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Published: Jun 04, 2012

One very common sign of cat illness is a decreased appetite. This clinical sign is non-specific and may be associated with a wide range of diseases and conditions. Sometimes the issue is behavioral - cats have been known to stop eating if the owner changes the animal's normal meal time or the type of food given.  In other cases, the problem may be associated with a medical problem, such as heart disease, kidney disease or gastroenteritis in cats. A lack of appetite may also have to do with physical pain causing the cat to avoid food, as is often the case with dental disease in cats.

Whatever the underlying cause, a lack of appetite in cats is a serious problem that must be dealt with right away. Pet owners need to understand that feline physiology is very different from that of humans, dogs or other animals, and the consequences of not eating, even for a short period of time, can be life-threatening. Anorexia may begin very quickly and it's important that owners get their cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible, especially if it has been two days or more since the cat's last meal.

In many cases, the veterinarian will recommend tube feeding for cats in order to ensure their body gets nutrition. Prolonged anorexia can cause a cat’s liver to being failing due to a condition called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver, which can be life threatening.  Also when a feline stops receiving adequate nutrition, its ability to fight infections or disease is severely weakened. While previously thought of as a last resort, tube feeding can potentially save a cat's life.

There are three main types of tubes used for feeding cats, and the prescribed type will vary depending on the situation. Naso-gastric tubes are inserted through the nose and are suitable for short feeding periods, such as while the cat is at a veterinary hospital. Esophagostomy tubes are a bit more involved, requiring the cat to undergo a small surgery to make an incision in the neck area. A gastrostomy tube is for long-term periods when the cat will not be able to feed itself, and is inserted directly into the cat's stomach.

For owners, feeding a cat through a tube will be an adjustment. However, it is often easier than one might assume, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Your vet will prescribe a specialized diet for the cat, which typically involves putting normal cat food into a blender. This may be supplemented with certain liquid nutrients or medications necessary to treat your cat’s underlying problem.  When your cat begins eating again on its own, your veterinarian will remove the feeding tube.

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