Cat not eating or drinking: Why it's critical to call your vet
Cat not eating or drinking? There could be a number of reasons, some of them more serious than others. Cats are particularly good at hiding signs of pain or illness. So when your cat loses their appetite, it’s tough to know what might be causing the problem and whether or not it's serious.
Refusal to eat or drink is typically caused by one of three things: an underlying medical condition, emotional factors like stress, or a change in environment (like moving to a new home). It can be normal for cats to skip a meal or two, but if they stop eating or drinking for more than 24 hours, you should bring them in right away. Your Juno Vet care team will determine the reason your cat’s not eating or drinking and provide appropriate care.
Table of contents
- Why is my cat not eating or drinking?
- What causes a cat to stop drinking?
- What’s the treatment for a cat not eating or drinking?
- What to do when your cat won’t eat?
Why is my cat not eating or drinking?
Since cats instinctually disguise illness, it can be tough to know why they won’t eat or drink. Your kitty may show obvious symptoms like vomiting, or more subtle cues, like refusing dinner for a day or two. Here are some important things to know if your cat has stopped eating or drinking.
1. What causes a cat to stop eating?
Generally speaking, reasons for refusing food or water fall into three categories:
- Environmental (like a change at home).
Refusal of food can be sudden or it may develop slowly over time. It can happen for a number of reasons, from picky eating habits to a serious illness.
2. Possible medical reasons why cats stop eating
Some possible medical reasons for why a cat would stop eating include:
- An upset stomach for any reason
- Dental issues that make it difficult to chew food
- Pain anywhere in the body
- Infections including upper respiratory infections that can affect their taste or smell
- Food allergies, irritable bowel disorder, or other digestive issues
- Urinary issues
- Ingesting something toxic
- Ingesting a foreign body like a sock, toy, or other item that could cause an intestinal blockage
- Medication side effects
- An underlying medical condition like kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
Before you panic, common illness is the most likely reason your cat isn't eating. After all, that’s why humans don’t eat from time to time: they’re sick. When humans have a fever or experience pain, we’re generally not as hungry, and cats and other animals are the same.
3. Possible behavioural reasons your cat isn’t eating
Just like with humans, stress, anxiety, or fear can cause your cat to lose their appetite. A change in their environment or routine, like new people or pets in the house, traveling, or loud noises (thunder, fireworks, construction) can trigger anxiety. Even something as simple as changing the time or location of a meal can throw extra-sensitive cats for a loop. Senior cats are at a higher risk of anxiety or behavioural issues, and can be more sensitive to change than younger cats.
Generally, if your cat’s not eating because of stress or anxiety, they’ll start eating again once they’ve adjusted to the change. If stress or anxiety is a regular thing, your cat may need behavioural modification or medication to help them cope. Speak to your Juno Vet care team about your options.
Have a finicky eater? You’re likely used to your cat skipping a meal here and there and it’s probably not a cause for concern. However, if your picky kitty won’t eat for more than 24 hours, it’s important to bring them in right away.
Did you know? Cats are notorious for hiding their illnesses. If they stop eating or drinking it's always a good idea to contact your vet.
4. Possible environmental reasons your cat isn’t eating or drinking
Change up your cat’s food recently? They may not like the taste or they could have an upset stomach. If you’re switching food, it’s important to be cautious because a sudden change can cause gut problems for your friend, which could stop them from eating for even longer. We recommend going slowly, mixing the new food with their current food, and taking about ten days to fully transition. Speak with your Juno Vet care team about the best plan for your cat.
If you have other animals, it may be a case of mealtime intimidation. Many cats feel stressed when they eat next to housemates, which can cause them to avoid their bowl. We recommend having separate feeding areas if you have multiple animals in the house, even if they’re multiple cats.
5. Is your cat drinking, but not eating?
If your cat will drink but won’t eat, it may be due to nausea, stress, or mouth pain. If they’re able to keep water down, that’s a good sign. However, if they’re vomiting after drinking water, they should be seen by a veterinarian right away, because it could be something serious. If your cat goes longer than 24 hours without eating—even if they’re drinking—you should bring them in for a visit so we can figure out what’s causing their lack of appetite.
What causes a cat to stop drinking?
