Help! My Cat Is Not Eating โ€“ What Should I Do?

Cats love to eat. They are the kind of pet you feed one minute and a few minutes later they are begging for treats. It is one of their many quirks. This is why it is so alarming when a cat suddenly stops eating.

One of the main reasons why cats refuse to eat is physical discomfort especially with digestive system issues like inflammatory bowel disease. Your cat may also refuse to eat when they are psychologically distressed. Whatever the cause, it is important that you act quickly in order to avoid complications of starvation in the cat.

If your cat has suddenly started leaving the food bowl empty and it is worrying you, you have come to the right place. We shall take a look at why you should be worried about your cat not eating and what you can do to put your kitty out of their misery. First, letโ€™s see what could be causing the problem.

What Do You Do When Your Cat Wonโ€™t Eat?

If your cat is not eating on their own, you may be so worried that you want to force-feed them. Donโ€™t do it! This will only add psychological distress to whatever the underlying issue is.

Instead, find ways to switch things up for the kitty and get them interested in eating again. Here are a few tricks that may work.

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Try Free Feeding

Free feeding is a method of feeding your cat where you leave food and water accessible to them throughout the day. That way, the cat can eat whenever they wish without having to wait for set meal times.

This is great for cats with fluctuating appetites. Just make sure to stay within the recommended amounts for the cat to avoid overfeeding.

Switch To A New Cat Food Brand

Cats can be picky eaters and if yours isnโ€™t eating all of a sudden, you may want to consider switching to a new cat brand. This gives your cat something new and exciting to try out which works really well for catโ€™s that get bored easily with the same old meals.

Try Flavorful Wet Cat Food

Wet cat food is usually more flavorful and easier for the cat to actually chew on. You could try switching to these options if your cat has refused other cat food brands. The strong smells and flavors and the fact that wet food is easier to chew makes this strategy ideal for cats suffering from reduced appetite as a result of serious health issues.

Set Up Food And Water Bowls In A Safe Space

Some cats will refuse to eat because they feel vulnerable and are not ready to let their guard down even for a meal. This is common with traumatized rescues. The best solution here is to set up their meals in a safe corner of your home where your cat can feel comfortable.

Why Is My Cat Hungry But Wonโ€™t Eat?

If your cat is refusing to eat even when they are hungry then you have a problem on your hands. Letโ€™s dive right into some of the causes of self-starvation in our feline friends and when you should be worried.

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Systemic Health Issues Affecting Appetite

Some of the common systemic health issues that alter your catโ€™s appetite include urinary tract infections, liver failure, kidney failure, pancreatitis and many others. In these conditions, it is the general discomfort associated with pain that distracts the cat from their hunger and makes them disinterested in everything including food.

Conditions like kidney disease and diabetes in cats stand out in that they may cause your cat to not eat but drink lots of water. 

Digestive Tract Issues

Digestive tract issues in cats include things like food intolerancediarrheaconstipationintestinal obstruction by hairballsinflammatory bowel disease, and many others. These not only cause pain which affects appetite but also tamper with the gutโ€™s ability to process any little food that the cat does ingest.

Psychological Stress

Your cat could also stop eating because of emotional and psychological stress. This could be because of issues like anxiety from past trauma, phobias, and frustrations from lack of stimulation. In these cases, the cat may not have any other signs and symptoms of physical disease.

However, you may notice other behavioral changes like the cat being jumpy and hiding a lot more than usual.

The Cat May Not Like The Food

Another reason your cat may not be eating is that they simply do not like the food. It could be the texture that they donโ€™t like, the flavor, or even the smell. It is nice to switch things up for the cat by trying a new brand or new flavors.

You also have to ensure that you change their food and water bowls out on a regular basis. This is because cats will not eat stale food or dirty water.

How Long Is It Safe For A Cat Not To Eat?

Cats may be small but they are resilient little animals. They can hold out on meals for a very long time especially when they are sick. Generally speaking, most cats can survive anywhere from a few days to even 2 whole weeks without eating. This is determined by a number of factors including:

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At the extremes of age, cats are not very likely to survive longer than a week without food. 

Elderly and sickly cats as well as newborn kittens in particular require continuous nutritional support for survival and rarely have enough stores to survive long without a meal.

However, cats older than 1 year and less than around 8 years are more likely to survive a couple of weeks without food.


Overweight cats can survive several days and even 2 weeks without food if they are otherwise healthy. This is because they have fat stores that their bodies can use as emergency fuel in the absence of carbs.

Interestingly, super skinny cats, especially street cats, are also very likely to survive for long without food. Here, it is the fact that the cats are, unfortunately, used to starving and thus their bodies have adapted to the lower energy needs.

Health Status

This factor is pretty straight forward. Healthy cats are more likely to survive for longer without food than sickly ones.

Remember that sick catsโ€™ bodies need as much help as possible in terms of nutritional support. If the sick cat is starving, their already struggling bodies will have a very hard time keeping up with basic survival demands.

Access To Water

Finally, how long a cat will survive without food also depends on whether or not they are willing or able to drink water. Water is needed more urgently with most cats not surviving past a few days and a maximum of 1 week without water.

What Do You Feed A Cat That Refuses To Eat?

If your cat is refusing to eat, you have a lot of options. We have already highlighted some simple and highly effective hacks including changes to feeding strategies. Letโ€™s focus more on exactly what you should feed the cat when they refuse to eat.

Switch To Flavorful Cat Food

With cats, eating is not just something they do to survive. They need to savor the food which is why smells and flavor are so important to consider when trying to figure out what food cats love the most. 

If your kitty has been struggling to eat, we recommend Nom Nom Cat Food. The cat food has a soft but chunky texture that is ideal for picky eaters that donโ€™t like the hard hustle of kibble or the bland mushiness of soft cat food. Of high moisture content, Nom Nom Cat Food is also made using high-quality ingredients to maximize both flavor and nutritional value.

Try Appetite Stimulants

You could find out what the best appetite stimulant is for your cat as a way to help them eat again. This is worth considering if your catโ€™s new eating habits are associated with health issues or treatments that are negatively affecting the catโ€™s appetite.

Mirtazapine is one of the most popular of these cat appetite stimulants and is worth considering if your cat has not eaten for days. Just make sure to first consult your vet for directions on which kind and how much of the stimulant to give your cat.

You can also use natural appetite stimulants. Some options that have been proposed to work on cats include ginseng extracts and bonito fish oils.

Maximize On Feeding With High-Calorie Cat Food

Finally, make sure that whatever little that your cat is eating actually counts. We recommend high-calorie foods or even supplements like Under the Weather Ready Cal For Cats. This supplement comes as an easy-to-administer gel that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

Will A Cat Starve Itself To Death? A cat can starve itself to death. However, this is not something that it will do on purpose or with the intention to harm itself. Instead, it happens when the cat chooses to avoid discomfort that comes with eating. This is common in cats that are refusing to eat as a result of serious, physical health issues.

Will A Cat Eat If It Canโ€™t Smell? At first, your cat will not be willing to eat anything if they cannot smell it. This is common with loss of smell associated with respiratory tract infections or even nasal trauma. However, once starvation starts to kick in, they may ignore their self-preservation instinct to smell before eating and eat whatever they can find.

Why Does My Cat Only Want To Eat Treats? Your cat may be obsessed with treats and only want to eat them because they prefer the treatsโ€™ taste and texture. This is commonly seen with soft chew treats especially if the alternative is hard and bland kibble. To ensure that your cat gets their daily caloric requirements, consider switching to foods that are closer in texture and flavor to the preferred treats.

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Pete Decker