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Home > Cats > Eating Disorders That Can Affect Cats: Vet Reviewed Causes, Signs & Treatment

Eating Disorders That Can Affect Cats: Vet Reviewed Causes, Signs & Treatment

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Many cat owners have dealt with kitties who are picky eaters, but did you know that cats can also suffer from other eating problems? While cat eating disorders are not the same as when the terminology is used with regard to humans they can still be serious and complicated to treat. In this article, we’ll cover five “eating disorders” that can affect cats and what to do if you suspect your cat has one of these conditions.


The 5 Eating Disorders That Can Affect Cats

1. Pica

Common signs: Eating non-food items, vomiting
Treatment: Medication, increased environmental enrichment, diet change

Pica is a condition defined as consuming non-food items with no nutritional value. Cats with this condition may eat all kinds of non edible objects such as wool, wood, hair bands, plastic, or string. Some will compulsively suck on or chew cloth items like blankets or even other cats. Certain cat breeds, like Siamese, are prone to this fabric-sucking behavior and it may have a genetic component in these cats. Pica may also have a medical or behavioral cause.

Medically, cats may eat inappropriate items because their usual diet lacks key nutrients, or they have worms, hyperthyroidism or other illnesses. Eating cat litter can be a sign of anemia. Boredom, stress, and anxiety are all common behavioral causes of pica. Cats that were weaned too early may also develop this condition. Your vet will need to rule out medical causes of pica before attempting to treat any behavioral concerns or compulsive disorders.

cat biting clog shoes
Image By: Jon Pauling, Pixabay

2. Polyphagia

Common signs: Overeating, weight loss
Treatment: Medication, diet change, increased mental stimulation

Cats with polyphagia display a seemingly constant desire to eat. Although they have ravenous appetites, they may not gain weight like you would expect or may lose weight. Polyphagia typically occurs due to a medical condition, although sometimes cats overeat because they are bored or stressed, these cats will however, gain weight.

Hyperthyroidism is one of the most common causes of polyphagia in cats, especially older ones. Diabetes, brain disease, and various digestive issues can also cause this eating disorder. Taking some medications, most notably steroids, can cause polyphagia, usually along with increased thirst and urination. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the polyphagia.

3. Anorexia

Common signs: Eating less or nothing, weight loss, vomiting
Treatment: Medication, diet change, feeding tube, surgery

On the opposite spectrum of polyphagia is anorexia, which is characterized by decreased (hyporexia) or completely lost appetite. They can also get pseudo-anorexia, where they still want to eat but can’t due to some physical limitations.

Dental disease, mouth tumors, jaw pain, and nerve diseases can cause pseudo-anorexia. True anorexia can have many causes, including stress, nausea, cancer, pain, loss of smell, or systemic diseases like diabetes and kidney disease. Cats are prone to developing a dangerous condition called hepatic lipidosis anytime they don’t eat enough for even a few days. Don’t delay in seeking help if your cat develops signs of anorexia.

close up of sick-looking orange cat lying on wooden planks
Image Credit: estoymhrb, Pexels

4. Bolting

Common signs: eating too fast, vomiting, regurgitation
Treatment: feeding changes, diet change

Bolting or scoffing is where the cat eats so fast that it vomits or regurgitates immediately afterward. This can be irritating to the cat’s stomach and esophagus over time. In addition, the cat is at risk of aspirating (breathing in) food or liquids as they regurgitate.

This eating disorder usually has a behavioral cause. For example, the cat may worry that a housemate will steal their food if they don’t consume it quickly enough. Sometimes they just love the food so much they eat it very quickly. Using a slow or automatic feeder can help with bolting. If you have more than one cat, consider separating them at mealtimes.

5. Coprophagia

Common signs: Eating poop
Treatment: Medication, diet change, behavioral modification

Coprophagia, or eating poop, is easily the most disturbing eating behavior a cat can have, at least as far as humans are concerned! Eating poop can be normal for young kittens, but if they don’t grow out of the habit, it can become a problem. Coprophagia may have a medical cause, such as nutritional deficiencies or digestive issues.

Cats with polyphagia may also eat poop as a side effect of their ravenous appetites. More commonly, coprophagia is a behavioral problem, such as a compulsive habit that the cat can’t break. Anxiety or stress can also cause this condition. While coprophagia is much more common in dogs, it can occur in cats too. Treating it involves dealing with any underlying medical condition first. Consider investing in an automatic litter box that scoops poop as soon as your cat exits.

cat poop on plastic shovel
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

What to Do If You Suspect Your Cat Has an Eating Disorder

As we learned, disorders of eating in cats may have medical or behavioral causes. If you are concerned your cat has an eating disorder, the first step is to see your vet and rule out any medical conditions. Unfortunately, this may be complicated depending on your kitty’s condition.

If basic diagnostic tests fail to identify a problem, your vet may suggest you take your cat to a veterinary internal medicine specialist for advanced care. These specialists are best equipped to help treat rare and complicated medical conditions.

When medical conditions are ruled out, your vet can help you deal with any behavioral issues triggering your cat’s eating problem. Sometimes, small modifications or changes to your cat’s routine or environment may be all that’s needed. More complicated behavioral concerns may require medication or a referral to a feline behavior specialist.



If you suspect your cat has any of these disorders of eating, don’t delay in seeking care for them. Cats are excellent at hiding when anything is wrong with them and could get sicker than you realize quickly. In addition, cats don’t handle disruptions to normal eating as well as dogs, especially any condition that causes them to eat less. Hepatic lipidosis can develop in any cat, but those already overweight are most vulnerable.

Featured Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

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