Old Cat Is A Fussy Eater – What Can I Do?

an over the shoulder view of a grey cat eating kibble from a metal bowl

Is your old cat a fussy or picky eater? This can be one of the most frustrating problems with old cats – they beg for food and act hungry but when you present them with food they don’t want to eat! 

We will look at why these old cats might become picky eaters and give you some effective tactics to deal with this problem and get your cat eating again!

Read on to learn more…

close up of a cat eating chunky wet cat food from a purple bowl

Why Might An Old Cat Become A Fussy Eater?

An old cat that suddenly becomes a fussy eater can be alarming for a cat guardian. We all have the tendency to think the worst! We wonder if a cat will starve itself to death if it doesn’t like its food? And how long can a cat go without eating? But, so long as something is being eaten they are probably going to be ok – we just need to address the problem!

If they are not eating anything, then they have a big problem and need veterinary intervention as cats can really only go without food for a very short time before they can dramatically fade from a health standpoint!

So let’s look at some of the general reasons that an old cat may suddenly become picky.

Hairballs

Hairballs can affect cats of all ages, including older cats. If your cat is a long hair or if they are an indoor cat, hairballs can be a problem that you need to be aware of. Basically, your cat will be grooming and will ingest hairs into their gut that can then become trapped, ball up, and block the digestive system. 

Indoor cats, both short and long-haired tend to suffer from hairballs more than outdoor cats as their coat can end up shedding year-round. Long-haired cats tend to have issues due to the sheer volume of material they can ingest.

Now, what makes your cat stop eating is if they have a stomach full of hairballs which tricks the brain into feeling full and therefore reduces appetite. Your cat may look and ask for food out of habit but just not be hungry as they are already full.

cat having heart listened to by a vet with a stethascope

Worms

Maybe your old cat does go outdoors or lives with cats that do, and hunts successfully or scavenges and picks up a dose of worms?

How might worms reduce the appetite of a cat? Well, the worm infestation may feed on your cat’s stomach contents leading to a rapid explosion of worms in your cat’s tummy. Now your cat feels bloated and full – but has hunger pangs motivated by missing nutrients! 

Your cat is going to be off their food but confusingly asking for food – just not able to actually eat when you deliver.

close up of a vet inspecting a cats teeth and gums

Bad Teeth

Have you got a cat with bad breath? Who hasn’t? But bad breath and a loss of appetite? Coincidence? Maybe your cat has got an issue with gum disease or bad teeth that are simply making eating too damn uncomfortable? 

Your cat doesn’t chew food but cracked or damaged teeth can still make the mouth uncomfortable. You can check your cat’s mouth yourself and quickly identify issues with broken teeth, and painful-looking gums that might stop your cat from eating – no need for a vet unless you find a problem of course!

Sheer Age – Smell, taste, activity levels, and Senility!

Unfortunately, as your cat ages and becomes elderly their super senses fade. Specifically, their sense of taste and smell can fade. These senses are closely linked to appetite. So if your cat declines in these areas and you don’t notice you may end up with a cat who won’t eat because the food you are putting down is the equivalent of cardboard!

Alternatively, old creatures tend to reduce their activity level and with it goes their need to refuel. Our cat may suffer muscle loss with inactivity caused by old age or things like worn-out joints and simply not need to eat as much as in their youth. I think we older folk can appreciate this issue!

What about senility? Cats suffer from senility in older age just like people. Unfortunately, this can lead to some erratic behavior including weird eating behaviors – your cat may have just forgotten what to do and when! One minute they will be clingy and demanding and the next completely lost. 

portrait of an orange tabby cat in sitting pose yawning outdoors

Boredom

Lots of owners have a habit of deciding that our cats favor a certain type and flavor of food and then stick with it, buy in bulk, and make it a permanent fixture on our grocery list. But, your cat might have just decided after eating rabbit entree for the fifty-fifth time in a row that they fancy a change! It is all getting a little bit samey!

Cats are just as susceptible to boredom and changes of habit as we are. Sometimes you just finish a phase and look for a new path! A simple change might be all that is needed – but it may not be that simple because your cat can’t tell you what they fancy!

A Change In Recipe

Your cat is not bored, they simply love the food you give them – chicken meatballs in gravy has been their favorite for years! But, now the manufacturer has changed the ingredients (because they found a cheaper way to make a buck) and it just doesn’t taste like old times…..or it has been in storage for longer than usual and is not quite right.

Sometimes things change that are beyond our senses – but your cat knows and disapproves!

close up of a cat eating from a bowl

Location, Temperature, Bowl Size & Cleanliness.

Basically, cats are individuals and they can disapprove of all sorts of changes in their life but they have trouble communicating this disapproval to humans. Food temperature, bowl size, cleanliness, changes in eating locations, changes in eating times – all these can impact your cat’s eating habits. Older cats tend to be less willing to change and can be very sensitive to even minor alterations in life. 

Can you identify a change or alteration at this level that may have made your cat go off their food?

