, this involves letting your cat have the space it needs to react and get used to the stressor. For example, if they are stressed because of loud noise, they’ll calm down once the noise has subsided. Similarly, if you have moved home, cats will just need a little time to get used to their new environment. Make sure they have an escape route and plenty of places to hide.
Once your cat has overcome the stress they’re feeling, its appetite should return. However, if it doesn’t, or if you are concerned about long-term stress, speak to your vet.
5. Your Cat is Depressed
Stress is not the only mental state that could cause your cat to not eat; depression is another reason your cat may not be eating. Just as depression can cause humans to become disinterested in food, the same is true for cats.
However, if this is the reason your cat isn’t eating you will usually be able to pick up on some other behavior changes, including:
- Becoming more clingy and affectionate to their owner
- More reactive in situations that cause aggression and fear
- Sleeping a lot more than usual
- Cats stop self-grooming when they feel depressed
- Scratching excessively and other destructive behaviors
- Spraying or changes in bathroom habits
It is difficult to know what the trigger of depression is in our furry friends. Cats that are overly stressed for some time might become depressed. Perhaps you haven’t been around that much, so your cat is bored and sad, which can cause depression and a lack of appetite as well.
My best advice is to try to turn your home into a cat’s paradise. Get your cat a large cat tree for them to scratch and climb. Make sure they have places to hide for when they do need some time out. Stick to a consistent feeding schedule. And make sure you take time out of each day to play with your cat. If you’re really busy, purchasing automatic cat toys can give your cat something to do even while you’re out of the house.
6. Recent Vaccinations
If your cat’s loss of appetite began shortly after your last trip to the vet for some vaccinations, it is likely those vaccinations are the cause for this change. For some vaccines, cats might react adversely, and this can cause them not to eat and lose their appetite.
Usually, this issue will resolve itself after the side effects subside. However, if you notice this or any other vaccine side effects that do not subside you need to speak to your vet. They’ll be able to check everything is okay with your pet.
Major Reasons for Cats Not Eating
If your cat is not eating but acting normal, one of the basic issues discussed above probably applies. However, a loss of appetite is also a symptom of many medical conditions. Cats that are sick will typically show other symptoms so won’t be acting “normal”. Still, it is a good idea to cover them so you know what other symptoms to keep an eye out for.
As a loss of appetite is a symptom of so many illnesses, it is impossible to list them all here. So, I have stuck with the most common medical conditions that felines face.
1. Dental Issues
The first illnesses that are linked with a loss of appetite are dental issues. Cats with some kind of dental condition will be suffering from some kind of discomfort in their mouth. This can make eating painful, especially if you feed your cat dry food. Biting and chewing the pieces can be uncomfortable, so your cat decides it is better to not eat instead.
There are a few different dental issues cats can develop. The most common and most mild is gingivitis. This is where the gums around the teeth become inflamed. Cats need regular dental care, and in fact, it’s recommended that you brush your cat’s teeth at least a couple of times a week to prevent dental diseases this disease from arising.
Another serious dental issue is periodontitis, which occurs if your cat’s gingivitis isn’t fixed with cleanings. The inflammation worsens as the disease progresses, damaging the teeth, tissues, and ligaments. While gingivitis is mildly painful, periodontitis can be extremely painful.
You should easily be able to tell if your cat is suffering from these diseases thanks to the other symptoms they present. Alongside a loss of appetite and difficulty eating, watch out for:
- Discoloration of the teeth or visible plaque
- Drooling from their mouth
- Pawing at the teeth or mouth
- Teeth that or wobbly or signs of missing teeth
- Red, swollen, and bleeding gums
Take your cat to the vet and let them know all the symptoms you have seen. They’ll be able to clean your cat’s teeth the prevent the disease from progressing and help ease the pain.
