How Long Can a Cat Go Without Food?
A Vet Explains

how long can a cat go without food

March 28, 2022

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One of the most satisfying experiences of owning a pet is seeing them well-fed and healthy. As a cat owner, you most likely feed your cat wet food twice a day or leave dry food out for your cat to eat whenever it wants.

So if your cat skips a couple of meals or is not eating its dry food, you might be concerned something is not right with your kitty. You may also start to wonder how long your cat can go without food.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • How long can a cat go without eating
  • Reasons why your cat may not be eating
  • Possible risks of your cat not eating
  • Tricks to get your cat to eat
  • When you need to see a vet

Let’s dive in and get your questions answered!

How Long Can a Cat Go Without Eating?

It is not unlikely that your cat will reject food and refuse to eat at one point or the other. If this occurs and is a new experience to you, you may begin to wonder how long cats can survive without food and if your cat’s refusal of food is normal or something to be worried about. And that brings the question of how long a cat can go without food so that it is considered safe and okay.  

Beyond 24 hours, it’s more recommended you schedule a visit to the vet as soon as you can

How long can a cat survive without food?

So, first of all, let’s discuss how long a cat can survive if it has no access to food. Maybe your cat has gone missing, and you’re wondering how long they will be able to survive in the wild without food, or maybe your cat is refusing food, and you won’t be able to get them to the vet clinic immediately. In both cases, you may wonder how long a cat can survive without food.

Cats are unique animals with great resilience. You’ve probably heard of cats returning home after a few days or weeks, even months after they have gone missing. You’d be amazed at how these cute animals can survive on their own.

Of course, there are a lot of risks involved in living as a stray or in the wild. But even in the worst conditions with nothing to eat, cats can survive up to two weeks with water but can live only three to four days without water.

Although cats can live up to two weeks without food, they should never be intentionally kept without food this long. Each day without food will make them weaker and affect their health. 

How long is it safe for a cat not to eat?

In theory, a cat may be able to survive without food for up to two weeks, but how long can it go without food safely?

It’s important that you’re familiar with your cat’s feeding habits and behavior. For example, if your cat is sometimes finicky and tends to skip a meal or two, you shouldn’t be too concerned about your cat missing a couple of meals.

But if your cat is one always to devour the whole meal within five minutes and then suddenly refuses to eat at all, you should visit the vet as soon as possible.

It is generally considered safe if a cat does not eat for 24 hours. However, if your cat is sick, in poor health, or underweight, the time they can go without food without it affecting their health could be as low as 12 hours.

cat surviving without food

Although healthy adult cats can safely go without food for 24 hours, you should always feed them at least every 12 hours to prevent their stomach from becoming hyper acidic, which may cause nausea.

So if you’re traveling with your kitty or planning on leaving them home alone, make sure they are fed or have access to food every 12 hours.

An automatic and timed feeder such as the highly popular PETLIBRO Automatic Cat Feeder  is a fantastic product to ensure your cat is fed regularly even if you’re not at home to give them their meal. It is a great way to ensure your cat does not go hungry if they are home alone.

When To Be Concerned If Your Cat Is Not Eating

There are many reasons why your cat may not be eating, so knowing your cat and its habits is vital in figuring out when to be concerned.

If you have a cat that is a picky eater or one that gets easily stressed by changes in the environment, they may easily skip a meal or two without any reason for concern. Just monitor your cat to ensure they start eating within 24 hours.

Sometimes, a cat’s appetite may decrease following vomiting episodes, which can be caused by many things, including a dangerous obstruction caused by an ingested object.

If your cat is vomiting due to something bad they ate, it might quickly recover and start eating again. However, if your cat suddenly stops eating and you suspect an obstruction in the intestinal tract, you should get your pet to the vet immediately.

Also, cats suffering from diseases like chronic upper respiratory tract problems also experience reduced appetite, often linked to nasal congestion.

Because there are various reasons why your cat may be refusing food, it is impossible to determine exactly when you should be worried about your cat’s health if they are not eating.

However, as a general rule of thumb, you should be concerned if your cat has gone without food for 24 hours. If this happens, you should contact a vet so they can assess the situation and the need to take your pet to the clinic for a medical check-up.

7 Common Reasons Why Your Cat May Not Be Eating

One of the questions that pop into your mind when you find that your cat is not eating is ”why?” There are a number of reasons why your cat may not be eating, and these include:

Illness

Loss of appetite is one of the signs that usually follows illness in animals. Check out for other signs of health problems, such as:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • rapid breathing
  • weight loss

If your cat is rejecting its food and you see any of these symptoms, you should get your pet checked by the vet as soon as possible.

Dental or oral problems

Dental and oral problems like a broken tooth, inflamed gums, or mouth ulcers can contribute to your cat withdrawing from eating. A quick way to know if your cat has dental problems is by observing how they chew: if your cat chews on one side of their mouth, it could be an indication that the other side has problems.

Another thing to note is that if a cat has pain in its mouth or teeth, it may not let you touch its head or mouth. If your cat is not eating and doesn’t let you go near their mouth, it is a sign that something might be wrong, and you need to visit the vet for a dental check-up.

Aging

Senior cats, that is cats that are more than seven years old, become less active as they age. Their metabolism slows down, and they generally do not need to be fed as much as kittens and younger cats. Usually, feeding them once a day is okay. It’s not unusual for them to be unwilling to eat sometimes, which is fine if it doesn’t last too long.

