Cats are extremely fussy creatures in many aspects of life, but especially when it comes down to food. Whereas the normal solution will be switching to a food that they prefer, what if your cat has stopped eating the dry food that you’ve been feeding them for years? Why are they suddenly lacking enthusiasm for the food they used to happily eat?
My cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats, so I knew it wasn’t the texture of the food that was putting them off. It turns out, the most common reason why your cat won’t eat dry food anymore is changes in their environment and routine which put them off their food.
However, you may also be feeding your cat too many treats, your kibble may have gone stale, or there could be potential health issues that need ruling out.
The most common reason why your cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats is because something in their environment has changed.
Cats are very sensitive to the world around them, and even the slightest change could put them off their dinner! This could be anything from there being a new pet in your household, moving home, or even changing feeding times.
Here are all the reasons as to why your cat is not eating food but eats treats and what you can do about it.
Why Is My Cat Not Eating Food But Eats Treats?
Aside from changes to their environment, there are a few other reasons that could explain why your cat has stopped eating their dry food. Many of these are subtle changes to their routine or food, but some health conditions also need to be ruled out.
Let’s take a closer look at each possibility.
1. Changes in Environment
As mentioned, changes to your cat’s environment could be all that it takes to suddenly turn your cat into a picky eater. This is especially true for domestic cats who have gotten used to the finer comforts in life and are not well adapted to change.
Start by looking around and observing anything that has changed. Has there been a new pet or person introduced into the house? Have you gone from watching your cat eat their food to leaving them to their own accord? Have you stopped cleaning their bowl as frequently? Any minor change can cause your cat to stop eating their dry food.
Where possible, such as if you have stopped washing their food bowl as frequently, revert to the old ways and see if this improves your cat’s feeding. You may not have realized you’ve been letting things like this slide, and by changing back to your usual habits your cat will happily eat again.
If the change cannot be reversed, such as if you get a new pet, try to establish a new and consistent routine to help your cat regain its comfort and start eating normally again. It may take a little while to adapt, but your cat should get their appetite back once they have realized these changes aren’t a threat to them.
2. Too Many Treats
Another common reason that your cat only wants to eat treats and won’t eat their dry food is that you’ve been overly generous with giving them treats in the first place. This can feel a little like catch-22; your cat doesn’t eat much so you entice them with treats, which in turn causes them to eat less of their food. And so the cycle continues.
However, cats are clever creatures and they will soon realize that if they don’t eat their dinner they will get a tasty reward. This can cause them to develop a finicky attitude towards food over time, as well as increasing the risk of several health conditions, such as obesity. Plus, treats are low on nutrients compared to kibble and will not provide a substantial diet if eaten alone.
If this sounds like the case in your home, you need to reinforce good behavior instead of rewarding your cat for refusing to eat their dry food. Stop giving your cats treat altogether and only feed them their meals regularly throughout the day.
Initially, your cat may not eat its food still. However, within a few days, hunger should take over and you should see some improvement in your cat’s appetite for their dry food. They will have learned that their dry food is all they are getting, so it’s best to eat this than go hungry!
3. No Established Routine
There may also be no established feeding routine which is why your cat stopped eating dry food. This is disruptive for them and they rely on a set routine to eat happily. In fact, creating a regular routine for feeding times is a great way to stop fussy eating.
If you usually leave kibble out for your cat to graze on in the day, the first step is to stop doing this. Instead, stick to a feeding plan and offer meals at set times in the day. After leaving your cat’s food out for around 30 minutes, clear the bowl away and chuck whatever is remaining in the trash. This will help your cat realize when they can eat and help to stop them from being as picky.
As a minimum, your feeding routine should consist of at least two meals per day spaced 12 hours apart. However, some owners prefer splitting food across five or six smaller meals which can help to slow eating and ease indigestion.
Whatever feeding routine you establish, make sure it works with your schedule so that you can commit and stick to it. Breaking the schedule will only cause disruption again and it will be straight back to the drawing board.
It may also be possible that your cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats because they are dehydrated. This is especially likely to be true if they are eating wet food without a problem, but are extremely fussy when it comes to dry food.
Dry food is, well… dry! This means that if your cat is thirsty, eating dry food can be difficult and work up a serious thirst. While they can’t resist a treat, a whole bowl of dry cat food is likely to make them turn their noses up.
Make sure there is fresh water available for your cat to drink at all times and that you replenish the water in their bowl at least once per day. If your cat is fussy when it comes to drinking, a cat water fountain may also encourage them to drink more; cats have a preference for flowing water over standing water.
You could try putting a little water in with their dry food and seeing if this encourages them to eat more of it. While helping them consume more liquid, this will also make them fuller and is a great hack for reducing the appetite of cats that are overweight from having eaten too many treats! You could also mix their dry food in with a little wet food.
Dehydration may also be why you notice your cat stop eating their kibble in the warmer summer months. When the temperature outside is up, cats are more likely to get dehydrated. Plus, the hot weather may also reduce your cat’s appetite for a heavy meal, similar to how we may prefer a light salad over a heavy roast dinner on a warm summer’s day.
5. Spoiled Food or Altered Recipes
It is also possible that your cat food may have passed its expiry date and gone stale. Check the date on the box and if past its best before date, throw the remaining food away and purchase some more. Don’t have the packet anymore? Give it a sniff and see if it smells like it has gone off.
