Ken Smith had adopted two black and white cats from the same litter when they were just six month old kittens. One of the kittens, Drexal, suffered from a permanent neurological condition that caused her to wobble when she walked and made it impossible for her to jump. Still, she and her sister, Berkley, played and slept together all day, every day for 6 years. Then, without much warning Drexal died. Immediately, Berkley stopped eating, and Ken assumed it was because she was grieving and that any day she’d start eating again.
Over the next couple of weeks, Ken could coax Berkley into taking a few bites of food, but that was it. Ken kept waiting for her to come back around, but that didn’t happen, and Berkley almost died.
While the reason that Berkley stopped eating probably was related to the trauma of losing her sister, what Ken didn’t know was that when a cat stops eating – for any reason – it can turn deadly very fast.
When a person stops eating for a short period of time, their body can handle it. Yes, there will be some changes, the stomach may shrink, blood sugar levels will shift etc….but in general, a healthy person can go without food for two weeks or even longer with no long term effects.
But a cat’s body functions differently from a persons. A human liver is pretty efficient at processing fat. A cat’s, however, is not. When a cat stops eating, the body begins to send fat cells to the liver. Because the cat’s liver cannot process these fat cells a disease called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) can result.
Once the cat has this condition, eating will become increasingly difficult until the cat is not able to eat at all. This can happen rather quickly. Because cats are not, by nature, complainers, a cat with hepatic lipidosis may not even appear to be ill. But there are some signs to look for.
- Cat is not eating
- Excessive and rapid weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing on the skin or around the eyes or mouth)
Unfortunately, once these signs are clearly noticeable, the disease will likely have been present for quite some time. While treatable if caught early enough, the best thing to do is take notice immediately when your cat stops eating. If your cat stops eating for more than 24 hours, the safest course of action is to get to a vet.
In Ken’s case, by the time he took Berkley to the vet it was almost too late. She had to have a feeding tube inserted, but even with that drastic treatment, Ken was told that there was only a 25% chance that she would survive.
The low odds were due to the fact that the fatty liver disease had begun to cause liver failure. Because Berkley was on the verge of liver failure, there was a good chance the treatment would not work.
Hepatic lipidosis is the result of not eating. Once the disease takes hold it becomes the reason that the cat cannot eat. In Berkley’s case it is likely that trauma was the reason she stopped eating. There are some other common reasons a cat will stop being interested in food.
A move to a new house, the addition of a pet or a baby to household or any number of medical conditions are some of the more common causes. Obviously, if the cause is a medical condition, a vet’s assistance will be required to alleviate the problem. Even if the cause is psychological, it is important to find a way to get the cat eating again as quickly as possible or it will quickly turn into the medical condition described above.
Berkley was hospitalized for two weeks. Once she came home, she had to be fed through a tube for several weeks before she began to again show interest in eating on her own. Had she been brought to the vet sooner, the treatment may have been less drastic and she could have been coaxed into eating by simpler measures.
Getting advice from the vet is always going to be the best course of action for a cat that is not eating. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and at the very least your vet will be able to give you advice on how to best stimulate the cat’s appetite as well as providing follow-up care in the event that all of your efforts to get the cat to eat fail.
Don’t take any chances. Yes, there is advice on the internet about how to get your cat to eat, but by waiting to get to a vet, you are gambling with your pet’s life.