Why Does My Cat Beg For Food And Not Eat It?

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

Why does my cat ask for food and then not eat it? It is one of the most frustrating problems to address as a cat owner. The truth is there could be any number of reasons why your cat seems hungry but just doesn’t eat when you give them some food.  Usually, the problem is caused by an issue with the food, a health issue, or your cat has needs that you haven’t identified.

Read on to learn more…

Why Does My Cat Beg For Food And Not Eat It?

Check out these common non-health-related reasons why your cat may be asking for food then not eating…

Whisker Issues

Your cat might be hungry and really want to eat but the bowl the food is in is causing problems, specifically whisker problems! Some cats have very sensitive whiskers and may even suffer a low level of discomfort when they are contacted. This is called whisker fatigue or whisker stress.

Some food bowls are deep and a cat may have to drop their face into the bowl touching their whiskers on the side of the bowl and causing discomfort. It may be enough to put the cat off eating!

Can this problem just suddenly come from nowhere after years without issue? Yes, it can build up from nowhere and become an issue – but other problems like dental issues can also exhibit in the same manner as whisker stress…

a red and white cat lying on back chewing on a toothbrush
I Don’t Have Dental Issues!

Dental Issues

If your cat is pacing in front of the food bowl and miaowing with hunger but not eating they could be telling you they have a dental problem! They might be hungry but their mouth is just too painful or sensitive to eat!

Cracked teeth can occur overnight or gum disease which causes loose teeth and painful gums can build up over time to make a painful problem for your cat. If your cat’s breath stinks it could have a dental problem. A cat that has been eating normally before can suddenly develop a problem and act weird in front of the food bowl!

Can’t Smell The Food

Older cats, cats with minor respiratory infections, or cats suffering from a minor allergy response may have their senses of taste and smell dulled. Older cats are known to suffer from a weaker sense of taste and smell and can become picky eaters. A runny nose might indicate that your cat has a respiratory infection or is suffering a slight allergy. 

In either case, a reduction in the ability to smell and taste may mean they don’t recognize the food you are putting down! 

They may be expecting food out of habit and routine but are suffering from a low appetite because their sense of smell is not engaging their hunger drive! Or they just think you are trying a portion of new food on them that is less palatable than what they are used to so they beg and then refuse to eat!

grey and white cat sitting sniffing at a pot of chili peppers on a wooden table
Probably the wrong food…

The Wrong Food

Changing the food brand or flavor, changes in the recipe made by the manufacturer, and changes in temperature of wet food might all be enough to put your cat off eating even if they are hungry! 

Your cat has a sense of smell that is 16x better than yours and they can detect minor changes in odor that are imperceptible to your nose. A change to the food may make them smell off to your cat and despite their hunger, they refuse to eat!

If wet food is served too cold it will not have the strong odor or flavor that wet cat food at body temperature will have. Your cat may have decided the food is too cold to eat!

Social Eating

Many cats like to eat socially. It is almost like they want someone to guard them while they tuck in. We have to assume that the cat feels a little vulnerable eating alone. They may be shouting at you in an effort to keep you hanging around whilst they attempt to eat. 

If you respond to their asking for food by delivering and then walking away your cat might feel the food bowl puts them in a vulnerable spot and simply reject the food – but if you stay, they may discount the position of the bowl as they are guarded!

Reduced Appetite But Habituated

Your cat could be asking for food purely out of routine and habit but not really be hungry because they have been grazing or fed elsewhere.

Cats, although adaptable, like routine. Like if you have an outdoor cat then it can be difficult to know what they have been eating. A neighbor may be feeding them, they may be hunting effectively (especially in the springtime) or they may have scavenged a meal from the trash.

Does your indoor cat get treats or fed by other members of the family? Do they eat human food from time to time?

They may simply be acting out of habit but not really interested in eating.

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

Deep Health Issues

Begging for food and then being unable or uninterested in eating can, unfortunately, be a sign that your cat has a serious health issue. Liver disease, kidney disease, inflammatory bladder, or bowel issues can all cause a reduction in appetite. 

In most cases, such deep health issues will have other symptoms that confirm issues and most cats will be behaving oddly due to food changes or environmental changes rather than serious health issues.

Tactics To Resolve Begging Without Eating

How can you address this asking for food but not eating problem? Well follow these tactics and see if they resolve the issue :

Change The Food Bowl

The first thing to do is resolve any potential whisker stress your cat may be suffering from by hanging out the food bowl. Go for an open plate rather than a deep dish. Place the plate in a quiet spot that is not overlooked, remove any water from near the food plate and see if this encourages your cat to eat.

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

Stay With Your Cat Whilst They Eat

Simply attend whilst your cat eats. Your cat might just need the security of having someone watch its back. This might solve the issue in a multicat home, in a home that has suffered a cat invasion recently, or might just make your cat feel less vulnerable and able to eat.

Serve And Warm Wet Food

Serve your cat wet cat food – this has more odor and flavor than dry food, and make sure the food is at least at ambient room temperature but preferably warmed through to replicate a body temperature. This will appeal to their instincts but also taste and smell different from cold food. A cat with weakened senses due to age, infection, or allergy should be able to smell and taste the food if gently warmed.

Cut Out All Other Meals – Fixed Meals

Make sure your cat is not grazing during the day. Have set meal times. Make sure no one in the home is double feeding your cat! Basically, you want to get on top of your cat’s diet. You want to ensure they have time to build an appetite before being fed. 

white kitten playing around a cat tree
Hungry yet?

Playtime Before Eating

Use instinct and natural behavior to get your cat eating. Let’s assume your cat was still wild. Their day would go something like hunt, kill, eat, groom, and then sleep. 

See if you can replicate this with your cat. You need to have your cat on a meal schedule to do this. But, the idea is to play with your cat for a period of 15 to 20 minutes before each meal time. You are trying to replicate the hunting phase of their day. They understand that after a successful hunt they eat. So, get a virtual hunting session going by playing with them. Have them stalking, pouncing, wrestling with toys, and chasing. 

The activity levels such be vigorous and involving which will also help build up an appetite.

Vet Visit For Health Issues

Changing out the food bowl, attending to issues with food, and getting them on a routine involving play should be enough to get them eating again – but might not stop the begging! If your cat is not responding to these changes then it is a good idea to take the cat to the vet for a check-up. 

If your cat doesn’t eat for more than 24 hours they could have a serious issue and be at real risk. It is essential that a vet runs the rule over them in the circumstances as cats can die very quickly from liver problems associated with not eating.