My kitty only eats at the vet!
September 23, 2019 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Our 16 year old cat is starting to not eat. Except, he will eat at the vet's.

I took him in last Thursday because he seemed to have shrunk a bit over the summer. Sure enough, he was dehydrated and had lost some weight. The vet took him back to give him fluids. The vet also gave him a can of cat food which he apparently devoured. We switched to the food that he got there and he ate some of it at first, but now, he merely sniffs it and moves along. We tried baby food, different varieties of wet food, etc. But the cat still will just sniff it and then move along.

So I took him back to the vet's office today and he ate there! Meanwhile, once he was home, he was not interested in the savory (and super smelly) seafood entree he was offered. The vet has prescribed an appetite stimulant which I apparently wasn't giving him enough of, so there is that. But, he was eating at the vet's office without the need for the stimulant.

His bloodwork has come back mostly normal. His kidney enzymes were a little elevated but nothing terrible. He has been drinking water here at home (fresh, filtered water from the fridge). Why will he eat in the chaos of the vet's office with dogs barking but he won't eat here? Do I need to put him in a cage to feed him now?

Obligatory pic.
posted by tafetta, darling! to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
What food did he eat at the vet? Give him that. A cat not eating for 24 hours is a full on emergency. They’re not like us and can’t do that without risking organ damage.

That said, sometimes you do have to wait a bit for them to decide it’s a good idea to eat. But you should call your vet in the morning if the food is uneaten.

Edit: he could be stressed by his surroundings at your place suddenly. Could another cat or dog or human have spooked or attacked him? Put the food where he is if he’s hiding or in a different safe spot.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:37 PM on September 23, 2019

Oh my gosh that picture is priceless, what a dude.

What's your home like for him? Do you have other pets, small kids, or like, literally any changes whatsoever to his environment? It could even be a neighbor with a funny smelling pet and your windows are open, or he got spooked by a passing truck that made a loud noise. Seriously, cats latch on to the wildest things sometimes.

It's not actually a bad idea to feed him in a cage or small hiding spot equivalent. If you've got a crate you can feed him in he might like that, or you could make a little fort under a coffee table and see if that helps.

At 16 he really needs to be eating every day. Hopefully the appetite stimulant will help. You can also offer him a bunch of food choices - he might accept new food in a startling environment like the vet's but want the consistency of his usual food at home. It sound like it's time to break out things like tuna juice and other high value treats.
posted by Mizu at 8:45 PM on September 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

What kind of dish does the vet use? Some cats are bothered by their whiskers touching the sides of a food bowl; a flat plate might help.

On edit: Beautiful cat!
posted by shoesietart at 9:06 PM on September 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

the foods from the vet
foods warmed (increases the smell)
Adding extra warm water
A shallow or flat dish
cozy cat house for foods
dish set up high - on a shelf or table or something. Some cats feel more comfortable up high.
May also be that in the vet cage, there isn’t much to do there besides sleep and eat?
Have teeth been checked? Did they give any pain or other meds at the vet?
posted by Crystalinne at 2:27 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Things that affect how my cat eats:
- the other cat is annoying him
- he likes a flat dish
- he's had a couple teeth removed, so he likes his food cut up for him with a fork into chunks
- doesn't like it cold
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:06 AM on September 24, 2019

What a magnificent boy!

I see that you tried the food from the vet, too. So frustrating.

My own 19 year old cat was in a similar spot, here's what helped us:

1) Changed her plate: changed to using a completely flat stoneware plate.

2) Changed the eating spot. (Temporarily) we noticed her spending a lot of time in one room, so we moved her food there. If I ever found her alert, sitting, but not doing anything, I would put the food next to her.

2) "Prime the system" - a trail of 5 - 10 cat treats leading to the wet food we would prefer she eats. If she was having a very reluctant day, it would be a short trail of cat treats, followed by a few pieces of tuna, then wet food.

Something about our cat's situation meant that she definitely was hungry, but had forgotten what eating was. Treats seem to help with that.

