Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Cat Won’t Eat?

If your cat is turning up her nose at meals, here are some possible reasons why

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Cats have a reputation for being finicky, don’t they? A whole advertising campaign was built around Morris the finicky cat. There’s no denying that some cats can be picky about what they eat, but it’s not always because they’re being demanding. Changes in appetite can vary by season or be related to illness.

If you’ve noticed that your cat eats less during summer and more as cold weather starts to set in, well, science backs up your observation. A study published in April 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE looked at 38 cats in the south of France over a four-year period. The cats had free access to food, and researchers observed that the cats ate least between June and August and most between October and February. In spring and early fall, the amount they ate fell somewhere between those extremes.

Changes in daylight and temperature trigger hormonal changes in mammals, altering their metabolism and influencing how much they eat. When it’s hot out, many of us are less active and don’t feel like eating as much. That may well be true for cats, too. As long as they maintain normal weight, they’re probably doing just fine.

Feline taste buds may also be in play. We know that cats have a genetic mutation making them indifferent to foods that taste sweet, presumably because their status as obligate carnivores means they have no need to seek out plant-based sugars. Researchers hypothesized that cats also would have no need for bitter receptors.

What they discovered, though, is that cats have at least seven functional bitter receptors, according to a study published in PLOS ONE in 2015. Those receptors might function to alert cats to bitter compounds in prey -- such as bile acids or skin secretions -- that should be avoided. The researchers suggested that commercial cat foods and veterinary medicines might contain bitter compounds that at least some cats find off-putting. The knowledge may help cat food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies create foods and medications that are more palatable to cats.

If your cat isn’t eating, you might think, “Well, she’ll eat when she’s hungry.”

Don’t do that!

Just two or three days of not eating can cause cats to develop a potentially deadly liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. Any cat can develop it, but cats who are overweight or stressed are at higher risk. It’s often seen when cats are refusing to eat because of a change in diet, moving to a new home, being boarded or some other stressful situation.

Cats with hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease, show signs such as dramatic weight loss, dehydration, lethargy, vomiting and jaundice -- a yellowish appearance of gums, eyes, and ear and skin tissue. Blood work indicates liver abnormalities and often a deficiency of vitamin K, causing a tendency to bleed easily. Your veterinarian may recommend an abdominal ultrasound to see if other organs such as the kidneys, pancreas or gallbladder are affected.

Without treatment to correct nutrient, fluid and electrolyte levels and reset metabolism, cats can go into liver failure. Sometimes offering some stinky canned food is enough to get them to eat, but in other cases, a temporary feeding tube may be necessary to get nutrition into your kitty and ensure that he doesn’t develop an aversion to eating. When begun early, treatment for HL is usually successful, and the condition rarely recurs.

The takeaway? Any time you notice changes in your cat’s appetite, complete appetite loss, or sudden weight loss or weight gain, take him to the veterinarian for a checkup.

Q&A

Toy joy

for parrots

Q: I just got a yellow-naped Amazon parrot. What are some good toys for him?

A: Parrots are so bright and quick! Toys are a wonderful way to stimulate their highly intelligent brains, give appropriate physical exercise and keep boredom at bay, reducing the risk of health and behavior problems.

Appropriate toys encourage and facilitate natural bird behaviors such as exploring, taking things apart and foraging. Climbing, swinging and perching are important elements of play for parrots. Flexible rope perches are good for climbing, chewing and foot workouts.

Look for puzzle toys that hold food pellets, nuts or treats and require your bird to manipulate pieces to get at the goodies. Known as foraging, this is natural bird behavior and should be encouraged.

Other toys are made with shreddable fibers, paper and other materials your bird can pick apart as if he were foraging for nesting material or investigating a natural environment. Don’t think of these toys as a waste of money if your bird destroys them in a day; they offer foot and beak exercise and physical and mental stimulation. More important, they discourage unwanted destructive behavior and fulfill your bird’s normal needs.

Birds are attracted by movement, bright colors, unusual textures and interesting shapes. Look for toys that twirl, are shiny, can be chewed or make fun noises.

You can make toys from things you have around the house. Finished with that newspaper? Place it at the top of your bird’s cage so the pages fall through the bars and let your Amazon shred it. Birds love to demolish cardboard boxes. Choose one of an appropriate size and let him go to town on it.

Offer several types of toys, and rotate a couple out every week so your bird always has something different to tease his birdie brain. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Quiz can help

identify arthritis

-- Does your cat have arthritis? Answering the following six questions can clue you in: Does my cat jump up normally? Does my cat jump down normally? Does my cat climb stairs or steps normally? Does my cat go down stairs or steps normally? Does my cat run normally? Does my cat chase moving objects? If the answer to any question is no, take your cat to the veterinarian. Approximately 45% of all cats and 90% of cats older than 10 years suffer from arthritis. Pain relief can help improve mobility and quality of life.

-- Not many people are traveling these days, but when they must, people with pets are at a disadvantage if they need to transport their animals to a new home. Canceled flights and limited space for animals in the cabin leave few options. Some are stranded, while others are spending large amounts of money and time to try to get their pets where they need to go. Using pet transport agencies such as Airborne Animals or Pet Express may help, but even those experts are having trouble getting animals on flights. If you need to move with your pet in the next few months, start planning now, and have not only a plan B but also plans C and D.

-- Three animal experts have received top awards from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Robin Downing, DVM, was named 2020 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the year for her work protecting and promoting the human-animal bond. Janice Siegford, Ph.D., professor of animal science and welfare at Michigan State University, won the 2020 AVMA Humane Award, presented to a nonveterinarian who has helped to advance animal welfare. Receiving the 2020 AVMA Animal Welfare Award is equine veterinarian Harry Werner, DVM, in recognition of his advocacy for animal welfare. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.