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Kitten not eating: A vet's guide to causes and solutions

kitten not eating
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may be understandably worried about your kitten not eating, especially if they’re turning their nose up at even the more premium kitten food from the kitchen cupboard or they simply avoid the food bowl altogether.

A kitten not eating for more than 24 hours is cause for concern and she should be evaluated by a veterinarian. There are many possible reasons why your kitten may stop eating, but the good news is that your veterinarian can often help solve the problem with appropriate diagnostics and treatment. 

Let’s take a look at some of the potential causes for loss of appetite in kittens and what you can do to help get your kitten back to the food bowl. 

Why would a kitten suddenly stop eating? 

There can be many reasons why a kitten would stop eating and it can be hard to distinguish one cause from another. Your kitten may have stopped eating due to: 

  • Dislike of the flavor or texture of the food 
  • Stress 
  • Nausea 
  • Parasites 
  • Gastrointestinal foreign body or obstruction
  • Upper respiratory infection  
  • Other illness making your kitten feel unwell 

This is why it is very important to monitor your kitten’s eating habits and take her to a veterinarian if those habits change suddenly. A sudden change in appetite can be a sign of an underlying illness that needs veterinary attention. 

Kitten looking up with sad expression

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What to do if your kitten won’t eat 

If your kitten has suddenly stopped eating the first thing you can do is try to entice her to eat. Sometimes a kitten will stop eating simply because she dislikes the food or the environment she is being fed in, and making some adjustments can help get your kitten eating again. 

1. Try offering different foods

Try offering a mix of wet and dry food, including different flavors and textures – to see if this will entice your kitten to eat. Some cats love pate food, while others will only eat if their food has gravy!  You can also try warming the food up in the microwave, but be very careful not to make it too hot and always check it with your finger to ensure there aren’t any hot spots, which could burn your kitten’s mouth.  

2. Feed your kitten in a quiet space

Consider feeding your kitten alone in a quiet room or leaving food out overnight. Some cats that are very nervous or shy may not eat with people or other animals around. You may find that once everyone is asleep and the house is quiet, she will venture out to eat by herself.

3. Ensure their food bowl is clean

Leftover food bits can quickly grow bacteria and mold, making for a very unappetizing meal!  Use a bowl that is wide and shallow so it will be easy for your kitten to access, and wash it with dish soap and warm water after each meal.

When to worry about a kitten not eating 

If your kitten hasn’t eaten in more than 24 hours, then it’s time for a visit to your veterinarian. This is especially important if your kitten has any other symptoms of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or abdominal pain. 

Very young kittens, such as those under 6 weeks of age, should see a veterinarian even sooner because they are at risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, if they do not eat regularly.

Signs of hypoglycemia include loss of appetite, weakness, stumbling, falling over, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and death. If you suspect your kitten may be hypoglycemic, rub some karo syrup, honey, or even maple syrup onto your kitten’s gums and take her to a veterinarian immediately.  

vet examining kitten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Diagnosing your kitten

If your kitten has not been eating, your veterinarian will first perform a full physical examination, including listening to your kitten’s heart and lungs and palpating your kitten’s abdomen to feel for any abnormalities.  Your veterinarian will likely also want to perform some diagnostic tests such as blood work, radiographs (x-rays) of your kitten’s abdomen, or evaluation of a fecal sample to rule out parasites.  

This will help your veterinarian rule out common causes for your kitten to stop eating. If an underlying cause for your kitten’s loss of appetite is identified, your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate treatment plan to help get your kitten back on track.

Sometimes, no underlying cause is identified to explain your kitten’s change in appetite. In this case, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to address the symptoms. This may include a medication to alleviate nausea, an appetite stimulant, an antacid, or even intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous (SQ) fluids to help keep your kitten hydrated.  Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely, and let your vet know if your kitten does not improve on the medications.

Kitten meowing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Treating your kitten at home

Although it may be tempting to try home remedies or over-the-counter medications for your kitten, this is not a good idea. Many of these “treatments” are unhelpful at best and toxic at worst. Your kitten is fragile and cannot tolerate new supplements at this time.  Many over-the-counter and other human medications are also toxic to cats and can be very dangerous to your kitten. In general, you should never use a home remedy or medication without first consulting your veterinarian. 

Conclusion

With your veterinarian’s help – and maybe a little trial and error – you’ll hopefully see your kitten back at the food dish in no time. Remember that too many diet changes can cause an upset stomach, so transition gradually if you decide to feed your kitten a new type of food.  Be sure to keep an eye on your kitten’s appetite, and see your veterinarian if any further episodes of not eating occur.  Most importantly, enjoy all the fun there is to be had during kittenhood! 

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at www.theveterinarywriter.com and at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eracinedvm/