It’s unusual for your cat to stop drinking, especially if their food intake is normal—but it’s not impossible. If your cat stops drinking, seek veterinary care immediately.
Here are some reasons your cat may stop drinking.
Common reasons your cat might stop drinking
If you recently started offering your cat canned food or other high-moisture food with their dry food, they may drink less. This is because they’re getting more water with their meal. It’s perfectly normal and no cause for worry. If your cat is also eating less than usual, or if you’re concerned for any reason, go ahead and schedule an appointment.
On the flip side, if your cat is drinking more water than usual and they’re also not eating, they could have an underlying health problem like diabetes or kidney disease—it’s important to schedule an appointment right away.
What to do when your cat won’t eat or drink
If your cat stops eating or drinking, don’t wait to see if their appetite improves. Cats who don’t eat for more than a day or two are at risk for a condition called fatty liver. Obese or overweight kitties are at the highest risk, but fatty liver can happen to any cat.
The Juno app is a great place to start if your cat stops eating or drinking. Our virtual care team can help you manage your cat’s symptoms at home until they come in for their appointment. Loss of appetite could be related to a serious health problem and prolonged refusal of food can lead to complications, so it’s best to speak with your vet even if your pet is otherwise acting normally.
Get unlimited 24/7 pet care at your fingertips With the Juno app, it’s like having a personal vet care team in your pocket. Get unlimited 24/7 support, easily schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, and explore your pet’s medical records and invoices.
If your cat is refusing to eat and has any of the following symptoms, we recommend immediate vet care:
- They’re a young kitten. Because kittens are so small, they have a decreased blood sugar reserve and can experience detrimental side effects, like seizure, if they don't eat.
- They’re a senior cat. Our older friends are more prone to sickness, so lack of appetite is more likely to be an underlying condition.
- They’re an underweight cat or they already have an underlying health problem.
- Showing signs of illness, such as vomiting, listlessness, or a fever.
- Losing weight.
- You suspect your cat ate something toxic or ate something that may be stuck internally
What’s the treatment for a cat not eating or drinking?
Treatment for a cat who’s refusing food includes treating the underlying cause and providing supportive care.
It’s important to treat the underlying cause to make sure their loss of appetite is truly cured (or well managed if they have a chronic illness). If you don’t properly treat the underlying cause, their food refusal may come back to bite you.
1. Figuring out why your cat’s not eating or drinking
Your Juno Vet care team will ask you about your cat’s symptoms, any changes in the home, whether you’ve been travelling, and more. They’ll also give your cat a physical exam to check their overall health and look for anything that could explain the issue. This could be something like an infected tooth, or a lump in their belly.
We’ll also perform routine diagnostic tests to get more information about what’s going on inside your pet’s body. Common tests include:
- A fecal test to look for parasites
- Bloodwork and a urinalysis
- X-rays or ultrasound
- Tests for infectious diseases
Depending on your cat’s history and symptoms, we may recommend additional testing like biopsies.
2. Treatment and supportive care for your cat
Once you have a diagnosis your Juno Vet care team will develop a treatment plan. For example, cats with an infected tooth will receive dental care, or a kitty who’s stressed about being boarded may be prescribed pet-safe calming medications.
Regardless of the cause, supportive care is an important part of your cat’s treatment plan. This will help your cat feel better, prevent complications from not eating, like dehydration or nutrient deficiencies, and promote healing.
Common supportive treatments include:
- Medications for nausea
- Antacids or stomach protectants
- Appetite stimulants
- Pain medications
- Fluid therapy
- Special diets until your cat is feeling better
Your vet may also recommend extra measures to increase your cat’s appetite or make their food more palatable. This could mean offering canned food or a special cat treat to tempt their appetite or warming their food up to body temperature to increase the aroma.
Remember: Never give your sick cat human medications without checking with your vet first — many are toxic to pets!
If it turns out your cat’s lack of appetite is due to picky eating habits, we’ll discuss tips and techniques to get them on a healthy eating schedule.
Whether it’s emotional, environmental, or you think there may be a medical reason your cat won’t eat or drink, get in touch with us right away. Your Juno Vet care team will have your cat back to their happy, hungry self in no time.