Q: What could be wrong if my cat stops eating?
A: Should this problem continue for longer than 24 hours, it can become a life-threatening medical problem. Anorexia in cats can develop due to a single reason or a combination of factors. These include a change in routine or diet, a new food bowl or a newcomer to the house – either the four-legged or two-legged variety! Taste, texture and smell are very important factors in a cat’s diet and thus a food aversion can develop quite easily. Diseases can also play a role – any cat who is not well, will not eat. Causes range widely; a few examples include dental problems, systemic illness, infections or a fever.
The reason an anorexic cat becomes an emergency is that a fatty liver or hepatic lipidosis develops as a sequel to not eating. When a healthy cat eats, the fat from the food is stored as an energy source in the body. When a cat does not eat due to whatever reason, the fat stores are mobilised and the fat is used as fuel. The fats get broken down in the liver. Unfortunately the liver becomes overwhelmed by the fats needing to be processed and instead the fats build up in the liver resulting in a fatty liver. This condition makes the cat very sick.
Therefore, should your cat not eat for longer than a day or you notice that he only nibbles a very small amount and seems to be depressed and lethargic, take your cat to the vet immediately. Hand feeding tasty foods and lots of attention will only assist cats who are not severely affected. Your cat will need to be carefully evaluated by your vet to determine the underlying cause of the anorexia. It is vital that the cat be treated for the underlying cause as otherwise the anorexia will continue.
Dr Caryn Rademeyer, veterinarian