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Cat won't eat dry food: A vet's guide to feeding a fussy feline

Cat won't eat dry food
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You want to make sure your pet has a complete diet, but what happens if your cat won’t eat dry food? Cat food comes in two main varieties, wet or dry. But just as wet food can be jelly, gravy, or paté, dry kibble comes in an array of sizes, qualities, and flavors. 

This means that just because your cat turns his nose up at one type of dry food, it doesn’t necessarily mean he will dislike all of them. However, there could be many other reasons why your cat is not eating his dry food, which we will explore in this article. 

Why won't my cat eat dry food? 

The first thing to address is whether it is just the dry food he dislikes or whether he is not eating any food at all. 

This will help you to work out which of the following problems could be going on:

Underlying health issues 

If your cat is generally off his food and is not keen to eat either dry food or wet, then you should get him checked over. Several conditions could cause inappetence in your cat and it can be hard to work out which one it is.

Medical complaints like dental disease, stomach upsets, infections, kidney disease, liver problems, and cancer can all cause your cat to reduce his food intake. Your vet will examine your cat for obvious signs of disease, but may also suggest some further tests such as blood samples if they have concerns about your pet’s appetite.

Stress

Behavioral issues like stress and anxiety in your cat can cause problems too. New pets or people in the home could put your cat on edge, or events such as fireworks or a recent house move.

Issues with texture or kibble size 

There are a variety of dry foods available with different kibble sizes and shapes, some of which may be more appealing to your cat than others. Naturally, kitten kibble will be quite small and easier for tiny teeth to manage. Adult cat food may be uniform, or it could contain a variety of shapes and your cat may have a preference for one over the other.

Some cats just don’t enjoy the texture of dry food. Cats are carnivores (meat-eaters) by nature so might show a preference for moist, meaty foods instead of dry, crumbly kibbles.

Poor quality diet 

You should always feed your cat a good quality, complete diet that is appropriate to his life stage (ie kitten, adult, or senior foods). Some poorer quality commercial diets may contain less meat or meat derivatives, leading to issues with palatability. Look at our guide to the best dry cat food, for some inspiration when selecting a diet for your pet.

Fussy eater 

Cats are notorious for being fussy eaters - what works for them one day, doesn’t always work the next! Some cats like variety, and receiving the same kibble each day might be boring.

Other cats like familiarity and if you’ve recently changed the brand of their diet from the one they’ve always been happy with, this could be the cause. Changes to their food bowl could put them off too, or perhaps the location of their bowl.

If your cat is getting lots of treats and titbits, then don’t forget this may be curbing his appetite and he could be developing a preference for these over his boring everyday kibbles.

Cat food

(Image credit: Abeer Zaki/Unsplash)

Is it bad if my cat won't eat dry food? 

There are some advantages to feeding dry food over wet food. It is easier to measure and weigh out your cat’s daily rations when he is on solely dry food. Dry kibbles are less smelly and messy than wet food, which can be a particular advantage in the summer.

Many people think dry foods are better for their cat’s teeth and are concerned if their pet is only on wet food. However, studies comparing bacterial levels (opens in new tab) and oral health between the two are inconclusive. It’s important to remember that teeth brushing is the best preventative care you can provide against dental disease.

As long as your cat is on a complete diet appropriate for his age, then it doesn’t matter if it is wet or dry food. It is far more important to monitor your pet’s weight and make sure you are feeding him the correct amount.

Why has my cat stopped eating dry food but eats treats? 

Your cat might feel poorly and can only be tempted into eating if it’s something really tasty, like a special treat. Some cats just know to hold out for the good stuff! If you feed them lots of treats though this will curb their appetite for their main meal and lead to a nutritionally unbalanced diet. 

best cat treats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to tell if your cat doesn't like their food 

Cats may explore their food bowl but take a sniff and walk away if they don’t like it. Others may have a few bites before giving up. It can be hard to tell the difference between your cat being unwell or just not liking their food, so take them to the vet for a check-up if their appetite seems off to you. 

How to encourage a cat to eat dry food 

Here are some steps to take if you want your cat to eat dry food: 

  • Get them checked out by a vet. Dental or jaw pain can put your cat off 
  • Try swapping brands to an alternative good quality cat food, with a different kibble size or shape
  • Try moistening the kibbles. Soaking them in a bit of warm water before feeding can help give them a softer, meatier texture 
  • Make sure you give fresh biscuits each day and keep your cat’s food in an airtight container to stop it going stale, making it unappetising
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water, as cats are thirstier on dry food diets  

Conclusion 

If your cat has gone off his dry food, then a check-up at the vet is a good idea, especially if there have been no changes to his diet or routine. If your cat shows a general preference to wet over dry, this is not necessarily an issue as long as he is maintaining a healthy weight.

Rebecca is a veterinary surgeon who graduated in 2009 from the Royal Veterinary College in London. She has a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, having done a mixture of day-to-day routine work, on-call emergency duties and managerial roles over the years. She enjoys medicine in particular and she is proud to have recently achieved a BSAVA postgraduate certificate in small animal medicine (with commendation). She writes on various feline and canine topics, including behavior, nutrition, and health. Outside of work and writing she enjoys walking her own dog, spending time with her young family and baking!