Is your cat not eating? No big deal, right? WRONG!
IF a cat goes too long without eating they can develop a liver disease called Hepatic Lipidosis. How long is too long? It varies from cat to cat … if a cat is obese it happens sooner, etc. Liver damage can be seen as soon at 3 days of not eating but might not develop until 7 days or more.
Why would a cat stop eating? It can be due to physical disease or psychological issues (stress of owners being away, food aversion, etc.).
Fever (temperature of > 39.5 degrees Celsius), nausea, and pain are common physical cause of loss of appetite.
Pain might be due to pancreatitis, trauma, GI blockage, IBD, bladder disease, dental disease, etc.
Causes of fever include bite wounds/infections, liver or kidney infections, viruses (FeLv, FIV, FIP, etc.).
Another reason cats eat less or stop eating is if they cannot smell the food. As cats age, they can lose some of their sense of smell. Cats of any age can lose their sense of smell (and therefore their appetite) if they have nasal disease. Upper respiratory tract infection and allergic rhinitis are common nasal problems in cats).
There is no need to panic if a cat snubs one meal. Cats can be fussy. IF your cat eats nothing for 24 hours (even their favorite canned food or treats) you should be concerned.
You can try heating their canned food in the microwave or mixing with warm water (warm food has a stronger odor which might entice the cat to eat). You can try a new flavor of canned food or a fresh bag of dry food (in case the current bag is stale). If none of these work, and your cat is not eating at least 100 calories in 24 hours, your cat should see a veterinarian. They should assess your cat for fever, pain, and dehydration. IF your cat is depressed, painful, and/or vomiting, then tests (bloodwork, x-ray, ultrasound, etc.) will often need to be done.
If your cat develops hepatic lipidosis they might experience vomiting and/or be jaundiced (yellow tinge to the skin and the whites of the eyes). They will be experiencing nausea even if they are not vomiting (some cat drool when nauseous).
When cats don’t eat, they become deficient in Vitamin B12 quickly (within a day or so). The Vitamin B deficiency then worsens the intestinal dysfunction and inflammation.
Diagnosing hepatic lipidosis starts with blood tests. If the liver enzymes are abnormal an ultrasound +/- biopsy might be needed.
Treatment usually includes IV fluids, anti-nausea medication injections, antacid injections, Vitamin B12 injection, antibiotics, and sometimes a feeding tube.
Without treatment, hepatic lipidosis is almost always fatal. Treatment does not guarantee survival. Some cats have a condition that cannot be reversed (some cancers). Sometimes cost becomes a factor. Some cats are in hospital (on IV fluids and other meds) for many days. They then require a lot of care once back at home (owners feeding and given medications to the cat via the tube every few hours). How long the feeding tube is needed varies from case to case. Sometimes a week. Sometimes 1-2 months.
It is MUCH better (for the cat and owner) if the poor appetite is noticed and treated before liver damage occurs. Treatment at this time with an appetite stimulant (like mirtazapine), anti-nausea meds, and special extra smelly / tasty diet might prevent the lipidosis.
If you are worried your cat is not eating or not eating enough see your vet!