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

cat eating
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When your cat has always loved their food and meal times it can be disconcerting when your cat won’t eat wet food. It may be you wish to change your cat onto a wet diet or for seemingly unknown reasons, they have decided they no longer like their canned or pouched meat. 

It is important to distinguish the difference between if your cat won’t eat wet food or if your cat’s not eating at all. A kitty not eating at all is a very real and justifiable concern that requires the attention of your veterinarian within one to two days. Especially if they are exhibiting other signs such as a cough, altered drinking patterns, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or any new or strange urinating issues. 

If however, your cat has a clean bill of health or they happen to eat their favorite treat just not their wet food, then it’s likely to be more a case of them being a fussy eater. If this is a new experience for you and them it can be tempting to  try out every variety and option of the best wet cat food around but this can often exacerbate the problem. Many other factors, some obvious and some not, may be the cause of your cat not eating their wet food, regardless if the wet food is new to them or they’ve eaten it for years to only now decide they no longer want it.

Thankfully, expert vet, Dr. Sarah-Jane Molier is here to unravel this and explain some of the most common reasons why your kitty might suddenly not be eating their wet food and what you can do to solve the mystery so all is well again.

Sarah-Jane Molier BVM&S MRCVS
Dr. Sarah-Jane Mollier

Sarah-Jane Molier wanted to be a veterinarian from around the age of ten. After much hard work, and her first degree in animal science, she realized this dream and graduated in 2009. She has been working in small animal clinics ever since. She currently works as Head Veterinarian in a small animal practice. Sarah-Jane particular enjoys internal medicine, alongside her managerial role. 

Why won't my cat eat wet food?

Cats can be fussy creatures, and they love routine. Any small deviation from the norm can cause a temporary change in your cat’s eating habits. 

If your cat doesn’t eat for 24 hours or more, then you must take them to a vet straight away. Cats need to eat regularly, or they can rapidly develop something called fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis), which requires prompt treatment. 

While any cat can be affected, you might be surprised to learn that it’s even more serious for overweight cats to go without food since they are more prone to hepatic lipidosis.

Here are some possible reasons that your cat won’t eat wet food:  

1. The recipe has changed

The food manufacturer may have changed some of the ingredients or altered the flavor slightly. This isn’t always immediately obvious on the packet, but your cat is likely to notice! 

2. The type of wet food has changed

Have you swapped from gravy-based to pâté-based, for example? Cats can be fussy about textures and may favor a certain type of wet food. 

3. A dirty bowl

Wet food leaves more residue in the bowl than kibble, so the bowl gets dirty quicker. The bowl may look clean, but cats have a very keen sense of smell. Similarly, residues of strong smelling liquid can offend your cat. 

4. Changes in the weather or food storage conditions

One of the appeals of wet food is that it smells delicious! When the food gets cold, it loses its smell, which may make the food disinteresting to your cat. So, if it’s particularly cold outside, or you’ve started storing their wet food in the fridge, try warming it a bit. 

5. A recent trip to the cattery or veterinary hospital  

If the cattery or hospital fed your cat their favorite wet food while they were there, then they may now have a negative association with that food. This is called a ‘food aversion’. Simply put, it means your cat now associates that food with their stay in the cattery or hospital. If this is the case, it may be time to try a new food! 

6. Expired food

If your cat is suddenly turning their nose up at their wet food, it’s always worth checking the use-by date. Cats have amazing senses and won’t eat food if it’s spoiling.

7. Personal preference

Some cats just prefer kibble! If that's the case with your feline, be sure to check out our guide to the best dry cat food for lots of nutritious and delicious options.

8. Eating elsewhere

If your cat is hunting more than usual, or a well-meaning neighbor is suddenly feeding them, then your cat may appear to not eat their food. You could try a collar with ‘do not feed me’ printed on it.  

9. Stress  

Any changes to their routine or environment can stress some cats enough they seem disinterested in their food. Have you changed where you feed them? Cats don’t like it if the food is too close to their water bowl or litter tray. 

10. Inappetence

If your cat stops eating and has any other signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or sleeping more than usual, then you should take them to your vet as soon as possible. If your cat was previously eating ravenously then suddenly stopped, this could indicate an illness such as diabetes, or an overactive thyroid. 

A grey cat eating dry food from a saucer

(Image credit: Getty)

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

Wet and dry food have different pros and cons, so many people opt for a mixture of both. Many cats live long, healthy lives eating solely dry food. Dry food is convenient, useful for cats that graze, and can prevent boredom when fed through puzzle feeders. It also tends to be higher in calories, so can be useful for underweight cats, or cats who need higher calories. 

Wet food is great for increasing water intake, making it beneficial for cats prone to urinary issues or constipation. It is also a good option for overweight cats. If you think your cat would benefit from a wet food diet but they won’t eat it, and you’ve tried our tips below, then speak with your veterinary team for advice.

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

There could be any number of reasons, including those listed above. Treats are highly palatable (tasty), so if your cat isn’t feeling like eating, these high value treats may still tempt them.

How to tell if cat doesn't like their food

Wondering how to tell if your cat doesn't like their food? If it’s a new food, try offering their usual food. If they dig in, that’s a sure sign they don’t like the new food! If it’s their usual food, try offering them something new to see if they’ve lost interest in their usual food. 

cat looking up from empty dish

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to encourage a cat to eat wet food

If you’re keen for your cat to eat some wet food, you can start by adding a tiny amount to their usual dry food. Gently warming the wet food can make it more appealing, as it brings out the smell (of course always check it’s not too hot before offering it to your cat!). 

Try different textures and flavors of wet food, to see which your cat likes. Mixing in some warm cat milk initially may help tempt your cat. Remember that any change in diet should be done slowly, over 1-2 weeks, to avoid tummy upsets! This also gives your cat time to adjust. 

If your cat won’t eat wet food when they usually do, there are many possible reasons. It’s important to check there isn’t an underlying medical issue, so call your vet for advice and to schedule a check-up.  Remember, if your cat isn’t eating at all then they need to see a vet urgently.  

For more kitty-related health content, be sure to check out our guides to 'do anti-vomit cat bowls work?' and 'common allergies in cats'.

Dr Sarah-Jane Molier BVM&S MRCVS

Sarah-Jane Molier graduated in 2009 and has been enjoying life as a vet ever since. She currently works as Head Veterinarian in a small animal practice. Sarah-Jane particular enjoys internal medicine, alongside her managerial role. When not working in practice Sarah-Jane enjoys sharing her knowledge and helping pet parents by writing on a wide variety of animal health and medicine topics. In her spare time Sarah-Jane loves walking Nero (her rescue dog), gardening with her two young children and reading.