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My cat won't eat - is this an emergency?

You may be concerned to discover that your cat is not eating, and begin to wonder if your feline friend needs emergency veterinary care. Our Lexington vets share some insight into why cats may stop eating, and how to tell if your cat's case is an emergency.

Why won't my cat eat?

The fact that cats are notoriously finicky eaters often frustrates many a cat parent who has found themselves in the food aisle of their local pet supply store, wondering which flavors of kitty food to buy and which to leave on the shelf since their cat will be bored with them. 

That said, if your cat has gone 24 hours or more without eating, this may point to an underlying health issue. 

Gastrointestinal Problems

Similar to humans, cats can suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues that can cause them to lose their appetite and feel nauseated. While this is not always the case, cats experiencing GI problems will often exhibit other symptoms such as constipation, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. 

Common GI problems in cats include:

  • Urinary obstructions 
  • Changes in your cat's intestinal bacteria
  • Foreign object, such as a piece of plant or plastic, stuck in your cat's digestive tract
  • Cancer
  • Parasites
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Colitis
  • Gastroenteritis

If you learn that your cat is experiencing weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting or constipation in addition to a reduced appetite, it's time to contact your vet. 

Gastrointestinal problems such as the ones listed above are serious and your cat might need emergency care. It's important to have these issues diagnosed and treated early to protect your cat's long-term health. 

Kidney Disease

For older cats, this is a relatively common condition that may cause your feline friend to feel nauseated, which may result in a refusal to eat. Other symptoms include drinking an excessive amount of water or urinating frequently.

Kidney disease can take one of two forms in cats. Your vet will be able to diagnose your pet and develop a treatment plan for this serious illness. If your senior cat (older than 7 years of age) is displaying symptoms beyond a pause in eating, book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Dental Issues

If dental issues are bothering her, this can cause your cat to experience pain in her mouth and lead to refusal to eat. Inflamed gums, loose or broken teeth, a dental abscess, an injury or foreign object in their mouth, advanced tooth decay or other issues can cause significant pain, prompting them to stop eating.

If you suspect your cat may be suffering from mouth pain, contact your vet as soon as possible for an appointment so this issue can be diagnosed and treated.

Your vet will examine your cat, then perform a thorough dental cleaning of your four-legged friend’s teeth before diagnosing and addressing any issues that may be causing pain.

Other Potential Causes

Cats can stop eating for numerous reasons not directly related to their general physical health, including:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Recent vaccinations
  • Motion sickness due to travel
  • New food
  • Change in normal routines

Any of these issues should not cause your cat to refuse more than one or two meals. If your cat won’t eat for any longer than this, it’s time to book an appointment with a veterinarian.

If my cat won’t eat, when should I see a vet?

If your cat has skipped more than one or two meals or is exhibiting any behaviors or symptoms that are causing you concern, contact us to schedule an appointment.

Because cats can get severely sick quickly, your furry friend’s long-term health may depend on early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat won't eat for more than 24 hours or is showing other symptoms you're concerned about. Contact our Lexington hospital right away for emergency veterinary care.

Specialty & Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for specialty appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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