2. Gastrointestinal Problems
Your cat might not be eating due to issues somewhere down the length of their gastrointestinal tract. It can cause your cat pain and discomfort as they digest food. To avoid this pain, many cats will simply stop eating. Several gastrointestinal problems could be responsible, including:
- Intestinal parasitic infections
- Inflammation of the large intestine, known as colitis
- Inflammation of the stomach, known as gastritis
- Cancers of the digestive system
- Constipation from an underlying condition
- Gastrointestinal obstruction
- Ulcers on the stomach or intestinal lining
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Alongside a loss of appetite, cats that are suffering from GI issues will show other digestive symptoms as well. Examples include bouts of sickness and/or diarrhea. Weight loss is also common, especially in older cats. Is your cat suddenly lethargic and weak? This could be another sign of a gastrointestinal problem. Take your cat to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
3. Kidney Disease
Kidneys carry out several important functions in our bodies, including removing waste from the blood, regulating the levels of electrolytes, and producing urine. When they fail to carry out their function effectively, all of these processes are disrupted. However, kidney disease often goes unnoticed for months or years before the chronic failure is apparent. Indeed, kidney disease is also known as the silent killer in cats for this very reason.
One of the earliest signs of kidney disease is that your cat will not be eating. And kidney disease predominantly exists in older cats. Therefore, loss of appetite is often dismissed as a normal change related to aging. This explains why kidney disease can be such an issue.
As the disease progresses, cats will start to urinate more frequently to try and remove the waste from the body. You will notice that your cat’s thirst increases to compensate. Waste products in the blood will gradually start to increase. It is only at this point that most cases of kidney disease are diagnosed.
If you think your cat could indeed have kidney disease, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Where the kidneys are severely damaged, their recovery is limited. As such, early diagnosis and effective treatment are crucial.
What Should You Do to Get Your Cat to Eat
Regardless of the reason behind your cat’s loss of appetite, you need to get your cat eating again. One or two days without food is okay, but a cat not eating or drinking for 3 days is life-threatening. At this point, they need prompt medical care to get nutrients back into their body.
Thankfully, there are many ways you can get your cat to eat so that it doesn’t get to this point. Below I share my top tips. These have encouraged my cat to eat time and time again! Before you implement any of these though, I would recommend taking your cat to the vet. A cat not eating but acting normal will usually be healthy, but it is better to get a professional opinion to be sure.
1. New Food
Getting your cat to eat might be a simple change in food.
As mentioned earlier, cats are fussy eaters. If they don’t like the food, you need to change it to one that they do like to encourage them to eat.
Many cats prefer wet food as it is more aromatic and smells tastier, so this can be a super easy fix. This can also help aging cats that can’t smell as well as they used to. In addition, if your cat has any dental issues, changing their food from dry to wet might be an easy fix along with getting their teeth cleaned. If you are switching cat food, be sure to do so gradually so it doesn’t cause any stress.
Rotating different flavors of canned food and different brands can also keep your cat interested because there is something new. Canned tuna or canned chicken might also be a good solution as they tend to be smelly and pique cats’ interests. Food additives like raw meat may also be a good idea to make your cat’s food more interesting. However, feed your cat things like this in moderation as it won’t have all the nutrients they need.
If you think the change is temporary, you may be able to add some chicken or other bone broth to their dry food to soften it. Adding cheese to their food might be another solution. Play around and see what works for you and your furry friend.
2. Reduce Anxiety
Another way you can help your cat eat more is to reduce any stress and anxiety they might be feeling. If your cat is happy, it’ll be much more likely to have a healthy appetite. Here are a few suggestions of how you can do this:
- If your cat is picking up on your anxiety, try to do some cat yoga. This can calm you down, and it will help you connect with your kitty in a positive way.
- If your cat is reacting to other environmental issues that make them stressed, it might be a good idea to remove the stressor. For example, separate them from a new pet for a few days. Once they return to normal, you can consider adding the new animal slowly into their environment. Doing this slowly is the best process.
