Cat won't eat dry food? Here’s what a vet said could be behind it

Cat won't eat dry food?
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Finding your cat won’t eat dry food? Don’t worry, it’s more common than you think. Kibble isn’t for every kitty for a whole host of reasons. Perhaps they simply don’t enjoy the texture or the size of the food or they’re suffering from a dental problem which is making chewing a challenge. In some cases, a cat may be feeling stressed over recent environmental changes. Whatever the cause, however, it’s not as big a problem as you may imagine.

While we all want to give our fur babies the best cat food, ensuring they are getting sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals needed to thrive, there are different types of best dry cat food on the market which means there’s a strong likelihood you’ll find something palatable. In the same way that the best wet cat food comes in an array of sizes, qualities, and flavors, kibble is also widely varied. Sometimes it can be as simple as swapping brands to satisfy your cat. 

If that doesn’t do the trick, though, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Here expert Dr. Rebecca MacMillan shares her thoughts on the reasons your cat may be refusing to eat dry food while giving advice on what you can do to encourage them to gobble it up and when you should be concerned.

rebecca macmillan
Dr. Rebecca MacMillan

Dr. Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet with over 13 years of experience treating and looking after pets. She graduated from the UK Royal Veterinary college in 2009, and has worked in several practices over the years. Rebecca is also an experienced writer, using her veterinary background to offer expert opinion and advice. 

Why won't my cat eat dry food? 

First of all, ask yourself this: is your cat only refusing to eat dry food, or is your cat not eating any food at all? If it’s the latter, then there may be something more serious going on such as:

An underlying health issue

Several conditions could cause a general lack of appetite. These include medical complaints such as dental disease, stomach upsets, infections, kidney disease, liver problems, and cancer. Visit a vet who will examine your cat for obvious signs of disease and potentially suggest some further tests such as blood samples if they have concerns.

Behavioral issues such as stress

Stress and anxiety in cats need to be addressed. New pets or people in the home could put your cat on edge, or events such as fireworks or a recent house move. Identify the issue and eliminate them to potentially get cats eating again.

Issues with texture or kibble size

Kibble comes in various sizes and shapes and 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.

A poor quality diet

Always feed cats a good quality, complete diet appropriate to their life stage (that is, kitten, adult, or senior). Some poorer quality commercial diets may contain less meat or meat derivatives, leading to issues with palatability so check out the best dry cat food for inspiration.

Being fussy

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 also 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

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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 a cat’s daily rations, it’s less smelly and messy (which is particularly great in the summer) and some people claim that dry foods are better for a cat’s teeth (however, a study published in the journal Microbiome comparing bacterial levels and oral health between proved inconclusive – learning how to brush your cat’s teeth is better). Overall, though, don’t worry. It’s not bad if your cat won’t eat dry food. As long as your cat is on a complete diet appropriate for his or her age, 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 the correct amount.

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

Maybe your cat feels poorly and can only be tempted to eat something really tasty, like a special treat. Or maybe your cat knows to hold out for the good stuff! Try to avoid feeding cats lots of treats because it will curb their appetite for their main meal and lead to a nutritionally unbalanced diet. 

best cat treats

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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 

If you want your cat to eat dry food: 

  • Get them checked out by a vet. Dental or jaw pain can be off-putting for cats
  • Try swapping brands for 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 from going stale, making it unappetizing
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water, as cats are thirstier on dry food diets  

And remember, if your cat shows a general preference for wet over dry, this is not necessarily an issue so long as he is maintaining a healthy weight.

Want to learn more about wet food and whether it can make a nutritious alternative meal for your kitty? Then be sure to take a look at our vet’s guide to ‘Is wet food bad for cats?’ where we break down everything you need to know. 

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!