Will Your Cat Still Eat If They’re In Pain? The Answer May Surprise You


It can be very distressing for cat owners when their feline friend stops eating. A cat’s appetite is closely tied to their health, so a lack of interest in food is often one of the first signs of illness or pain. Understanding why your cat may have lost their appetite and how to tempt them to eat again is crucial for supporting their recovery.

A cat refusing to eat is a common dilemma that requires cat owners to act quickly and appropriately. Without proper nutrition, a cat’s condition can deteriorate rapidly. Knowing how to stimulate appetite, treat pain, and provide adequate calories and nutrients is essential to nursing your cat back to health. This guide covers the common causes of appetite loss in cats, and actionable steps owners can take to encourage eating and monitor their cat’s wellbeing. Helping a sick or injured cat eat again is an important part of feline caretaking.

Signs of Pain in Cats

Cats are notorious for hiding signs of pain and discomfort. However, there are several behavioral and physical changes that may indicate a cat is in pain. These include:

Changes in behavior: A cat in pain may become more irritable or aggressive, hide more often, stop using the litter box, or become less interested in play, petting, or food. Lethargy and decreased grooming may also occur.

Changes in posture/movement: Look for limping, stiffness, trouble jumping or navigating stairs, and a hunched posture. The cat may avoid movements that cause pain or cry out when touched in a painful area.[1]

Changes in facial expressions: You may notice squinting eyes, flattened ears, enlarged pupils, and whiskers that change position. Cats also “grimace” when in pain – their eyes may narrow, whiskers point backwards, and their ears go back.[2]

Changes in vocalizations: More meowing or crying could indicate pain, as well as growling when touched. Cats may also purr more as it releases endorphins that relieve pain.

Being alert to subtle shifts in your cat’s behavior, movement, expressions, and sounds can help clue you in to underlying pain and prompt you to seek veterinary advice.

Common Causes of Pain in Cats

Some of the most common causes of pain in cats include:


Cats can suffer injuries from accidents, falls, or trauma which can cause acute or chronic pain. Common injuries include bone fractures, muscle strains, ligament sprains, and wounds. Injuries often cause limping, crying out, reluctance to move, swelling, or changes in behavior. Treatment involves rest, splints, surgery, or medication depending on the injury. Seek veterinary assessment for limping or any signs of injury in cats.

Dental Disease

Dental diseases like gingivitis, resorptive lesions, and tooth abscesses frequently cause oral pain in cats. Symptoms include drooling, reduced appetite, dropping food, and facial swelling. Dental diseases are best diagnosed through a veterinary oral exam and dental x-rays. Treatment may involve professional dental cleaning, tooth extractions, antibiotics, and pain medication. Preventive home dental care is also important.


Arthritis is inflammation within the joints that causes chronic pain. It often develops from joint injuries or wear-and-tear in aging cats. Arthritic cats show reluctance to jump, stiffness, limping, and personality changes. Veterinarians can prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, joint supplements, pain medications, weight management, and physiotherapy to help control arthritis pain and improve mobility.


Feline cancers, especially those affecting bones, nerves, and tissues, can be very painful. Symptoms depend on the type and location of cancer but may include lameness, swelling, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory distress, seizures, and more. While some cancers like lymphoma and skin tumors can often be treated, others like bone cancer are difficult to cure. Pain control is extremely important for cats with cancer, using medications like opioids, steroids, and NSAIDs under veterinary guidance.

Cite: https://www.joiipetcare.com/health-conditions/cat/pain/

Why Cats in Pain May Not Eat

Pain can cause stress and suppress a cat’s appetite. Cats instinctively hide signs of pain and illness to avoid appearing weak to predators. This protective instinct means pain often goes unnoticed, even as it diminishes appetite. According to Veterinary Emergency Group, pain is a common reason for cats to stop eating.

Certain medical conditions also make the act of eating uncomfortable for cats. Problems with teeth, gums, throat, stomach or intestines can all inhibit eating. Dental disease is a frequent culprit, causing tender gums and mouth pain that prevents normal chewing and swallowing. Digestive issues like gastritis or inflammatory bowel disease also cause nausea and discomfort when eating. Identifying and treating the underlying painful condition is key to restoring appetite.


Providing Appetite Stimulation

There are several techniques you can try to stimulate your cat’s appetite when they are feeling unwell or in pain:

Warming food to enhance aroma – Cats have a strong sense of smell, so warming up wet food to release more aroma can make it more enticing. Microwave wet food for 5-10 seconds or warm it in a saucepan on the stove.

