Cat Licking Food But Not Eating (What Is Wrong?)

As someone who has owned several pets over the years, there is one thing that holds true for all animals.

The most important barometer of a pet’s health is its appetite.

If your cat isn’t its usual self but can still maintain its appetite, chances are it will be ok in a day or two.

However, if your cat has little to no appetite all of a sudden and for more than 24 hours, you will need to seek veterinary advice.

If your cat is licking its food but not eating there’s a chance that it might be not be feeling well and has lost its appetite. Some cards can also stop eating their usual food once they get tired of it.

Why Does My Cat Suddenly Not Like Its Food?

If there is one certainty when it comes to cats, it is that there is no certainty.

Anyone who has had a cat as a pet before can attest to the fact that cats can be very fussy. Well, domestic cats have been spoilt by their owners at least.

In the wild, cats do not really have the luxury of picking and choosing their food. They hunt small prey when hungry and can face the dread of starvation if they fail to do so.

When your cat knows that its meals are served on time on a daily basis, it tends to get a little fussy after a while.

Your cat licks the best parts and leaves the rest behind.

Another reason that could be making your cat lick its food but doesn’t eat is due to health reasons.

Cats that suddenly stop eating aren’t in the best health and need medical attention. And a cat that doesn’t want to eat will stress out any cat owner.

We will go deeper into the reasons that explain your cat’s sudden loss of appetite and how to get your cat to eat again.

Your Cat Is Being Fussy

Fussy cats tend to be very picky eaters and this can drive their owners up the wall. Cats don’t get picky on their own due to their cat parent’s influences.

First of all, as cat owners, we need to understand our cat’s natural diet and what they should and should not be eating.

Cats are pure carnivores which means that eat meat to survive and meat contains mostly protein and fat.

When it comes to feeding your cats carbohydrates, it isn’t necessary.

Cats have lost the ability to digest carbs over the centuries and you’re doing more harm than good but including carbs in their diet.

Not only are cats spoilt for choice these days, we as cat parents are too when it comes to the variety of cat food.

Walk into any pet store and you can spend a day just browsing through the cat food available.

The choices are almost endless.

And what about the types of meat sources?

You have, chicken, beef, venison, duck, lamb, possum, turkey and fish (Salmon, sardine, mackerel, tuna)

Consider the possible permutations and it can be a daunting task to choose the right food for your cat.

What most cat owners would do is buy a wide range of cat food to feed their cats.

And now your cat is presented with a wide array of flavors and textures that can overwhelm its tastebuds.

You would be fussy too if you knew that you have a personal chef at your beck and call.

How To Prevent Your Cat From Getting Fussy?

Stop treating your cat like it’s a Michelin star food critic.

I’m all for variety when it comes to food but giving your cat 3 options to choose from for every meal is turning your cat into a furry fusspot.

It will be the perfect ‘recipe’ for your cat to lick its food but doesn’t eat it.

If you have a new cat or trying to switch your cat out to a new diet like raw meat or wet cat food, it might take some trial and error before finding the right brand or meat type that your cat likes.

Once you have determined what your cat likes, just stick to that and don’t start adding in more and more options.

It is fine to rotate between two types of canned food or if your cat is on a raw meat diet, two different types of meats like chicken and beef.

This is more than sufficient to give your cat some nutritional variety in his diet.

What To Do If My Cat Is Being Fussy Eater?

Once you have determined that your cat’s lack of appetite isn’t due to an underlying health reason, there is a way that you can use to get your cat eating again.

When you feed your cat its first meal of the day, leave it out for some time (15 – 30 mins). If your cat licks the food and doesn’t eat it, remove the food when the time is up.

Do the same thing at the next mealtime.

Your cat should eventually start eating due to being hungry.

Do not let your cat go without food for more than 24 hours as that can cause some serious side effects which we will cover further down in this article.

One important thing to note is to not leave the food in the open for too long. Raw food should not be left out for a long period of time at the risk of contamination.

The same goes for wet food. This is because bacteria in the air are attracted to the moisture in the food.

If you are feeding your feline friend dry cat food then it can be left out in the open as it contains little to no moisture.

However, strongly advise you to consider switching to either wet food or raw food diet for your cat.

Dry food is inherently bad for cats as it lacks the proper nutrients and moisture. Dry food has also been known to cause chronic health issues if fed over the long term.

So if you have been feeding your cat dry kibble, do yourself and your cat a favor but switch it out to a healthier food source.

Your Cat Isn’t Feeling Too Well

sad looking cat

More often than not, when a cat isn’t eating well or has lost its appetite, there’s a high chance that it is due to a medical problem.

There are many health issues that can affect your cat’s appetite but we will be discussing the more common ones.

Tummy Upset

Just like humans, a cat with an upset tummy wouldn’t have much of an appetite.

There’s a chance your cat might have eaten something toxic, intestinal parasites or bacteria or even irritable bowel syndrome.

If you have been feeding your cat dairy products it can also cause digestive issues as many cats are lactose intolerant.

You will notice symptoms like nausea, loose stools and loss of appetite if your cat is having a digestive problem.

Respiratory Infection

The way to a cat’s tummy is via its nose. A cat’s taste bud isn’t as pronounced as a human’s and they depend largely on their keen sense of smell to ‘taste’ food.

If your cat is having a respiratory infection that is preventing it from smelling the cat food by clogging up the nose, this can affect your cat’s appetite.

Your cat might be having a feline cold or a viral infection. Usual symptoms will be sneezing, nasal and eye discharge, wheezing or difficulty in breathing.

