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My cat is usually really social. Loves to be cuddled, loves being around people, always crawls in my lap. Today, though, he spent the day hiding in my closet and in his cat tree. He didn't really eat a lot of his wet food breakfast, which is usually a big event in this house. He did eat some treats I brought to him, and cuddles when I come to him, but he doesn't really come out much. His eyes are clear, his nose feels the same as always,and he doesn't appear to react at all to me checking his belly and limbs and such for abnormalities (I didn't notice any but I am also not a vet).

For reference, he is about three years old, an indoor cat, and the only pet in my house. I don't have any plants or anything in my house that he could have eaten.

What should I do? Is this a wait and see situation, or a call the vet in the morning one?

  • As it seems the cat is at ease and the only symptom is his hiding and lessened apetite, I would not make a vet call yet. – Esa Paulasto Mar 12 '14 at 6:44
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    If you got the same burst of warm weather that we did over the last 48 hours, I would suspect a bug made a spring outing and your cat ate it. This could give him tummy upset for a few hours. – James Jenkins Mar 12 '14 at 10:42
  • @James yeah, we did get that (though we have snow again!) so that could be it. – Ash Mar 12 '14 at 16:44
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If your cat is not eating at or near a normal diet the following morning, a call to the vet is definitely in order. You know your pet, and if their diet is significantly changed for more then 24-36 hours a vet exam is indicated.

Note that for some herbivores like rabbits, diet disruption gets critical in less than 24 hours.

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  • He appears a bit better today. A bit quiet, but he came out for breakfast and cuddles and stuff, so that is good. I am glad to know now how long to wait in case he doesn't perk up the next time as quickly! :) – Ash Mar 12 '14 at 16:45
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(I see that your situation has resolved itself, but I want to talk a bit about cat anorexia and fatty liver disease because it can be a real problem).

Cats can stop eating for a variety of reasons. They ate a bug, they have a hairball making them feel weird, they're stressed, they have a cold, there are a ton of reasons.

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

The main danger when a cat stops eating is feline hepatic lipidosis, commonly called fatty liver disease.

The exact mechanism by which fasting in a previously healthy cat causes hepatic lipidosis is not clear. The process is unique to cats in both severity and rate of occurrence. It is understood as the anorexia continues more and more fat is broken down throughout the body and that this fat is then transported to the liver. The liver should then process this fat and export it back to the rest of the body in a new form. In cats developing hepatic lipidosis this process is impaired and fat accumulates in the liver. Damage to the liver occurs as a result of liver cells being too swollen with fat.

It's also not really well understood how long it takes for a cat to develop fatty liver disease, but it's believed that overweight cats will develop it faster than normal/underweight cats.

I had a cat with recurring anorexia (as a result of sinus problems) and the general timeline we followed was:

  • Day One: Offer Food, no pressure
  • Days 2-4: Initiate Force Feeding (high caloric density soft food with a syringe every 2 hours)
  • Day 5+: Hospital stay for regular liver monitoring (hospital staff continued force feeding)

Fortunately he never developed fatty liver (he was pretty underweight from these recurrent episodes). It's very difficult to get enough calories into a cat with a syringe, and if I knew how often we'd be doing it I would have had a feeding tube placed in his neck to aid in the feedings.

Dehydration

Another concern when a cat stops eating is dehydration, because cats get most of their water through their food (especially on a wet food diet). There are two ways to check your cat for dehydration at home.

  • Scruff test. Pull the skin of the scruff (the back of the neck) away from their body a short distance and observe how quickly it returns to place (a healthy cat should snap back immediately, a dehydrated cat will sort of slide back into place).
  • Gum test. Press your finger on the cat's gums. When you release your finger, there should be a white spot where your finger was. In a healthy cat, it'll take 1-2 seconds for that spot to return to pink. In a dehydrated cat it will take longer.

Dehydration can be easily treated, but a vet needs to examine the cat to be sure that there is not an underlying problem causing the dehydration.

When to See Your Vet

If your cat is dehydrated, you should see your vet immediately.

If your cat has not eaten for 2 days, you should see your vet immediately.

If it's a Friday and your cat just stopped eating and your vet isn't available on the weekend, call you vet and ask for advice specific to your cat's health and any existing conditions.

What to Expect

The most common treatment for anorexia is appetite stimulants. This medication is often used in addition to treating whatever the underlying cause for the anorexia may be. For example, in the cat with sinus problems, we would often give him antibiotics for the sinus infections and appetite stimulants to get him started eating again.

Feeding tubes are a treatment method for chronic anorexia, or anorexia that has progressed into hepatic lipidosis. It can sometimes be used as a treatment method in other cases of anorexia as well. For example, after a surgery, Juliet stopped eating due to stress. She hates being handled by people (medications, syringe feeding, etc), so I had the vet put in a feeding tube immediately and she was fine a week later. I believe that if we had tried to syringe feed her, it would have continued to stress her out (continuing the anorexia).

If your cat is also dehydrated, the vet may administer subcutaneous fluids to your cat, or use an IV for more intensive therapy.

Your cat may need to stay overnight or at the vet's for several days if she is very ill (from anorexia, dehydration, or from the underlying cause).

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  • My situation may have resolved, but this is excellent information! I didn't know about fatty liver, so I am glad you posted! – Ash Mar 13 '14 at 15:10
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I'm glad your situation is better but if I had a cat that stopped eating and went into hiding (and I knew of no good reason for it, like some strange disturbance, very loud noise....) I'd be very worried.

Cats have been known to stop eating and go off to hide somewhere as a mechanism for ending their life. I do not know what tells them to do this but some seem to sense when they have a serious condition and they do this behavior.

Evolution could favor this odd behavior as it would help to reduce the passing of some contagious disorders.

I have never had a cat do this but I know other people who have had terminal cats who went into this behavior mode (stop eating & get in a good hiding spot).

Not drinking is even worse than not eating, but in either case I'd make a vet visit pretty early on.

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