HEALTH & CARE

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food: Don’t Wait Until It Is Too Late

Cat sitting over the fish
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Different cat owners feed their cats on different schedules. Most feed their pets twice a day. Alarmingly, many people feed their cats only once a day, and just a few find a way to give their cats 3 or 4 meals per day. In whichever group you fall, however, we hope that you’re at least not skipping whole days. Regardless of our efforts, however, sometimes cats refuse to eat. Sometimes a cat may refuse to eat for multiple days, regardless of what you give her. In situations like these, one obvious question arises: how long can cats go without food?

There are a lot of different reasons why a cat refuses to eat—some are physical, some are mental, and some are due to the cat’s environment. Regardless of the reason for your cat’s starvation, it’s always good to be aware of the last time your cat has had a good meal and to keep in mind how long she can make it without food or water. This way, you can react quickly if you suspect that it’s not just a simple, mood-related hunger-strike, but instead caused by a potentially serious health problem.

In this article, we’ll see how long can a cat go without food and water, what to do in such situations, the possible reasons for them, and the possible consequences. We will also go over some nifty tricks you can apply to incite your feline friend to eat.

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food Before It Becomes Life-Threatening?

tabby cat drinking water

This is highly dependent on whether or not your cat is drinking any water while she’s starving. Cats, like all other animals, need a lot of water to survive. A cat can only go without water for no more than two or three days, with various types of damage from dehydration kicking in before that.

See Also: How Much Water Should Cats Drink

Unfortunately, cats tend to consume most of their water through their food. So, if your cat is refusing to eat, as well as to drink, then you might be looking at a very critical period of just a couple of days before things get irreversible.

If, however, your cat is drinking enough water and just isn’t eating, then she can last anywhere up to 2 full weeks without food. It would obviously still be very unhealthy for your cat, and a lot of different health problems will start appearing before the end of those two weeks, but your cat will survive for 14 – 15 days. Either way, both of those scenarios are to be avoided at all cost.

Why Is Your Cat Not Eating?

orange cat refuses to eat

There is a large number of health issues that can cause your cat to stop eating. Consulting the vet is always a must as s/he can give you a detailed and personalized answer that’s based on tests and observations.

The possible reasons can range from relatively harmless reasons such as plain old stomach upset due to the consumption of disagreeable food for more serious reasons such as Hepatic Lipidosis.

#1: Relatively Harmless Reasons

There are many harmless reasons for your cat’s refusal to eat. Cats are fickle beings and can randomly decide to go on a diet or a “hunger strike.” Maybe they feel that their food tastes different in a bad way—which could be the case if you are preparing some homemade cat food for the first time. Cats can be picky about what they eat, so don’t be insulted if they don’t like your cooking. Just try again and make sure to follow a recipe that caters to their palate.

See Also: DIY Cat Treats

Or, maybe, they are sulky because of something you’ve done earlier in the day. Additionally, some of the physical or mental issues that may be causing the starvation are not too harmful either. Depression, while problematic in and of itself, is often treatable, as are some health issues.

Regardless, they should always be treated as soon as possible to prevent any dehydration and starvation damage. Consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice that more than two meals have been skipped.

#2: More Serious Problems

orange cat is ill

One serious problem you definitely should watch out for is Hepatic Lipidosis. Also known as the fatty liver disease or simply HL, this is a condition of the liver that results from the accumulation of fat inside the cells and tissues of the organ. This, in turn, causes the liver to break down and could lead to a biliary tract dysfunction. After this, a drastic lack of appetite is inevitable.

What happens when a cat with a fatty liver starts starving is that the central nervous system starts looking for fat cells in the body to metabolize for energy. When the body stumbles upon the fat cells in the liver, it disrupts the healthy function of the organ. As a result, the cat loses her appetite even further, because she senses that her liver is not working. And with that, the cycle continues.

Hepatic Lipidosis can come in two separate types:

  • Idiopathic HL. This type of fatty liver occurs when the cat has stopped eating not for a physical reason, but for something external or mental, like stress from a recent move, depression, and so on.

  • Secondary HL. In this case, the disease is the result of a pre-existing physical condition like diabetes, pancreatitis, cholangiohepatitis, or anything else.

There is no set period for the development of fatty liver. Larger cats are generally more susceptible since they have larger fat deposits. Still, this is largely dependent on the specific cat in question. Overall, the average time period after which the disease will become fatal ranges between 2 and 10 days of starvation.

There are multiple things a vet will do if he or she suspects HL: a measurement of the liver enzymes (as they will be elevated in the case of HL), a radiograph, an ultrasound, and the only guaranteed way for an exact diagnosis—a liver biopsy.

What to Do If Your Cat Stops Eating

gray cat refuses to eat

So, at this point, we’ve established that your cat’s starvation is no joke. Missing more than a couple of meals, especially if dehydration is involved, can have drastic health complications very quickly. What should you do then? How does one avoid a case of feline starvation?

