Has your cat developed a loss of interest in eating? Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina, found that a revised diet that favored particularly odorous foods — or food that could be enhanced in terms of smell — can help improve a cat’s eating behavior almost immediately.
Out of Smell, out of Mind
To understand what a decline in the sense of smell means to a cat, consider the fact that they have an extra organ tucked in the upper back area of their mouths. It serves to detect pheromones and thereby smell mates or prey. “We don’t have this,” says Ward. “As humans, we’re visual sensory creatures, but animals are more predominantly smell and sound. So it’s hard for people to put themselves in the place of a cat that can’t smell.”
If you notice a loss of appetite, or if your cat generally becomes more finicky (especially preferring more aromatic foods), your first step should be a veterinarian visit to rule out other factors. Decreased eating could be due to serious oral or dental problems, or one of several treatable medical issues that affect the sense of smell.
“Many people bring their cats in for decreased appetite, and it often turns out to be an upper respiratory infection,” says Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. “The inflammation and nasal discharge causes a decrease in the functionality of the olfactory senses.” She adds that appetite usually returns to normal once the illness is treated.
But for senior cats, starting around age 11, it’s often just a basic (and permanent) age-related decline. And while it’s unlikely that your cat would let itself starve to death, any level of malnutrition during the senior years is a concern you should try to address.
Tricks for Feeding a Finicky Cat
- Switch food. Wet/canned food tends to be more pungent than dry food. Or, try mixing some wet food in with your cat’s normal food to give it an added aromatic punch. When switching to a new food, stick to high-quality formulations that are tailored to seniors.
- Heat the food. In general, heated food tends to be more aromatic than room-temperature food. Take care not to overdo it and risk mouth burns, and avoid using plastic or metal bowls in the microwave.
- Season the food. Many pet food companies now offer what are generally called “toppers.” They may come as small bits of freeze-dried meats that can be mixed into a bowl of food, or as aromatic, savory sauces that can be poured over dry food. “A lot of these products seem more tailored to dogs,” says Ward, “but I’ve had success using them with cats, so it’s worth a shot.”
Consult Your Veterinarian
As with any change in diet, consult your veterinarian before moving forward. As long as you rule out more serious health causes, an aromatic tweak to the food can usually improve appetite.