My cat is on a hunger strike. Help!

Wow, guess what! It's the third anniversary of Paws and Effect! That's right. Three years ago this week, Paws and Effect began its life as a weekly community correspondent column on VillageSoup, an Internet news outlet based in Camden, Maine. And now we have our own website and lots of people who read our column every single week.

When we first started writing Paws and Effect, it was just Sinéad and Siouxsie answering questions. But in March 2004, Mama adopted Thomas from the Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League -- with Sinéad and Siouxsie's permission, of course -- and he's been part of the staff ever since. We're really glad to have Thomas around to answer boy-cat questions. Hee hee hee!

We want to thank all of you for your interest in our column and express our appreciation to you for always coming up with new cat questions for us to answer. Writing this column is never boring, and if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here at all. We're delighted to be able to help humans and cats understand each other better and live together in harmony and health. So purrs to all of you from all of us! And don't forget to buy lots of cool Paws and Effect gear to celebrate.

Dear Sinéad, Siouxsie and Thomas:
Hi, I have a real problem. My cat, a flame-point Himalayan stray I adopted about 10 years ago, is having food issues. She hates wet food and loves dry food, but dry food has always given her bad diarrhea. Over the years I would mix a little kibble into her wet food and this would usually get her to eat at least some of it. There are always leftovers. She has a small appetite and is a little cat; she only weighs about 7 pounds.

Recently she started eating even less than she was before, so I said the heck with it and started giving her dry again. I only use Wysong or Petguard. She loved it and scarfed it right up, and immediately the diarrhea returned with a vengeance. So after a few days of this -- I thought I would see if she got used to it -- I gave up and went back to wet without any dry mixed in. Well, now she has been on a hunger strike for 4-5 days now and basically hasn't eaten anything at all! She has not had even one bowel movement in as many days. I know she isn't sick. This is not the problem. Help! Whatever advice you have for me will really be appreciated.

Thank you,

Sinéad: Well, Cyd, when a cat stops eating, that's a very serious problem. Cats can get very sick, very quickly, when they don't eat.

Siouxsie: That's right. Cats that don't eat can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis. Fat builds up in the liver and causes the liver to stop working properly. This page at the cats forum has more information about hepatic lipidosis.

Thomas: Some cats will go on short "hunger strikes," but no healthy cat has ever failed to eat at all for four or five days.

Sinéad: We think you need to get your cat to the vet right away. I know you say she's not sick. Maybe she wasn't sick when she first stopped eating, but she probably is by now.

Siouxsie: We're also concerned because you said in your letter that her food intake had dropped even before you went through this last phase of giving her dry food, diarrhea and then the current hunger strike. Lack of appetite can be an initial sign of illness in cats as well. When Sinéad had acute hepatitis a few years back, the only real sign she ever gave was that her appetite went down.

Thomas: We're not surprised that your cat isn't having bowel movements. If she's not eating food, she doesn't have anything in her intestines to excrete. However, if she was constipated before she started her hunger strike, that could be part of the problem. Interestingly, even animals that have diarrhea can still be constipated -- if the intestines are packed with fecal matter and there's only a small hole for waste to get through, liquid waste will get through first.

Sinéad: In any case, Cyd, please take your kitty to the vet. The vet will probably want to run blood tests to see if your kitty's liver, pancreas, kidneys and thyroid gland are functioning properly. The blood test will also be used to get a "blood count," or measurement of the red blood cells (oxygen and nutrient carriers) and white blood cells (infection fighters) in your cat's blood. Changes in the number and type of blood cells can also help a vet to make a diagnostic assessment.

Siouxsie: Once you've gotten your cat to the vet and managed this initial crisis, then you can work on getting Kitty to eat again.

Thomas: One of the best ways to get a cat interested in food is to get a very smelly canned cat food and warm it up just a little bit. Mama says that if you put one serving of canned cat food in a microwave oven and heat it for about 10 seconds, it will start to smell extra yummy and that will inspire a cat to eat. Of course, you'll want to put the food in a glass or microwave-safe ceramic dish, because you shouldn't put metal in a microwave oven!

Sinéad: Usually we don't recommend putting anything in the microwave oven, but in this case, you need to get your cat eating again, and you've got to do whatever it takes for that to happen. If you don't have a microwave oven, try heating up the food in a toaster oven. Again, you want it to be just a little bit over body temperature (that's about 102 degrees F for cats). If the food is too hot, it'll scald Kitty's tongue and she won't be happy about that.

Siouxsie: Another trick is to tempt your cat with pureed beef baby food, like the kind human babies eat. Just make sure you get the infant formula, with no spices. Other savory goodies that might interest your cat include human-grade tuna (just a little bit), smoked salmon, or sardines (in oil, not in hot mustard sauce or barbecue sauce).

Thomas: Then, once your cat is eating again, either because you've tempted her adequately with treats or because your vet has given her a prescription appetite stimulant, you're going to need to figure out why your cat has diarrhea whenever she eats dry food.

Sinéad: It's possible that Kitty is allergic to something in the dry food she's eating. It may surprise you to find out that some types of cats are more susceptible to food intolerance than others. Food allergies generally manifest as itching and skin symptoms, or in some cases diarrhea, foul-smelling gas, bad breath, constipation or other such digestive symptoms.

Siouxsie: We'd recommend feeding your cat a "senior formula" cat food. These senior-formula foods, designed for cats over about 7 years of age, have higher-quality proteins that are easier to digest -- therefore causing less intestinal upset -- and have more fiber and nutrients that are easier for the cat's system to absorb. The brands of food you're using right now are very good in terms of quality of nutrients, and Wysong makes a senior formula cat food called Geriatrix.

Thomas: You should talk to your vet about Kitty's food issue, too. Your vet might have a recommendation about a diet that would help your cat eat well and avoid bouts of diarrhea -- which are certainly as unpleasant for a long-haired Himalayan cat as they are for you.

Sinéad: We also think you would benefit from consultation with a holistic veterinarian. Holistic vets have a lot of training in noninvasive treatment of chronic health issues, and many of them learn a lot about nutrition and vitamin supplements that can help maximize your cat's long term health. Something as simple as a vitamin pill or acidophilus powder in your cat's food could ease her digestive woes, and your conventional vet or a holistic vet should be able to help you with this.

Siouxsie: Other holistic modalities like acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine can also help your cat have a strong and well-functioning digestive system. That way she'll be able to eat what she wants without having the runs. Yay!

Thomas: Mama says that if any of us got sick or started having chronic bowel trouble, the first thing she'd do -- after taking us to Doctor Sarah to figure out what was going on -- is take us to the local holistic veterinarian and have him give us things to help us feel better.

Sinéad: The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has a directory of its members throughout the United States and Canada. Access this directory by clicking here and filling in the form. After a quick peek at their directory for Maine (the state where we live) Mama is satisfied that they've updated this list fairly recently.

Siouxsie: Cyd, we hope this helps you to figure out what's up with your beautiful kitty. Please let us know how everything turns out.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail us at None of the material in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.