She even had a day where she only ate 20 cat treats, and a bite of wet food. I'm not sure if this is healthy, I figured any food in her belly better than no food.

3) Tuna juice. I get bumblebee very low sodium tuna in water and then drizzle the liquid over her food.

4) warming the food. If possible, warm his food up slightly. Just so it's barely warm. Recommend bringing it to room temperature slowly, unless you have a dedicated cat food pan or something. (Note of caution: my cat's food almost started a fire in the microwave. Lots of sparks. Something about the high metallic ion content of the food? Not sure.)

Also, a food for thought question: How is he pooping? Normal poops?

Sometimes they stop eating because something else on the other end of their digestive system isn't working right. Stuck hairball? A big poo that's hard to pass?

Good luck to you and you senior kitty! It's really nerve-wracking when they behave one way at home, and completely differently at the vet's.
posted by Guess What at 4:45 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

My senior kitty suddenly got weird about eating. I had her on an all wet food diet for years (and some crunchy treats every evening) but for whatever reason she suddenly began turning her nose up at the wet food. I tried different brands, warming it up, adding gravy, etc. No interest.

Out of desperation I picked up a bag of her old favorite Meow Mix. Her ears perked up as soon as she heard the sound of the bag, and she ate some as soon as I poured it in the bowl. Eventually she started taking an interest in the wet food again too. I still believe the all wet food diet is healthier but at her age I'm just glad she's back to eating regularly.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:18 AM on September 24, 2019

My dog is sometimes MORE likely to eat if he's a little stressed/ threatened. Basically he's guarding the food from anyone else by devouring it. I dunno if that translates to cats at all.
posted by metasarah at 5:49 AM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wonder if the cat is eating because it smells all the other animal smells and perceives challenges for the food. My dog is a lousy eater and will leave food sitting there - unless we have a visitor dog and he will go gobble it up.

Are there no other pets in your house? Probably not the route you wanna go but I wonder how his appetite would be if you got a new kitten...
posted by beccaj at 5:58 AM on September 24, 2019

We had a cat with an arthritic neck who couldn't reach a food bowl on her own level. When the bowl rim was at her standing chin level she ate just fine.

I have found that some of my cats are much more interested in eating moving prey, so throwing food and requiring them to dart after it is both an amusing game and will get a little bit of extra hard food, or scraps of plain roasted meat and fat into them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:07 AM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

My vet suggested a bowl that his whiskers won't touch when he leans in to get a bite. The search term is "whisker fatigue bowl."
posted by ilovewinter at 8:04 AM on September 24, 2019

A couple guesses:
-stress eating/guarding at the vet?
-kitty dementia, where at the vet he's confined to a small space with the food so he can't "forget" that there's food there to eat and that he hasn't eaten it yet?
posted by purple_bird at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have a cat who started getting iffy about eating at home and it turned out the solution was to elevate the food a couple inches off the ground -- we're using a plate on top of a bowl. As I recall, the theory was that one of our cats was gulping air along with food whenever she was eating, and the air would fill up her stomach and make her lose her appetite ... ? Something like that. Anyway, it worked, and the other two cats don't seem to mind it.
posted by Mothlight at 10:41 AM on September 24, 2019

Update: kitty has pancreatitis.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 6:46 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

It looks like you may have some answers already, but when we had a kitty not eating a few years ago, there was some food at the vet that they basically told me was like magic - when they won't eat anything else, they WILL eat it, if anything at all will work. I can't remember what our magic food was, but ask your vet... and if you have a fragile cat, keep a few cans on hand.

We took our kitty home after IV fluids with a probably tumor diagnosis, more fluids to give her myself (and I HATE needles), and a probable "if you can get her to pull through this, you might get a few more weeks out of her". Which I was willing to accept, as a low income mom who couldn't afford vet expensive vet care, but at least wanted her teen son to make it home from camp and get to say goodbye to his adored pet. She pulled through... and lived FIVE MORE YEARS. We only lost her last year, at the ripe old age of 17. That food really was magic.
posted by stormyteal at 10:02 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

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