How Long Can a Cat Go Without Eating?

As a cat owner, you’re probably worried whenever your cat sniffs her food and walks away. If this keeps occurring throughout the day, you may start to worry and wonder if there’s something wrong with her.

First of all, understand that as our appetites fluctuate at times, so does a cat’s appetite. She may just not feel like eating. However, it’s important to know your cat’s unique behaviors. If your cat is notorious for skipping a meal or two, it may be nothing to worry about, but if she normally gobbles down every bite within six minutes, then it’s time to investigate.

So, how long can Cats go without eating?

In order to live and function efficiently, a cat, or any animal for that matter, needs proper nutrition. That means they need food and water to maintain their health.

What most people don’t realize is cats get most of their water from the food they eat. On average, they require 5-10 ounces of fluid each day, but that amount depends on age and activity level, and overall health.

The consumption of wet canned food is ideal since it gives cats the nutrients and liquid they need. If they are not eating, it means they are not consuming the water that they get from food either.

A healthy cat can live up to two weeks without eating as long as he is still drinking water. If he is not drinking water, he won’t live for more than three days.

The fast decline

The simple fact is, every organ within your cat’s body needs water to function. Dehydrated organs will steal energy and water from the rest of the body, affecting the cat’s bloodstream and other vital functions.

The body shuts down vital organs in order of importance. The kidneys and stomach will shut down first. Then, the heart and brain will cling to any remaining water or nutrients, and they will soon shut down because of dehydration. Irreparable damage can be done to these organs if your cat does not eat or drink.

This is a horrific scenario that no cat should ever have to go through.

Reasons why your Cat is refusing to eat

Like in humans, lack of appetite in cats is a symptom of a wide range of health issues, from a simple stomach upset to the early signs of diabetes. Here are a few reasons why your cat could be refusing to eat:

  • Stress :

Just like humans often don’t eat when stressed (or some of us eat everything in sight!), cats often lose their appetites when they are stressed. If your cat has had some recent changes in her environment like a move or the addition of a new baby or another pet, she may be stressed, which may affect her appetite.

  • She doesn’t like her food :

I have to add this point because sometimes cats are just picky about their food and refuse to eat it. If you have decided to try a new cat food brand, she may not like it and refuse to eat. Stick with a brand you know she likes, and this should not be an issue.

  • She’s bored with her food :

Cats are finicky, and if your cat is healthy, she may be refusing food because she’s bored with it. You could try another type of food (but be careful with changing foods because the sudden switch can often cause stomach upsets). Or you could try a different presentation. If you usually pop open a can and let her eat out of the can, try placing it on a dish and smashing it up again to change up the consistency.

  • She has an upset stomach

A cat can have an upset stomach for a myriad of reasons–maybe she ate something she wasn’t used to, and her stomach disagrees. Maybe it’s just a hairball. There’s a chance the cause could be something more serious, like parasites. If you think her stomach issues could be something serious, take her to the vet.

There are also more major health issues that could be the cause of a cat not wanting to eat.

Here are a few of those conditions:

 

  • Hepatic Lipidosis

A condition that is related to lack of appetite in cats is Hepatic Lipidosis (HL), also known as fatty liver disease.

What happens is that fat cells accumulate inside the liver, leading to the breakdown of organs and biliary tract dysfunction. There are two types of hepatic lipidosis:

  • Diopathic HL: With this condition, your cat may have stopped eating out of the blue. Perhaps it could be brought on by stress, such as moving to a new house or a new animal brought into the cat’s environment. Cats are very sensitive to these types of disruptions.
  • Secondary HL: This condition is where your cat may have a pre-existing disease or another physical ailment. Diabetes or gastrointestinal disease could keep your cat from wanting to eat.
  • Kidney disease

Another condition that affects a cat’s appetite is kidney disease, also called Renal disease. Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys lose their ability to separate needed versus unneeded chemicals in the body. Toxins begin to build up in the cat’s bloodstream and interfere with other organ functions causing a cat to feel sick and not want to eat.

  • Pancreatitis

A properly functioning pancreas is vital for the digestion of food and insulin production. If the pancreas becomes inflamed, the enzymes in the digestive tract become chaotic and disrupt digestion. As weird as it sounds, the cat’s body starts to digest itself. Thankfully, if pancreatitis is treated quickly, it probably won’t cause any permanent damage to the organs.

  • Diabetes Mellitus

Cats can develop diabetes mellitus, the inability to produce enough insulin to balance blood sugar or glucose levels. If this condition is left untreated, it can lead to a severe loss of appetite, weight loss, and even death.

  • Dental disease

A cat may stop eating if his mouth hurts. Dental disease is actually a common problem in cats. This occurs when food particles accumulate along the cat’s gum line, causing plaque, then gingivitis, and finally, painful dental disease.

  • Dehydration and starvation in cats

Dehydration and starvation result from several days or not eating or drinking. We are not only referring to a lack of water, but also electrolytes like chloride, sodium, and potassium, which are all essential for a cat’s body to function.

When a lack of food or drink reaches a crisis point, other symptoms will be evident. One clear sign your cat is dehydrated is when her skin loses elasticity. You can check skin this by gently pinching an area of her skin and observing how fast or slow it returns to normal. If it doesn’t “jump back” to place quickly, she’s dehydrated.

Immediate vet care is required if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Sunken eyes
  • lethargy
  • increased heart rate
  • chronic panting
  • shallow breathing
  • poor coordination

What do I do if my cat stops eating?

If you notice your cat has stopped eating, try encouraging her with a liquid treat like tuna water. The fishy smell and taste should be somewhat appealing, and the trace of tuna will give her some nutrients, and the water itself is the most important.

Remember, dehydration is an emergency!

Water is the highest priority, and any liquid you can get in her is of vital importance.

If she refuses to drink even tuna water, take her to the vet immediately. This could be an emergency, and the vet will start treatment by attaching a fluid drip to your cat to rehydrate her body.

She may be admitted to the animal hospital for a few days for further testing to see if there is a deeper underlying cause of her lack of appetite.

Can I force my cat to eat or drink?

If you are not able to take your cat to the vet immediately, you will need to find ways to get your cat to eat or at least drink water. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Fill a syringe with wet cat food, and place your cat in a comfortable position.
  2. Place the syringe in your cat’s mouth and inject a small amount of food.
  3. If your cat tries to fight back, you can place a blanket under her belly, over her back, and in front of her paws. If only her head is exposed, she won’t be able to scratch you, and she should be calmer.
  4. If your cat is refusing to swallow the food, gently close her mouth after you feed her.

Syringe feedings should not be a full meal, but small amounts several times a day. Wet food will give some liquid, but giving her water or tuna juice through the syringe is also good.

Conclusion

By nature, cats are survivors. They can go weeks without food, but not without water. If your cat is neglecting her food, keep an eye on her, and be responsive. She may just be acting picky or bored, or it may be the start of something more serious. If she continues not to eat, take her to get checked out by the vet as soon as possible.

David Fields is a long-time animal lover and has been blessed to share his life with many companions. A short list includes ragdoll cats, siberian husky and greyhound dogs, an African Grey parrot, many fish of all sorts, and a pandemonium of parakeet. He writes most of the articles on iPetCompanion and is regularly featured on other popular websites on the Internet.

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