My next two blog entries will focus on appetite disorders in cats. Part 1 will discuss loss of appetite, and part 2 will discuss increased appetite. Remember, as always, that the vets at Chico Hospital for Cats are always happy to help you with you cat’s health needs.
A depressed appetite in the cat can occur for many medical reasons, and is not specific to any one disease. Kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, dental disease, GI tract pain, GI tract inflammation, urinary tract disease, musculoskeletal pain, anxiety,
cancer, and even hyperthyroidism can all cause cats to become picky. Your veterinarian will use a combination of your cat’s medical history, physical exam, lab tests, and imaging to determine what the causes of decreased appetite are, but I would like to discuss what a depressed appetite in the cat looks like to the cat owner.
Here is a common discussion I have in the exam room when talking to someone about their sick cat. I say, “Based on what you’ve described, it doesn’t sound like Baba Ganoush is eating well. He sounds like he may be nauseated.” And often the reply is, “No, he’s not nauseated because he’s not throwing up. He goes over to the food and looks like he wants it, but he just won’t eat it.”
Acting desirous of food without eating much or any of it is a sign of discomfort. Your cat may insist on something fresh put into a dish, but then only take a few half-hearted licks before walking away. You might end up opening ten different favorite foods, like tuna or sardines, as well as commercial canned foods, baby food, milk, and broth, only to find your cat will eat very little of any of it. You might notice that even though your cat keeps rejecting your offerings, he circles around to revisit the food bowls repeatedly. The cat that expresses interest in food but won’t eat it is a hungry cat. There is a reason your cat wants food but will not actually ingest it: the disease process overrides the hunger, and often the cat is nauseated or in pain.
Lip smacking or repeated lip licking in the presence of food is also a sign of nausea. This most frequently occurs when fresh food is placed before him and he smells it. He may smack his mouth and walk away. The same can be seen of nauseated cats that take a couple of licks and then lip smack; sometimes these cats will actually retch without vomiting. While it is a natural tendency for cats to appear to “bury” their food, increases in the frequency of this behavior combined with decreased appetite indicate nausea. Never assume that your cat isn’t nauseated just because he or she isn’t vomiting. While cats are known for their predilection for upchucking on the new rug, they do not always vomit when they are sick.
Appetite depression can occur in both an acute sense and a progressive sense. The acutely anorexic cat is eating well one day, and then eating very little the next day, and not at all the third day. The acutely anorexic cat is also more likely to vomit acutely as well, and often the vomit is foamy or “bileish” in color. The progressively anorexic cat has a slow decline in interest in food. Often she will refuse something that she is used to, but will eat something new. After a couple of days, the new item is spurned, but a newer choice is eaten. This kind of pickiness should not simply be chalked up to a finicky cat—if there is a progressive pattern of food rejection, even if she is still eating, disease is at play and it is a matter of finding it.
Some cats are not very food motivated—I find this often to be the case in petite Persians, for instance. Determining whether a non-food motivated cat is sick can be challenging. It’s important to be very familiar with your cat’s normal food ingestion. Food should be measured in approximate proportions, for example: ½ of a 5.5oz can twice a day + 1/4th of a cup of dry per day. Knowing what your individual cat’s appetite is will help us determine if there is a problem.
Gravity feeders for dry food are the worst kind of feeding set-up for several reasons: no one really knows exactly how much the cat is or isn’t eating when they bring me a sick patient. Gravity feeders are also undesirable because it leads to overweight cats, the food becomes stale, and in mixed cat households, one cat might guard the food and overeat while the other cats are intimidated about eating. Never overlook the fact that stress and anxiety, while not technically diseases, can cause cats to vomit and/or reject food. Again, your vet is here to help guide you through a series of questions that will help her determine how much of the poor appetite is stress-related.
Outright rejection of food is a sign that something is wrong. Eating less than 50% of a regular intake two days in a row (or more) is a sign that something is wrong. Vomiting repeatedly, or vomiting daily for three or more days in a row is also abnormal. One of the very first signs that a cat is unwell is reflected in how much she is willing to eat, and how she feels about the food she is given. Be mindful that disease in the cat is subtle. Any cat that is not eating well should be examined. Cats that have been diagnosed with appetite-inhibiting diseases can often take appetite stimulants to encourage eating.
Drs Kleiman & Kimbrell, and are well-versed in the anorexic cat and are happy to help you and your beloved feline. Stay tuned for Part 2 about increased appetite in cats.