- When necessary, you may consider using stress medication like CBD oil or relaxers to help your cat feel more comfortable during any transitions. Catnip might also be a good outlet for your kitty’s anxiety.
- You can also help your cat feel less stressed by making sure your home has everything they need to be happy. Make sure they have a scratching post, cat tree, and plenty of toys to keep them entertained and stimulated.
You may have to work with your vet if your cat still is not eating after a few days.
Veterinarians can prescribe your cat an appetite stimulant that can control nausea as well help your cat regain its appetite. This type of stimulant can be put on your cat’s skin and is safe and effective in helping your cat want to eat.
Normal/Healthy Cat Signs
Loss of appetite is not a good sign in cats. So, how can we tell if our cat is happy and healthy? Below are all the signs of a healthy cat.
Lots of Energy
From kittens to senior cats, healthy cats are typically very playful creatures with a lot of energy. Kittens, especially, will have a surplus of energy especially at their most active hours, which are dusk and dawn. Some cats may also be very active throughout the night.
Cats should also have plenty of energy when they are playing. The play sessions could last for 20 to 30 minutes without your kitty getting tired.
Once cats have burned off all of their energy by playing or running through the house or exploring, they will sleep!
Because cats are crepuscular, they will primarily sleep during the daytime hours when they can bask in the random patches of sunlight coming through the windows.
Healthy cats will find warm, comfortable places to nap which may be cuddling up their favorite human’s lap or in the towel cupboard.
While it’s normal for cats to sleep, be aware of how often and how long they nap.
If they sleep for hours on end without getting up to get water, stretch, or look outside, they are probably sleeping too much. Normal cats will sleep for a couple of hours, but then they’ll be up to their regular antics.
Meowing and Purring
Cats that are healthy tend to be very vocal.
Though cats use body language, facial expressions, and touch to communicate with other cats, they may also use their meows to communicate with humans. Cats that are happy will have a wide variety of meows that tell us what we need to know.
- Offering up a couple of short meows is a sign of greeting, which is normal for cats to do when they see their humans. More meows that are slightly longer tell us that cats are excited and very happy to see you. Probably it’s close to dinner or snack time.
- A slightly higher pitched meow will tell us that cats are ready for their food. Extended meows can tell humans that cats want something like being let outside.
- Low pitched meows and wailing, high-pitched meows can be signs of distress. For the low pitched meow, cats might be complaining about something or other. Maybe you’re taking too long to open the door, their litter box might not be clean, or they might be done waiting for you to get them their food.
- A loud, high pitched meow that hurts our ears is usually a sign of pain or fear. Pain might be from something like getting their tail stepped on or just a general sign of distress.
Cats that are healthy will also purr… a lot!
Happy and healthy kitties will purr when they are feeling comfortable and loved. Their purring might be accompanied by getting back or ear scratches or they might just purr while cuddling in your lap.
Distressed or unhealthy cats or cats that aren’t feeling well might still purr, but they may not purr as much, as strongly, or at all.
Good Tail Language
Cats that are feeling like their normal selves will hold their tails high and confidently. This high tail also shows that your cat is comfortable and happy in their environment.
It may also signal that they are feeling friendly and might be open to some friendly pats. When cats are especially content, the tips of their tails will twitch as they prance through the house.
When your cat’s tail is high but curved, they might be sharing that they are bored and are in some serious need of play time. This is a good indicator of health, too, because cats who are healthy have the energy and desire to play with their humans or their fur siblings.
Cats with low tails that are tucked away, puffed up, or whipping back and forth, may be under some sort of distress of pain. If your cat constantly has their tail in one of these positions, it’s likely that they’re not feeling well and not acting normally.
Cats that are healthy have a very specific appearance even though their hair length and color might differ.
Healthy cat coats will be silky, shiny, and smooth.
Healthy coats are maintained by a cat’s regular cleaning schedule, so they will care enough to keep up appearances. Proper diet and nutrition also will contribute to their coat’s texture and appearance.