If the expiry date is still in the future, consider whether the food could be spoiled. This is common in summer months as dry food absorbs moisture from the air more in warm weather, which will also turn the biscuits stale. Again, replace your supply and see if this gives your cat its appetite back. To prevent cat food spoiling in the future, be sure to keep it in its original packaging and place the bag in a sealed container. Keep this container in a cool and moisture-free room for lasting freshness.
Alternatively, it could be that the manufacturer has made subtle changes to the recipe. This could explain why your cat won’t eat dry food anymore even though it’s the food you’ve been feeding them for years. As cats are particular, even minor recipe alterations could make subtle changes to the flavor which they don’t like.
6. Finding Other Food Sources
If you notice your cat not eating much but acting normal, it could be that they are eating… just not the food that you’re placing in their bowl! Instead, they could be finding food sources elsewhere, such as from a neighbor or through hunting their own dinner.
This is, of course, only possible if you have an outdoor cat. If you do let your cat outside, ensure they have a collar on which will signal to others that your cat has a loving home where they are being fed. This should hopefully deter good Samaritans from feeding your cat that they assume is a stray.
It could also be that your cat is catching mice and small birds for their dinner. Some cats like the life of luxury and being fed on a silver platter, whereas others will enjoy the chase of catching their next meal. There’s plenty of chance for your cat to catch prey outside, meaning that by the time dinner arrives they simply aren’t hungry.
Whereas hunting is a natural behavior for cats, try attaching a bell to their collar if you want to reduce the amount of wildlife they kill. This is good for the local environment and will also give you a better understanding of what your cat is actually eating.
7. Tooth & Gum Disease
Your cat may also have developed dental diseases that cause issues to their teeth and gums. In fact, tooth and gum diseases occur in 50% to 90% of cats over the age of four! There are a few different types of dental disease, but the three most common are:
- Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums due to a build-up of plaque on the teeth. The excess plaque harbors bacteria which then accumulates and damages the gums and teeth, making them overly sensitive and eating more painful.
- Periodontitis: If gingivitis is not treated, it can develop into periodontitis and is where the tissue surrounding the teeth and gums is weakened, causing tooth loss.
- Tooth Resorption: This is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats and is where their teeth start to break down from the inside out.
Whereas periodontitis and tooth resportion struggle to go a miss, gingivitis can easily go unnoticed. Despite this being the least severe of the three dental diseases, it can still make your cats hesitant to eat, especially when it comes to dry food. As dry food is harder to chew than wet food, it could cause added discomfort.
You might be wondering “Why has my cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats then?”, but even slight changes in the shape of your cat’s treats versus their kibble could make eating the former easier. For example, if your dry food is triangle-shaped yet your treats are circular, your cat will find the treats less painful to eat than their regular biscuits.
Determining whether your cat has a dental disease will require a trip to your veterinarian. They can then work at prescribing treatment to ease the condition to make eating pain-free once more. Regular check-ups are essential, as whereas gingivitis is usually reversible, dental conditions left untreated can become major lifelong problems.
8. Parasitic Infections
Parasites may also have worked their way into your cat’s digestive system which is causing stomach pain and discomfort. This could be putting your cat off of their dinner and decreasing their appetite.
There are a whole host of microscopic parasites out there, but the most common are roundworms, heartworms, tapeworms, and hookworms. In adults, parasites rarely cause any major damage or concerns, but they can be a serious problem in young kittens.
Alongside a reduced appetite, other symptoms of parasitic infections include vomiting, diarrhea, and a dull coat. However, your vet will be able to carry out tests to determine if and by what parasite your cat has been infected with and then provide the correct treatment. Once the parasites are successfully cleared from your cat’s system, you should see their appetite return to normal.
9. Inflammatory Digestive Diseases
Another reason for a sudden change in appetite could be inflammation of the digestive organs which is making your cat feel sick. Because of this nausea, your cat may be put off eating. However, this is less likely if your cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats. Nevertheless, it is good to rule out for peace of mind.
There are several different gastrointestinal issues that your cat could be experiencing where one or all three of their major digestive organs – the liver, pancreas, and small intestine – become inflamed. The anatomy of a cat’s digestive system ensures that all of these organs are located close to one another. Therefore, it is common that if one digestive organ becomes infected, they all do.
If this happens it is known as feline triaditis and is the most severe of the possible feline inflammatory digestive diseases. Your cat will exhibit other symptoms alongside a decreased appetite if they are suffering from this condition, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and weight loss.
Your vet will examine your cat and rule out other causes of digestive discomfort. Thankfully, this condition can usually be easily treated and regulated through medication and diet.
These nine reasons are likely why your cat stopped eating dry food but still eats treats, or has lost their appetite altogether. Consider not giving your cat treats for a while, establishing a strict feeding routine, and monitoring how changes to their environment affect their food consumption. Besides, ensure their food is still in date.
While less likely, it is also important to take your cat for regular checkups with the vet to check their digestive and dental health. This will help to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions and that your cat is happy and healthy.
Whatever changes you do make, if any, be sure to introduce them gradually and remain patient with your cat. Cats are finicky creatures when it comes to food, so consistency and self-discipline could be all it takes to stop your feline from being so picky!