This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations
Most longtime cat owners will go through situations where their cat stops eating his food, and have experienced the frustration of trying to get him to start eating regularly again. It’s important to determine the reason he’s not eating as quickly as possible before trying to get him eating again, as lack of appetite is often a symptom of any number of health conditions.
When your cat stops eating, it causes a whole lot of problems besides weight loss.
Cats need regular feeding to maintain liver health as well as overall health. While hepatic lipidosis is often spoken of as applying mostly to overweight cats, if your cat stops eating, even if he’s a normal weight, he can start to develop this condition in as little as 72 hours. Therefore, if it’s been more than 24 hours since he’s eaten, it’s time to call your vet and get him looked at, so you can find the problem and get it treated.
Sometimes your cat stops eating for a really simple reason, such as an abrupt change in diet. If you’ve recently changed the brand or type of food you’ve been feeding him, try going back to his old food and see what happens. If he eats that, but won’t eat the new stuff, then you simply need to make the switch gradually by mixing the two together (this is always a good idea anyway; cats tend not to like abrupt changes to their diets). Start with just a little bit of the new food mixed in with his old food, and gradually change the proportions until he’s eating the new food. This can try your patience a little, but is important if you want your cat eating the new food.
If your cat stops eating for more than 24 to 48 hours, you should call your vet
If a change in food isn’t the case, then once you and your vet determine the problem and the appropriate course of treatment, it’s time to start trying to get him to eat again. Cats that have been sick may need their appetites stimulated by something in order to start feeling hungry again. Start with whatever food, commercial or otherwise, he was eating before, and go from there. Right now, the important thing is to get him eating again.
If your cat stops eating because he’s actively sick, ask your vet for recommendations as to how to get him to eat, and how much is considered “good.” Cats that are actively sick tend to not feel well enough to eat.
If your cat is, indeed, sick, here are some ways to get him eating again
If your vet decides he needs to be on a special diet, you should remain in close contact with him while you’re trying to get your cat to start eating, and ask about alternatives if he starts turning his nose up at the food your vet has recommended or prescribed.
You can also ask about any risks there may be with giving him a few of his favorite treats, a few pieces of cold cuts, small pieces of cooked fish, baby food (without vegetables), things of that nature, in order to stimulate his appetite if he’s still not eating.
If your vet gives you the green light on these, then start trying them one by one. There are also certain products at places like Petco and PetSmart, like The Goodlife Recipe’s Catnip Flavored Treats, that cats often go crazy over. Or you can ask your vet about Tomlyn’s NutriCal nutritional supplement, which is specifically designed for when a cat stops eating. Follow any guidelines your vet gives you about any of this, and take it from there.
Don’t forget to ask him when you need to worry, and at what point you’ll need to come back in if your cat stops eating again, or if he continues to refuse to eat. Depending on what the problem is, it can occasionally be necessary to put him on a feeding tube until he feels well enough to eat on his own.
The most frustrating thing, when a cat stops eating, is that it can take a lot of time and many different types and brands of foods to get him eating regularly again. If you had him on a grain-free or raw food diet and he suddenly won’t eat that, but will eat whatever he was eating before the transition, you may have to transition him all over again. Here, too, the important thing is to get him eating again, and you can worry about what he’s eating later.