A healthy cat will have bright, clear eyes that are observant, and they dilate, or widen, normally based on light exposure and mood.
Dilation of eyes can also tell us whether a cat is happy or even angry. Cats with wider, dilated eyes that stare at you are showing affection, which is a good sign that they are happy and healthy. Narrowed eyes might show they are gearing up for a playful attack.
Like their eyes, cats that are healthy will have ears that are aware of surroundings, so they will be facing forward to show your cat is paying attention to what’s going on around them.
If cat ears are folded back close to their heads, this might be a sign that they are uncomfortable, scared, or even angry, which means forward-facing ears are a sign of happiness as well.
Body Weight and Composition
Going along with appearance, cats should have the appropriate body weight for their age.
This will depend on what breed they are. Huge Maine Coons will of course weigh a lot more than tiny Munchkin cats. Below is just a general guide of what is considered a healthy weight for most average, healthy cats:
- Kittens: For most domestic breeds, kittens from 4 weeks old to 3 months old should weigh between 1 to 4 pounds.
- Young Cats: By a year old, cats should weigh around 8 pounds.
- Adult Cats: For adult cats between 2 to 7 years old, they should weigh about 14 pounds.
- Senior Cats: Senior cats, who naturally will be less active, will be heavier. From 8 years old to the higher age range, cats can be anywhere from 17 pounds to 21 pounds.
Given that the ideal cat weight can be so specific and hard to gauge, you can see if your cat is at a healthy weight by looking at its body composition or shape. Cats with visible ribs and spinal bones with no visible fat are considered too thin, which means they aren’t as healthy and happy as they could be.
Felines that have a rounded shape with a lot of fat deposits on their abdomen, lower back, and limbs are considered overweight. Some cats, especially ones that have trouble moving or may drag their bellies on the ground, are obese.
Oftentimes, cats will become obese or overweight because they are fed too many treats, or they don’t get enough exercise. They also will not act as happy as other cats because they’re prone to frustration and mood swings.
The ideal cat shape will be somewhere in the middle between too fat and too thin. These cats will be well proportioned, with a visible waist behind their ribs. These cats may have a little excess fat on their tummies, but it won’t be enough to hinder their movement.
Cats need the proper foods and nutrition to be happy and healthy.
Cats are natural carnivores, so they need plenty of high quality protein with some fats and carbs mixed in (just like us humans).
There are many different types of cat foods on the market, including dry foods, semi-moist foods, and canned foods. Some cat owners even choose to give their cat a varied diet of raw and homemade foods. Cat parents may choose one of those types or a mixture, but regardless of the food you choose for your kitty, they should have a healthy appetite.
For cats that weigh around 5 pounds, they should have a quarter to a third cup of dry food per day. For cats of around 10 pounds, they should be getting nearly a half cup of food. For larger cats, they can have up to three-quarters of a cup of dry food.
Keep in mind that wet foods, semi-moist foods, and raw/homemade foods may have different feeding ratios based on weight. It’s very important to read the food labels to make sure you’re not underfeeding or overfeeding your cat based on the food you give them.
Like choosing food types, pet parents might have a specific style on how they feed their cats. There are three major methods, which are as follows:
- Free Choice: First, you can give your cat free choice. This means they will be able to eat whenever they want and be given a set amount of food. Whether they eat this immediately or spread it throughout the day is entirely down to them.
- Time Limit: You might also limit the time in which your cat has to eat. This is good for cats that are picky because they’ll learn they only have a small window to eat, or they’ll have to wait. This is also a must if you are feeding your cat wet food as this cannot be left out for an extended period or it will spoil.
- Set Meals: Then there is the traditional way of feeding your cat by giving them meals at specific times of the day. This is how I feed my cat. I split the recommended amount of food she needs into four portions and feed her these at regular intervals.