Dental Disease

Can you remember the last time you had a toothache or gum problem? Did you feel like eating?

You probably just wanted to take a pain killer and go to bed.

Cats that are experiencing a dental disease are feeling a lot of pain and discomfort in their mouth.

This can cause pain to your cat when it starts to bite or chew. Hence your cat licks food instead of eating the cat food.

Your cat might be having tooth decay or gingivitis.

Look out for signs of bad breath, drooling and constant pawing at its mouth. Some cats will even shake their head while eating.

You can help prevent dental problems in your cat by starting a good oral hygiene practice as early as possible.

Get your cat used to having its teeth brushed when you first bring it home. Kittens are easy to train but older cats can get used to it too. They just need more time.

As a cat owner, you do not want your cat’s dental condition to deteriorate to the point where it requires dental surgery which can affect your cat’s appetite.

Hairball Issues

natural remedy cat hairball

Cats are clean creatures and can spend many hours a day grooming themselves. Your cat eats a lot of its dead fur or hair when locking itself and this causes a hairball to form.

In most cases, cats are able to get rid of the hairball by vomiting it out or eliminating it during bowel movements.

However, there can be times when the hairball has become too large to be expelled and it gets stuck in your cat’s digestive tract.

It might seem like your cat is having a tummy upset but it will also be accompanied by constant retching or gagging and constipation.

You can help manage hairball issues in your cat by brushing it more often.

This is necessary for certain breeds with long hair like the Persian or Maine coon. There are also a few effective home remedies for hairballs that you can try on your cat.

Your Cat Is Getting Old

As your cats get older and enter their golden years, their appetite tends to decrease as well. It is a fact of life that we can’t do much about.

Older cats eat less because their bodies don’t require as many calories to function as they aren’t as active as before.

Don’t mistake a smaller appetite for no appetite though. Older cats still have the desire for food just not as much now.

If your elderly cat has little or no appetite, it could be having one of the above health issues.

Then again there are older cats that eat more than kittens so your mileage may vary.

What To Feed A Cat With A Poor Apettite?

There are certain ways that you can try to get your cat’s appetite up and running again when your cat refuses to eat. I myself have used these methods with great success.

Warm Up Your Cat’s Food

There’s a reason why our food is served hot or warm at restaurants and we send back dishes that are cold.

This is because hot food smells a lot better than cold food and the texture is also different.

You can try warming up your cat’s wet food to try and entice it further. Just a quick few seconds in the microwave will do the trick.

Before you serve your cat, make sure to test the food to ensure that it isn’t hot enough to burn your cat. It should just be slightly warm.

One thing to note is that this method only applies to cats that eat wet food. You should not be heating up your cat’s dry food or fresh meat.

You can however transition your cat’s diet to wet cat food during this period.

Use Tuna Water Or Broth

Cats love tuna because of how it smells. The natural ‘stinkiness’ of canned tuna is enough to turn your cat into an eating machine.

We can use this to our advantage when your car has not been eating well.

Get a can of tuna that is water-based and not soaked in oil, preservatives or flavoring.

You can pour some of the tuna juice onto your cat’s food or boil the tuna flakes in a pot of water for a few minutes to make a bigger pot of tuna broth.

Serve the tuna water or broth slightly warm to make it smell stronger. You can also throw in a few pieces of tuna flakes for your cat to eat.

One misconception many people have about cats is that they are fish eaters.

Fish is a natural meat source for cats as many cats don’t live near the river or ocean.

Feeding raw fish to your cat is a big no-no as it contains an enzyme that can cause a vitamin B deficiency in your cat.

Always make sure that the fish is thoroughly cooked before feeding your cat.

Change The Flavor And Texture Of The Food

If your cat has been eating the same type of food every day for the longest time, changing the flavor and texture of your cat’s food can help excite into eating again.

If your cat has always been eating chicken meat for its canned food, change it out to beef or duck.

If your cat has been eating big chunks of raw food, try grinding it into minced meat or cutting it into smaller pieces.

Sometimes a small change in your cat’s diet can make a big difference.

Hand Feeding Your Cat

Your cat might not want to eat on its own but it might start eating some if you hand-feed it.

It can feel reassuring to your cat when you hand feed it just like how its mother would when it was a kitten.

Just put some of your cat’s food on your hand and let it take a sniff. Some sick cats can be tempted to eat more when hand fed.

I remembered the time when I brought my cat back from his dental operation.

How Long Can A Cat Not Eat?

Generally speaking, cats can survive up to a week or two without eating as long as they have access to a water source.

But we definitely do not want to wait so long before seeking medical treatment for our cat.

A cat that has not eaten for a few days is putting its health at great risk.

Without a constant supply of protein in the cat, the liver becomes overwhelmed by all the fat in the cat’s body.

This is known as hepatic lipidosis and can lead to liver failure.

If it’s okay for cats to eat less for a meal or two but if your cat has little to no appetite for more than 24 hours please bring it to the vet right away.

The vet will have to put your cat on a drip to replenish its fluids and nutrients. More importantly, a blood test needs to be done to see what is causing your cat’s lack of appetite.


There is no need to hit the panic button the moment you notice a change in your cat’s appetite.

Like humans, cats too have off days when it comes to food. Usually, their appetite returns back to normal after a day or two.

Try out the above-suggested tip to see if it can help whip up your cat’s appetite back to normal.

Please do bring your cat to the vet for a check if it has not eaten after more than 24 hours or if the lack of appetite persists for a few days for a thorough check-up.

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