From longhaired registered Persians to domestic mixed breeds called "tabbies", cat lovers - present in more than one third of American households - know that felines are not just pets but friends and companions. When a cat lacks appetite or doesn't eat, owners worry because cats are often members of the family.
Remember that unless a cat hasn't been eating for several days, it's unlikely there is a problem or medical issue. To understand why a feline friend isn't eating, cat caregivers must be familiar with normal eating patterns. Cats are, as cat food commercials portray, finicky by nature. All foods are not part of a nutritious, healthy feline diet.
Cats are carnivores, which means that they are meat eaters. A cat doesn't require fruits, vegetables or grains like their human companions and thrive on an all-meat diet. Table food or scraps should never be fed to cats. Nor should raw meats be allowed in the diet. Outdoor cats or cats allowed to range should be monitored so that they don't eat raw meat. Hunters by nature, domestic cats will pounce on a mouse but don't allow a pet to eat their prey.
Improper food is one of the reasons why cats might lack appetite. Stick with meat based cat foods. Never leave moistened dry food or canned out for more than one hour to prevent spoilage. Tainted food can taste strange and cause kitty to avoid another bite. Dry cat foods can be left in a dish for cats that prefer to nibble or feeding can happen at a specific time each day. Cats also require plenty of clean, fresh water so check to make sure that water dishes are full.
Cats are individuals and tastes vary. When a cat doesn't eat, try a different flavor of food to tempt taste buds. Try a tuna flavor over a chicken blend or salmon over beef in gravy. Although cats like milk, it is not a necessary part of a healthy feline diet. If a cat gets too much milk, he may not be hungry and will not eat at feeding time.
Loss of appetite or not eating accompanied by other symptoms, however, may signal a medical issue. Dental problems often cause a loss of appetite simply because the mouth is sore. Check for other symptoms of mouth disorders such as bad breath, raised mouth sores, drooling, dark spots on molars, or bleeding gums. If any of these are present along with a change in eating patterns, it's time to see the vet. He may diagnose gingivitis or peridonitis. Both are treatable.
Cats who have dined on raw liver could be suffering from Vitamin A toxicity. Liver is so rich in Vitamin A that even a small amount can be too much for feline bodies to assimilate. Too much raw meat of any type can leave to a thiamin deficiency as well. The best rule of thumb is to never feed raw meats. If raw meat has been eaten and symptoms are present beyond a few days, consult a veterinarian for treatment.
Common household items that homeowners take for granted can be poisonous to cats. The list of things that pose potential dangers to feline friends is long and includes coffee grounds, cigarette butts, poisonous plants, ant or roach traps, lawn and garden products (herbicides, fertilizers), automotive products, and lead paint. If poisoning is suspected, seek treatment immediately. To prevent accidental feline poisoning, remove dangers from cat level. Parents of young children who have childproofed their home have little to worry about and childless cat households might consider taking the same preventative steps.
Less common conditions that could be characterized by a lack of appetite include toxoplasma, a parasitical disease that is transmitted in raw meat. Again, never feed cat raw meats no matter what the origin.
Feline leukemia and other cancers are the most serious disease that could begin with a lack of appetite. Older cats are more prone to feline leukemia, which can be diagnosed only by a veterinarian. In most cases, additional symptoms would be present.
When in doubt and if more than a few days have passed without a cat eating, it's time to visit the vet. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment are the best gift to give a beloved cat. Cat lovers are far from alone - more than 39 million cat owners give gifts to their felines each holiday season and more than 13 million celebrate their cat's birthday. Cats are so special that the ancient Egyptians considered cats to be sacred. Charles Dickens, author of classic works that include Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities, once wrote, "What greater gift than the love of a cat!"
Cats are special. If a cat isn't eating, try a little coaxing with love and then seek professional advice to keep that companion nearby for years to come.