When used in the context of animal health, the term “anorexia” does not have the psychological connotation seen in humans; in contrast, it simply means a decrease or complete loss in appetite. While cats are generally picky eaters, refusal to eat may be a result of more serious health issues. Malnutrition may become a concern, particularly in an animal that is recovering from a previous illness. Prolonged anorexia in cats will result in liver failure, since the starved body will begin burning large amounts of stored fat for energy, which causes hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver).
For many cat owners, it may be necessary to try out a variety of foods before finding the type of food that the cat would eat. Different brands of cat food have different nutritional contents, to which owners should pay close attention; generally speaking, higher quality brands contain more raw protein and fat than carbohydrates, which have lower nutritional value to cats. It is also possible for cats to be allergic to certain food ingredients, which can cause gastrointestinal discomforts and potentially an aversion to food.
Cats are good at hiding any signs of sickness; therefore, when a cat has completely loss its appetite the underlying issues are usually already quite serious. Owners should make notes of any decrease in food intake and associated weight change closely in order to catch symptoms in their early stages.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
A cat may refuse to eat if it is suffering from certain underlying health problems, or if it is recovering from an illness. In either case, the loss in appetite can exacerbate the existing health problem by weakening the animal. As a cat gets older it may also develop anorexia, especially if it requires a special prescription food since prescription foods are usually less flavourful.
If all other health issues are excluded or being treated, and the cat still refuses to eat, there are ways to help the animal to jump start its appetite. If the cat refuses dry kibbles, switching to canned or wet food may help since wet foods are generally be more palatable. There are also a number of “gourmet” brands available that are offer extra flavours. Owners can also try to entice the animal’s appetite by adding small amounts of chicken stock to the food, or offering canned meats, such as chicken or tuna, alongside regular food. Canned chicken or tuna is, however, not a substitute for a complete diet. In addition, feeding animals table scraps is always a bad practice and should be avoided.
If there are more than one animal in the household, separating them at feeding time may help with the appetite problem since most animals prefer to eat alone. Appetite stimulating medication and special prescription diets are two other ways that may be helpful for more seriously affected cats.
Cats that are especially sick, weak, or elderly may require further assistance in feeding. Force feeding is possible, either by spoon-feeding or by forming the food into pellets and feed in the same way pills are given. When necessary, there are liquid diets that can be provided by syringe or feeding tube.