By Andrew Daniels
You’d never miss dinner unless you were sick, and the same is true for most cats. If your furry friend refuses to eat for a period of longer than 24 hours, he or she may have a potentially serious underlying medical problem that requires immediate attention, says Dr. Ilana Rodan, former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).
It’s imperative that you see a veterinarian as soon as possible to diagnose your cat’s sudden lack of appetite, Rodan says.
“Cats can develop a secondary disease called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver, if they are picky for quite a while or don’t eat,” she says. “Even if your cat has already been seen by a veterinarian and no obvious illnesses have been identified, additional testing such as abdominal ultrasound and/or appetite stimulants may be indicated.”
But if your cat decides to skip a meal and hold off from eating for only a few hours, he or she could simply be in one of those moods. “It’s normal for active, otherwise playful cats to stop by their bowl for a couple seconds and move on to their next adventure—they could just be grazers,” says Dr. Lauren Demos, current AAFP president. “Or maybe they’re used to their dry food, and when you give them canned food, they don’t eat it because they don’t know what it is.”
All cats are different—and that’s why we love them. Whatever the reason your feline is finicky, try these simple strategies to help him or her eat again. Just remember: “Never push food or force your cat to eat,” says Rodan. “This can lead to a negative situation and potential food aversion.”
Offer Them Kitten Food
If your adult cat is snubbing his or her usual diet, swap it out for kitten food. This is loaded with more protein and more fat to help kittens build their growing bodies, Demos says, and it tastes more flavorful (and smells more enticing) than does adult cat food.
You don’t have to mix it in to your cat’s regular kibble, she says. Just offer it straight up: “It doesn’t have any negative nutritional effects, and those extra calories are great for a cat that’s trying to gain or maintain weight,” says Demos.
Spice Up Their Kibble
Some probiotics that are specifically made for cats have really good flavor and encourage appetite, says Demos. Consult with your veterinarian to find the right fit for your feline (usually in powder form), and sprinkle it on your cat’s kibble or canned food. You can also consider adding catnip, an appetite stimulant for many cats, on top of the food, she says.
But if your cat is used to a dry food diet, don’t add in water. “Some cats are really oriented toward texture and shape,” says Demos. “When you change that up, especially by adding water, they don’t usually like it.”
Try Feeding Them Cold Cuts
Demos has a surprising food suggestion for finicky cats: deli meats, such as turkey. “Poultry is one of the closest foods that mimic what a cat should eat in the wild,” Dr. Demos says. “If they’re not interested in the processed, commercial foods you’re offering them, something that’s closer to the prey they would be out catching [in the wild] should pique their appetite.”
How should you serve it? Demos recommends ripping off a couple of pieces of turkey or oven-roasted chicken and giving the meat in addition to a cat’s kibble or wet food. Just make sure that you choose varieties that are as close to their natural state as possible—avoid processed meats that are high in sodium and artificial ingredients. Limit the amount you offer to no more than 10 percent of your cat’s overall diet.
Heat Up Canned Cat Food
Zap your cat’s cold canned food in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds. This is plenty of time to heat it up and boost its smell, which should do the trick for many cats. When it comes to canned food, cats “respond to a strong aroma and temperature much more than they do texture,” Demos says. “[Just warm it to] a comfortable temperature so that it is not too hot,” adds Rodan.