Will Cats Starve Themselves Holding Out for Different Food?

white angora cat eating from food bowl image by Stephen Orsillo from Fotolia.com

It is possible for cats to starve themselves to death holding out for different food. According to the experts at WebMD, "Even if you're trying to make your cat eat a doctor-prescribed diet, never starve your cat into eating a certain type of food.

" A cat can starve itself into liver failure in as little as three days; liver failure can ultimately lead to death. There are several reasons your cat may be avoiding food: a new move, an allergic reaction, a recent vaccination or your finicky cat has just been introduced to a new food. Psychological disorders also can play a key role. It is important to pinpoint the cause.

The Danger

Cats that stop eating have a three-day window before they starve themselves into liver failure. As the cat's body breaks down stored fat -- due to lack of food -- the fat must be processed by the liver. Protein is needed to process the fat. If your cat's body runs out of protein the liver will be overrun with fat and will be unable to process it, and its liver will fail. This process is known as hepatic lipidosis.


Cats that do not eat their food anymore may have developed an allergy to it. Illness can play a key role in why your cat has stopped eating. From a toothache to cancer, there are several reasons your cat may be abstaining from food. Kidney disease, pancreatitis and intestinal problems are other diseases associated with poor appetite. If your cat has recently been vaccinated, it may be reacting poorly to the vaccine, causing loss of appetite. Though vaccinations are essential in keeping your pet safe, they sometimes cause temporary side effects.

Travel/Changes in Surroundings/Finickiness

Cats are creatures of habit. They do not like change. If you have recently moved or travelled with your pet or have left your cat with a sitter for a while, your pet may be too stressed to eat. The act of travelling in a car or plane also may cause motion sickness, which leads to nausea.

Like people, cats are emotional creatures. That being said, it is not that unusual for a cat to get depressed or experience anxiety if something in the household changes. For example, if you have recently had a baby or brought a new pet into the home, your cat my not be eating do to the stress of these changes.

Cats also can be finicky creatures. If your cat has a favourite food that it is no longer receiving, your cat may not eat the new food. You may need to slowly introduce the new food over time, for your cat to get used to the change.


Besides the obvious -- taking your cat to the vet -- you can try switching foods. If you feel your cat is just a finicky eater, try mixing its dry food with a little bit of tuna, liver, broth or cooked eggs. Many vets recommend changing out your pet's food -- to two to four different brands a year -- by slowly increasing the ratio of one brand to another until the cat is solely eating the new brand. This helps to prevent food allergies, finickiness and intestinal problems.

If you feel your cat is acting out because of a new baby or pet, try giving your cat extra attention for awhile, then determine if its appetite picks back up again.

For more serious situations, the vet may be able to help you by determining if your cat's lack of appetite is due to disease or stress. Either way, he can prescribe medications, such as anti-anxiety meds, antidepressants or appetite stimulants, or recommend tube feeding, which may help. Your vet also can set up a test to check for food allergies.

The only way to determine whether or not your cat has an allergy is to perform a food trial, as a food allergy illness can mimic other diseases, such as mites, skin allergies, irritant inhalants and ulcers. During the trial the cat is put on a special hypoallergenic diet for one to 12 weeks, which is about how long it takes for the antibodies to the allergen to leave the cat's body. If the cat improves dramatically, it has a food allergy and a special diet will need to be put into place for it.