Effective Tactics To Get An Old Cat Eating 

Let’s assume you have taken your cat to the vet and had a check-up. The cat is in fine form – teeth and mouth are good, they are wormed, hairballs dealt with, no signs of health issues that might cause problems or alterations to appetite – then what?

Well here are some easy tactics you can employ to get your old cat eating. These tactics will help defeat the picky eater and overcome fussiness!

Try these out :

close up of a grey tabby cat eating a saucer of chunky wet food

Move Your Cat To A Wet Food Diet

If your cat has been eating dry food forever then it is time to move to a wet food diet. A wet food diet will be tastier and smell better than any dry food you can give them and should tempt them to eat more as smell and taste are linked to appetite. 

Additionally, they will benefit from higher moisture levels found in wet food.

Don’t Serve Cold Wet Food

Once you get your cat on wet food, don’t store it in the refrigerator and then serve it up directly. Cats don’t favor cold food. 

Cats like food that is at ambient temperature or warm. There is some conjecture that this is to do with the temperature of a fresh kill in the wild or because meat releases sulfurous compounds at higher temperatures that make meat taste, well, meatier! 

Either way, the science is in – older cats that are picky eaters really do go for the warm wet cat food! Try it out, could solve all your issues – use a microwave or put the packet of cat food in warm water boil in the bag style – just don’t go too hot and you should get a result with this tactic!

dilute calico cat eating chicken bones under a tree

Clean The Bowls More Regularly

Seriously – no one likes to eat off a dirty plate. This is obvious and needs no further detail. That means a clean plate every time!

Rotate Brands And Flavors

Keep your cat interested and mentally stimulated. Banish the boredom excuse. Rotate and mix up the flavors and brands of food your cat gets to eat. Ok, so your cat will have favorites and less interesting meals but it will never be boring or one-dimensional. Mix it up with some of the following tactics for even greater impact.

No Free Feeding Or Grazing

If you are not already doing it then move your cat to a regular feeding schedule. Do not free feed or leave excess food out so they can graze. 

A feeding schedule will allow hunger to develop and kick in and will appeal to their scarcity itch – it ain’t here regularly or for long so get it while you can!

Cut Out The Treats

Be honest, do you treat your cat? Does your cat demand and you just can’t say no? Do they like your human food? 

Cut out all the extra treats so they can develop a full hunger and eat at set times. 

a grey cat investigating a pot of raw fish

Feed The Right Food

Senior cats need senior food. One of the benefits of senior cat food, apart from having the proper balance of nutrients for the older individual, is that it is formulated to smell stronger and taste stronger so that your cat – declining senses and all – are attracted to the food and finds it palatable. 

Go senior if your cat is getting picky.

Jazz It Up

Everyone loves a  surprise helping of their favorite food. Most cats go nuts for tuna, but you can’t give your cat fresh tuna every day for a whole host of reasons – but you could give your cat a tuna water topper!

Try adding the spring water from a can of tuna to your cat’s food to give them an interesting and enjoyable flavor burst. Witness tuna power in action!

Alternatively, go for rescue or recovery cat food. These are specialist cat foods for sick cats that need to put weight on fast or need instant nutrition. They are nutritionally dense, easy to swallow, and flavored to be attractive enough to make a sick cat eat. 

white kitten playing around a cat tree

Play Time

Even old cats hunt and play and you need to use that to your advantage. 

How? Well, cats hunt (play),  then eat, then groom, and then sleep. That is the natural order of life for a cat. 

So, play hunting games with your cat every day before their scheduled meal. Stimulate their natural instincts. 

Play chase the ribbon or catch the cotton dangly bird or whatever – but satisfy the hunting instincts with play and then present the food. Your cat will instinctively expect to eat after the hunt…

Bribery

Ok, let’s get down and dirty. Sometimes bribery works – just saying! If your cat is being picky then give them something you know they will eat – a tin of tuna, a can of sardines. Let’s call it a treat meal circuit breaker.

So long as they are getting something then they are not in danger of fading away! Just don’t let your cat train you into making it a regular thing or the bribes have to get bigger, be warned!

The Anything Is Better Than Nothing Card

If your cat is going through a picky or fussy phase then sometimes you just have to accept that to put your mind more at rest. If you can get them to eat anything, even human food then that is the route you should go. 

Old cats won’t eat cat food but will tuck into ham and cheese – at their age, they probably aren’t the right and really we know it isn’t the best for them but at least they are eating something! 

Sometimes, you just have to roll with it!

cat eating tuna from dish on kitchen top

Final Thoughts

Old cats that are fussy eaters can be worrying for us owners but usually, it is a puzzle that can be unlocked. Your older cat must be on wet food to get the best chance of being healthy – they need that moisture, but wet food is more useful in combating a picky eater. For many older cats taste and smell are not so strong so wet food at the right temperature is scientifically proven to increase your chances of getting them to eat – it could be as simple as wet food at the right temperature.