Upset Stomach

If your cat eats something that doesn’t go well with their stomach, they tend not to want to eat anything until they are rid of the food that has been bad for them.

Vomiting and diarrhea also contribute to factors that lead to loss of appetite in cats. If your cat doesn’t regain appetite in 24 hours, it could be a sign of a more serious issue like an intestinal obstruction, and you should seek veterinary help as soon as possible.

cat not eating

Medication or Vaccinations

Some medications or vaccinations cause loss of appetite in cats as a side effect of their use. If your cat got vaccinated or is on certain medication, it could be a possible cause for loss of appetite.

Stress and anxiety

New life conditions like living in a new house, having a new pet or family member, or drastic changes in the daily routine can contribute to higher stress levels, which can significantly impact the feeding behavior of your cat.

If your cat suffers from stress, anxiety, or depression, it is prone to becoming lethargic and losing its appetite.

New Food

Your cat can have finicky feeding habits and might not eat because they simply don’t like the taste or smell of the new food. Or they may decide they’re done eating the regular food you offer and start longing for something different!

At other times, they don’t just feel like eating, and that’s completely normal, but it shouldn’t extend beyond the 24-hour range. If it does, then it becomes a concern.

There are a number of risks that follow when your cat goes without food. Knowing about these dangers will come in handy in an emergency.

Risks of Not Eating – Why Your Cat Can’t Go Without Food

Cats belong to the category of animals called obligate carnivores. As obligate carnivores, they get their nutrients, especially protein, from animal products. The ideal diet for a cat should contain a high amount of protein and only a few carbohydrates, if any at all.

When a cat goes more than 24 hours without food, they’re susceptible to a number of risks, including the following:

Hepatic lipidosis

This especially occurs in obese cats that refuse to eat. Because energy is needed for basic bodily functions, the fat stores get moved into the liver, where they are metabolized as a source of energy.

Hepatic lipidosis occurs when fat accumulates in the liver and blocks the organ’s function. Hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver syndrome, can lead to death if not treated promptly.

Dehydration and malnutrition

If your cat is rejecting food and water, it can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.

Although malnutrition takes time to develop, if a cat is regularly skipping meals, it may not be getting all the nutrients it needs.

Dehydration, on the other hand, is dangerous and may develop quite fast. Cats often get a significant amount of the moisture their body needs from their food. What this means is that cats may develop dehydration from not eating.

If your cat has diarrhea or is refusing water in addition to its food, they are at risk of becoming dehydrated very quickly.

Organ damage

Lack of food and water is detrimental to the health of cats. Once the body does not get the major nutrients it needs to survive, organ function begins to deteriorate. This will ultimately lead to the loss of organ function and death.

Tricks To Get a Cat To Eat

After the first few meal rejections, you can try a few tricks to get your cat to eat before considering a vet appointment. They include:

Use syringe feeding or treats to encourage your cat to eat

When cats are recuperating from an illness, they tend to have a decreased appetite, which you can help stimulate by syringe feeding or offering your cat their favorite food or treats. You can also do this for healthy cats that refuse to eat. The main goal is to stimulate their appetite and get them to eat.

Providing food with different flavors

This tends to work when the cause of abstinence from food is a recent food change or a desire to eat something new. Try cat foods with different flavors and note which ones your cat seems to be attracted to.

Improving the environmental conditions

Stress due to a new environment can make a cat withdraw from eating. You can make the environment more peaceful and comfortable to encourage your cat to eat. To reduce stress, try to keep other pets and children away from them and ensure your cat can feed undisturbed.

Also, make sure the food dish is clean and not too deep -both are reasons why cats may refuse food.

Changing the food texture or consistency

Sometimes cats may not like the consistency of their food. Some cats will only accept wet food, while others prefer dry food or soft dry food.

If your cat is used to eating dry food, you may be able to coax them to eat by offering some delicious wet food. Or, you can try cats foods that are crunchy on the top with a soft and tasty filling.

Sometimes a change in the food may help your cat get its appetite back.

Summing up – How Long Can Cats Go Without Food

Although cats may be able to survive without food for up to two weeks while drinking just water, you should always be concerned if your cat goes without food for more than a day.

If you notice your cat is refusing to eat, it’s is usually normal as long as it doesn’t exceed 24 hours. Beyond 24 hours, it’s more recommended you schedule a visit to the vet as soon as you can for an examination of your pet.

Your cat may refuse to eat because of:

  • Illness
  • Dental problems
  • New food
  • Aging
  • Medication and vaccinations
  • Upset stomach
  • Stress and anxiety

Withdrawal from food can result in health risks like:

  • Dehydration and malnutrition
  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • Organ damage
  • And ultimately, death.

Some tricks you can use to get your cat to eat before considering going to the vet are:

  • Feeding your cat treats to promote increased appetite
  • Providing foods with different flavors
  • Changing the texture or consistency of the food
  • Improving the environmental conditions

Although 24 hours is considered safe for a cat to go without food, you need to be more careful and proactive if your cat is sick or has a medical condition. Major health complications can be avoided when prompt actions are taken. Ensure you don’t let your cat stay too long without eating before visiting the vet for an appropriate medical check-up.

Vet’s Comment

NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your pet’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.

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