Does Your Cat Have a Sensitive Stomach or Is He Just Picky?

November 26, 2021
cat health
nutrition

There is nothing more frustrating and worrisome than having a seemingly healthy cat stop eating their regular food. There are many potential causes for this behaviour, and it’s essential to work with your veterinarian to understand the underlying issue and develop an appropriate solution.

How can you tell if your cat is simply a picky eater, or if they have gastrointestinal (GI) sensitivities? Here are some things to look for:

Cats Who Suddenly Become Picky Eaters

If your cat decides to stop eating or shows less interest in food, he or she may have an underlying health condition that is more serious than just being bored with the current food. Underlying health conditions may include sore mouth or teeth, stomach or intestinal disease, kidney or liver disease or in the most serious cases, even cancer.

A decreased appetite or no appetite can also occur with more acute conditions like respiratory infections. Your cat may even have food allergies! It is always recommended to rule these possibilities out by speaking with your veterinarian.

Just like people, cats can sometimes experience nausea or an upset stomach, causing them to reject their food. If your cat suddenly rejects their meal or experiences any of the symptoms below, it is best to contact your veterinarian immediately as these can all be signs of something more serious and they need to be investigated.

  • Loss of appetite or decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Hiding, acting differently or lethargy
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Changes in drinking or urinating behaviours

You should also consider if something or someone new was introduced into your fluffy friend’s environment that is causing them stress. Some examples are a new home, a pet, a visitor, or a baby. The best way to ease your cat’s stress in these situations is to go slow and gradually introduce these changes while making sure they have their own space that they can escape to and feel safe.

In order for cats to feel like they have a safe space, they require the ability to have a place to hide, an elevated place to perch above stressors and the ability to mark by scratching or rubbing their faces.

This may look like a small bathroom or closet that can be closed off from the rest of the house or a cat tree with a place to hide. Be sure they have access to fresh food and water. As they acclimate to the changes, their appetite should return quickly and if it does not, this definitely warrants further investigation by your veterinarian.

There is a certain population of cats (the diva cats) who are always looking for variety and become bored with their meals easily. Dry food one week, wet food the next and always a different flavour or texture.

Older cats, just like humans, start to lose some of their senses. If your cat happens to lose their sense of smell, then its once delightful-smelling dinner may have lost its appeal. Older cats are also more prone to having underlying illnesses even if they aren’t showing major signs so if you do notice even a slight change to your cat’s appetite, it’s important to mention it to your veterinarian and make sure to rule out any other causes.

Cats Who Have Always Been Picky Eaters

Some cats prefer to graze and want to free feed when they are hungry. Grazing on dry food is acceptable when your cat is an ideal weight and doesn’t overeat, but careful monitoring is recommended as this feeding technique can lead to weight gain quite easily.

You may even find that some cats have preferences for certain textures, flavours, and odours. Adding wet food to a cat’s meal can be a great way to increase palatability as it has a stronger smell to it as well as a different texture. Cats have 12 times the amount of smell receptors and 10 times fewer taste buds than humans, so smell plays a major role in the palatability of their food.

Heating up the wet food for just a few seconds in the microwave can also release the aroma, but make sure that it’s not too hot before offering it to your furry companion as you don’t want to burn their tongue!

Like humans, cats can also associate certain smells and tastes with feeling sick, so if your cat is feeling ill and you offer a specific food, there is a chance he or she might reject that food in the future as they associate it with the feeling of being sick.

If you change your cat’s food, you may find that they will sample it to see if they like it. It may take some time for the food to grow on them. Just be patient and ensure that they have a quiet and safe place to eat with their preferred style of bowls.

Cleaning food bowls regularly is also very important since cats have such a strong sense of smell and having residue from old food is a recipe for bacterial growth and the smell could also lead to a cat turning away their meal.

Make small changes such as incrementally adding amounts of their new food to their current food over the period of a week. This will help them gradually acclimate and minimize the chance of an upset stomach compared to a drastic change. Check out this video featuring Dr. Liz O’Brien explaining how to properly transition your cat to a new diet.

5 Dos & Don’ts for Helping Your Cat Love Mealtime

  1. Though it may be tempting to believe that a hungry cat will eventually eat, never withhold food. If cats go too long without eating, they can become ill and there is a possibility of a very serious disease called fatty liver disease (also known as hepatic lipidosis), which has the potential to be fatal. Always consult with your veterinarian if your cat has a change in appetite as it could be serious. Many issues are much easier to address early on versus leaving them for too long.
  1. Using human food as a last resort to tempt your cat to eat is a possibility (though we recommend doing so under the supervision of your veterinarian), but there is a potential for your cat to prefer the human food over their regular diet and this could lead to more pickiness down the road. It is best to stick with a nutritionally balanced diet meant for cats that gives your cat all the nutrients they need and if ever you are unsure, consult with your veterinarian.
  1. It is very important to keep in mind feeding your cat raw food could make them very sick from the potential bacteria and parasites that can be found in uncooked meats. Raw fish also contains an enzyme that destroys thiamine, an essential B vitamin your cat needs in their diet.

    Many studies have also shown that pets eating raw food diets carry these bacterial and other infectious organisms in their feces and saliva. Cats eating raw food diets become a potential hazard to the people who are in close contact with them, especially young children, women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, elderly people or people who are immunocompromised. Please speak to your veterinarian about the risks of feeding your cat raw food if this is something you are considering.
  1. You may find that cats with sensitive stomachs will do well with a specialized prescription diet that meets their needs depending on the underlying issue. Cats with food allergies would require a hypoallergenic diet with a novel hydrolyzed (broken down) protein source.

    Some cats will benefit from a cat food formulated with low carbs and higher protein content. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian before switching your cat’s diet, especially to a more specialized diet as you want to make sure you are making the best choice for your cat’s specific needs.
  1. Feeding your cat in smaller and more frequent meals can help both picky eaters and cats with sensitive stomachs.

Patience is Key

All in all, if you are reading this, you love your cat, and you will eventually find what your cat wants to eat if you keep trying. Just remember to always check with your veterinarian first to rule out any health concerns. If a health condition is found, there are prescription diets your cat may be put on that can help as well as medications or other treatments depending on what they find.

Keep in mind that each cat is an individual and has specific needs based on their age, breed, lifestyle, weight and other underlying health conditions. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the perfect diet for your cat, but it is so important to find a balanced diet that they enjoy and allows them to thrive!

This article was reviewed by a Cat Healthy Veterinarian and sponsored by Hill’s Canada.

Subscribe to the Meow & Mail