Offering strong-smelling foods – Foods like tuna, sardines, salmon, cooked chicken, and bacon have noticeable scents that may pique your cat’s interest. Avoid overly spicy foods.

Hand feeding – Gently hand feeding small pieces of food may encourage your cat to eat. Let them lick morsels directly from your finger or a spoon.

Other tips include trying different food textures like smooth pates vs. shredded chunks, adding nutritional gel supplements, or sprinkling catnip on food. However, consult your vet before significantly changing your cat’s diet.1

Treating the Underlying Cause

The most important step in getting a cat in pain to eat again is treating the underlying illness or injury causing the pain. According to https://autumntrailsvet.com/cat-is-not-eating/, cats often stop eating due to dental problems like infections, abscesses, or broken teeth that make eating painful. Other common sources of pain like urinary tract infections, arthritis, or injuries need to be diagnosed and treated.

It’s critical to get a proper veterinary diagnosis to identify the underlying issue. Vets can perform exams, lab tests, x-rays, and other diagnostic procedures to pinpoint the problem. Once the underlying cause is found, appropriate treatment can begin.

Pain medication from a vet is often necessary to provide relief while healing takes place. According to https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pain-management-for-cats, there are many pain medication options for cats, but they must be used cautiously to avoid side effects. Pain control allows a cat to start eating comfortably again while the illness or injury is treated.

Direct veterinary treatment of the source of pain, whether an infection, dental issues, or injury, along with pain management provides the best chance for a cat in pain to regain their appetite. Addressing the underlying problem under veterinary supervision is key to getting a cat feeling well enough to eat again.

Assisting Eating

If your cat is having trouble eating due to oral pain or other issues, there are some steps you can take to assist them:

Offer soft, moist foods that are easier to eat such as canned food, broths, or blenderized homecooked foods. Avoid dry kibbles or foods that require a lot of chewing.

Use an elevated or ergonomic bowl to bring the food closer to your cat’s face and make it easier for them to reach. This reduces strain on their neck.

In severe cases, your vet may recommend insertion of a feeding tube to provide nutrition if your cat is unable or unwilling to eat enough on their own. This can be a temporary measure while the underlying cause is treated.

Never force feed or syringe food into your cat’s mouth as this can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Always work positively and gently with your cat to make eating as easy as possible.

Providing Adequate Nutrition

It’s important to ensure your cat gets adequate nutrition even when they are not feeling well enough to eat their normal food. Cats who are sick or in pain have increased calorie needs in order to help their body heal.

High calorie nutritional supplements like gel formulations can help stimulate appetite while providing much needed nutrients. These calorie dense gels are easy for cats to ingest. Nutritional gels and recovery foods help cats continue to get the protein, fats, vitamins and minerals they need each day.

Try to meet your cat’s daily nutritional requirements even during times of illness or pain. Providing adequate nutrition will give their body the best chance at recovery. Consult your veterinarian for supplement recommendations if your cat is struggling to eat enough on their own. Monitoring food intake and body weight at home will help determine if supplements are needed.

Monitoring Progress

It’s important to closely monitor your cat’s condition if they are sick and not eating. Here are some key things to look for:

Recording food intake: Keep a log of everything your cat eats and drinks. Note the type of food, amount consumed, and time. Look for any changes in appetite. A healthy cat should eat around 1/2 cup of food per 5 lbs of body weight daily.

Tracking weight changes: Weigh your cat daily at the same time if possible. Weight loss in cats can occur rapidly when sick and needs prompt veterinary attention. Aim for no more than 10% weight loss before escalating care.

Assessing pain levels: Look for signs of pain such as vocalizing, changes in litter box habits, aggression, hiding, restlessness, stiff movements, and licking specific areas. Use a standardized pain scale to objectively rate your cat’s pain.

Keep your veterinarian updated on all progress and decline. They may adjust treatment plans and medications based on your cat’s lack of improvement.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your cat is exhibiting signs of pain and loss of appetite for more than 2-3 days, it’s important to seek veterinary care (source). Cats can go without food for about 2 weeks, but rapid weight loss and dehydration can occur after just a few days (source).

Signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • No interest in food or water for over 48 hours
  • Significant weight loss or muscle wasting
  • Lethargy, depression, or other behavior changes
  • Excessive vocalizing or changes in litter box habits
  • Difficulty moving around

Severe or prolonged lack of nutrition can lead to liver damage and metabolic complications. Catching the underlying cause early and providing supportive care can help get your cat back on track to eating normally.

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