Solution #1: Homemade Wet Cat Food

What you want to do is try to tempt your cat into trying some new, delicious food. Something soft and wet is preferable since it’d be easier to consume. Plus, as we said, dehydration is the chief problem here, so wet food is the adequate solution. Dry food will not only dehydrate your kitten even more, but it is also more of a bother to chew and eat.

This can be tricky because cats are rarely eager to explore new foods. However, if you find something with a strong aroma and taste—preferably something natural—your cat should be enticed.

See Also: How to Make Homemade Cat Food

Solution #2: Appetizers

appetizers for cats

 

In addition to just changing the cat’s food with something new and interesting, you can try some more intricate tricks as well. For example, you can try giving your cat some tasty treats as appetizers.

Treats are not as nutritious as regular food, but they are better than nothing. Plus they can kick start your cat’s appetite for other food. Even some non-regular treats like malt paste can be used. The fact that it is intended for another purpose is irrelevant if it can reboot your cat’s appetite.

Solution #3: Gently Coax Them into Eating

The simple act of putting something yummy at the tip of your finger can also have a beneficial effect for most cats. Shoving a whole palm filled with food in your cat’s face can feel a bit forceful; something innocent like the tip of your finger is often enough to catch your cat’s eye.

Eating next to your cat—especially something that she might enjoy as well, like a can of tuna—can also entice her to try a bite. We’d usually recommend against giving your cat some of your food, but if starvation is what’s happening, then it’s the lesser of two evils.

Solution #4: Spike the Water

bowl of chicken broth

Mixing some tuna sauce or chicken broth in your cat’s water is a desperate move, but it can become necessary. It’s still a source of nutrients, plus it can give your cat a new taste for food. On the negative side, it can turn your cat away from water too, so be careful. If your cat starts refusing to drink, allowing her to drink running water should solve the problem. You’ll need a cat water fountain for that.

See Also: DIY Cat Water Fountain

Solution #5: Force-Feeding

Forceful feeding is generally a no-no as it will only diminish your cat’s appetite even more, but if you have no other choice, at least try to start slowly and gently by giving your cat the smallest pieces of food and softly placing it on her tongue. If it doesn’t work, then you may have to syringe-feed your cat.

See Also: How to Syringe-Feed a Cat

How Long Should You Wait Before You Go to the Vet?

vet examining a cat

It’s understandable for us to be always pushing you to go to the vet; this is the best way to avoid any unexpected problems. However, we are aware that trips to the vet can be needlessly stressful for your pet. So, when should you start worrying and get moving? For how long can you assume that your pet is simply exercising her right to skip a meal?

Generally, it’s not uncommon for a cat to skip a meal due to a lack of appetite. We, ourselves, sometimes don’t feel like eating. However, if your cat has skipped two consecutive meals, and/or she seems to be in obvious physical discomfort, then you should definitely get moving.

Either way, you should never decide to leave it for the next day. A cat may skip a meal on a whim, but she won’t skip several consecutive meals without a good reason. Even after only one skipped meal, if the physical signs of distress are too obvious, then there is no reason to delay.

The vet will treat the situation as an emergency and will immediately start a detailed examination. After that, a fluid drip will likely be attached to prevent dehydration, and proper treatment will be assigned, depending on the cause of the starvation.

If, however, a trip to the vet is not an option for some reason, your next priority is to hydrate the cat yourself. You can use a dropper to hydrate your cat; it won’t be pleasant for the cat, but dehydration is a serious enough issue to warrant unpleasant measures.

Once dehydration is out of the question, proceed to stimulating your cat to eat. Force-feeding an adult cat is ill-advised unless absolutely necessary, but you can try and tempt your cat into trying out some new type of wet and soft food.

If your cat refuses to eat absolutely anything, some “food water” can be given instead of regular water—tuna water, chicken broth, or something like that. Either way, if the situation persists, you will need to find a vet.

Wrap Up

cat doesn't want to eat

If your cat isn’t eating, this can lead to a lot of problems. Depending on the cat’s general health, various diseases like Hepatic Lipidosis can have detrimental effects after just 2 – 3 days. Additionally, if your cat has stopped eating, dehydration becomes an issue as well. With no water, a cat can’t go beyond just a couple of days, and physical problems will start developing well before that.

That being said, a lack of appetite can be caused by a lot of things. Some are harmless like mood swings, while others can range from the first stages of diabetes to a full-blown depression.

Even if the causes themselves are harmless, however, if the starvation continues, the end results can be very harmful. So, pay close attention to how much water your cat drinks and what her mood and general physical condition are. Be ready to go to the vet at the first sign that this is not a one-time loss of appetite but something serious.

For how long has your cat been refusing to eat? Have you experienced something like this before? What did you do to help your cat recover? If you have any potentially life-saving information, please share it in the comments section. If your cat has regained her appetite and now you’re worried about obesity instead, check out this article to help her lose weight.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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