If you choose this method, cats should be given food at proper intervals to match their natural feeding patterns. Typically, since cats will hunt during dawn and dusk, you should give your cat one meal in the morning and one in the late afternoon or evening.
While the weight and body composition helps us figure out proper feeding amounts, it also takes some trial and error. If your cat doesn’t eat all of the food you’ve provided, it might be too much food. If your cat begs for more, you should consider giving your kitty a little bit more.
Bear in mind if your cat is prone to meowing and begging, then you should give extra food with caution. If their body starts to fill out, then stop giving them extra food.
Unhealthy Cat Signs
Now that we know what it takes to have a happy and healthy cat, we should look at some signs that cats are unhealthy. Cats may have some days where they’re not feeling very well, either because they ate something they shouldn’t and have indigestion, or they might have a cold.
However, there are some serious symptoms of issues we should look out for, especially if they last for long periods. Moreover, any sudden change in your cat is usually a sign that something isn’t right. Below I talk about some specific examples. Keep an eye out for any of these and take your cat to the vet if you think something could be wrong:
- Appetite Changes: Changes in your cat’s appetite or water consumption may not be cause for alarm on their own, but if they continue for an extended period, it can be problematic. If your cat eats less, more, or nothing at all for more than a couple of days, and that change of appetite is paired with another sign, then it’s time to seek veterinary assistance.
- Behavioral Changes: Felines that have sudden changes in behavior like outbursts of aggression or are being lethargic could be experiencing reactions to changes in their environment or social structure.
- Vomiting and/or Diarrhea: Frequent vomiting and digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea or changes in urination may also be tell-tale poor health signs.
- Symptoms of Cold: If your cat has a cold, make sure their symptoms don’t worsen to include persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, or wheezing. Sneezing or eye discharge are common with colds, but excessive amounts for long periods of time should be cause for concern.
- Rashes or Poor Coat Quality: Bumps and scabs, as well as itching and hair loss, are also signs that your cat may be going through a bad health issue. Many cats will groom excessively or stop grooming completely when they are sick, and neither is good.
If your cat’s loss of appetite corresponds with weight loss and weakness or any of the above symptoms, then it’s a clear sign that your cat is suffering from some underlying issue. Speak to your vet and take your cat in for a physical examination. Your vet will be able to diagnose the condition. Even if they can’t find anything wrong, at least you’ll have the peace of mind that your cat is healthy and happy.
Hopefully, this article will have helped you realize why your cat is eating but acting normal. If you’ve made 100% sure that your cat is healthy, it is likely that they are simply stressed. Remember that your cats can pick up on your emotions, and if you’re stressed, it’s very likely that your kitty will be too.
Other than stress, it could be simply that your cat doesn’t like its dinner. Or a loss of appetite is common for an aging cat. Remember, if you are in any doubt, always go to your vet. Use the tips for encouraging eating in this article too – I’m sure your cat will have its appetite back in no time!
larra Ryan says
So interresting and kind of you to take the time. to write it all out. They are indeed perplexing little animals and can be quite difficult, as mine is. If a guest stays the night, she will sneak into the guestroom for a pee on the bed. No guest? The room is no longer interesting. Women can visit; men cannot, whichever chair they sit in will get a pee when they leave. More, but, you get the picture.
Zachary Tomlinson says
I find it fascinating that the more a cat gets older, the more they get picky when it comes to their food. My uncle is looking into the idea of owning a pet and I want to help him out. It might be a good idea for him to find a veterinarian around his area for health emergencies after adopting one.
Hannah Swann says
Thank you so much, this was really helpful. I’ve been trying to find out if the reduced appetites of my two 14 month old cats is normal. They are eating half of what they ate up to 1 year old but seem healthy and active. They do hunt but I’ve never seen them eat their prey, they just seem to terrorise them until death and then lose interest, unless that’s changed as they may not always bring their prey home. Anyway, the info you provide is helpful and I’ll keep an eye for the signs you mention. Thanks again xox