Eating Problems


Did you know that cats can become anorexic, just like humans? The reasons are varied, of course, and include stress, food they don't like, bad teeth, or a disease. If a cat goes longer than 2 or 3 days without eating, it is imperative to take it to the veterinarian immediately, because waiting can be fatal. The starvation response sets in quickly with cats, and that process results in a condition known as hepatic lipidosis. The liver develops fatty deposits and very quickly shuts down. The human attitude that "he'll eat if he gets hungry enough" does NOT apply to cats.

To be sure the problem is not due to a simple dislike of the food, check these points:

  • Offer several kinds or brands of foods to see if there is a preference.
  • Add water or fats, or warm it up a bit, to see if it helps the flavor or palatibility.
  • Be sure the dishes are clean! Cats have an acute sense of smell, and if the bowls are not clean, they can detect spoilage residue and will refuse to eat from them.
  • Be sure the food in the dishes is fresh. Again, leaving the same food out day after day can lead to bacterial activity in the food - or, spoilage. Also check to see that no flies have been laying their eggs in it. If left alone, maggots will appear. And no cat will eat those!

If you feel you must resort to force feeding, check with your vet for techniques that work best. Sometimes the added stress of force feeding will cause the whole plan to backfire and kitty still will not eat.

It's imperative to understand that cats are very sensitive to stress. That means a cat can develop an aversion to eating some foods, or all food, if there is a memory of a bad experience associated with that particular food, or bowl, or location, or person nearby.

The opposite of this anorexia thing is something called polyphagia - that is, eating anything and everything, and lots of it! This can be due to an underlying disease process, so it's always important to have your cat checked by your vet ANY time the eating process deviates from normal.

Hepatic Lipidosis

This potentially and frequently fatal condition has a better outlook than it did years ago, mostly because it is better understood and drastic feeding measures can be undertaken before it becomes too late. Though the mechanism within the liver is not completely understood, the accumulation of certain fatty compounds occurs as a result of anorexia following a stressful event in the cat's life. Usually, the cat is obese, then suddenly refuses to eat. A careful study of the cat's recent life usually reveals what the stress was that caused her to stop eating. Most often, that "event" is a change of ownership. A disturbing number of cats die when turned in at animal shelters, for example, because they miss their people. If not addressed quickly, the condition always leads to death. While forced feeding usually constitutes more stress, using a feeding tube may bypass that reaction and lead to a full recovery.

If an owner is not able to perform this type of feeding, it is best to hospitalize the patient and let the veterinarian or trained staff do it. Since professionals have some expertise in this, it is more likely they will be able to provide sufficient food, and caloric intake, critical to a recovery. It is also better to feed smaller amounts frequently throughout the day, rather than trying to get enough in with only 2 or 3 meals. Frequent feeding also minimizes the release of the dangerous fatty compounds into the liver, rather than trying to feed the cat larger amounts infrequently.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat