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How long can a cat go without eating?

Fluffy cat not eating

A cat could go a week or two without eating.

© Shutterstock

Cats are known to go off their food, but when does it become a problem? And how long can a cat go without eating? Here’s what you need to know about your cats eating habits.

By Ashley Murphy

Updated on the 08/03/2021, 14:28

Even a healthy cat may go off their food and water for short periods of time. When a cat stops eating it can be a cause for concern, but it could also be down to something as simple as how you're feeding your cat. So don't panic if your cat won't eat for a day or so. This is perfectly normal.  Just keep an eye on them, and they'll usually have their appetite back in no time. But if your cat stops eating for more than a few days, then it's time for a trip to the vet; they may have an underlying issue which will need medical attention.

How long can a cat go without eating?

As long as they're still drinking water, a cat might be able to survive for a week or two without food. However, if your cat hasn’t eaten anything for three days, it’s a serious concern. Us humans can survive for a maximum of 3 weeks, but only if we have some water to drink. A few animals can go much longer without feeding. Snakes and other reptiles can survive months without food. It's believed the crocodile can make a meal last for up to three years!

How long can a lost cat go without eating?

If you have lost your cat, you’ll be understandably worried about where he might be getting his food from. However, the good news is that all cats have a natural instinct which drives them to be able to hunt or scavenge. Therefore, a lost or feral cat can survive much longer than a cat without food in a home. Many feral cats live a lifetime out in the public, finding their own food.

Why has my cat stopped eating?

Cats can be fussy eaters. If they’ve gone with little food for a few days, try switching to a different type of cat food. They might have got bored with the old stuff! Once they get their appetite back, introduce some variety into their diet.

Eating might have become difficult or uncomfortable; this is especially the case for cats suffering from dental problems.

Certain psychological issues can affect a cat's appetite. These are likely to be associated with a change in their routine or environment. For example, a new home or the addition of a new family member or pet.

Unfortunately, a loss of appetite can be a sign of something more serious. Cats are really good at hiding medical problems, and many won't manifest themselves until the later stages. Serious medical issues that can affect cats eating habits include:

In addition to this, cats are really sensitive when it comes to smell. If they can’t smell their food, they won’t have an appetite. This is particularly true if your cat is suffering from a stuffy nose. You can make food smellier by heating it up in the microwave for a few seconds or adding something fishy to the food.

When should I take my cat to a vet?

This really depends on your cat, and you know them better than anyone else. If they go off their food for a day or two, and they seem otherwise well, just keep an eye on them. If you see any worrying changes in their routine or habits, or they seem unwell, then they may be struggling with an underlying issue. If they start displaying any other symptoms like dramatic weight loss, extreme lethargy, depression, or difficulty passing urine, get them to a vet immediately.

And make sure to check their eyes. This can be a big giveaway if something isn't right. If they have sunken appearance, the third eyelids are protruding or there's any discolouration of the eye, then your cat will need some medical attention.

What if my cat stops drinking water?

This is very serious. Cats can survive a week or two without food, but just a few days without water can have fatal consequences. Dehydration weakens the immune system. This will cause problems of its own, as well as exacerbating any other issues. A cat who refuses to drink water is likely to be very sick. Get them the care they need.

How to encourage your cat to eat some food

If you notice that your cat is eating less than usual, or has stopped completely, there are a few things you can do to encourage them to eat.

Tip 1# Change flavours

If your cat eats canned food, then try a different flavour. Alternatively, you can warm it up a little before serving (just pop it in the microwave for ten seconds.)

Tip 2# Try some new kinds of food

Some cats are very particular about the texture and consistency of their food. So try mincing it up, switching to wet food or a food with a jelly or gravy.

Tip 3# Switch it up even more

Dry cat food comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. Again, try a few different brands. The novelty of some new food might encourage their appetite.

Tip 4# Take a more proactive approach

Force feeding your cat is never a good idea, as it might cause them to choke. However, placing some food on your cat’s paw will usually encourage them to lick it off.

Tip 5# Speak to an expert

If none of these tactics work and the cat continues refusing food, then take some proactive action and schedule an appointment with the local vet. Your vet will be able to get to the bottom of your cat’s hunger strike and treat the root cause. In addition to this, they can prescribe appetite stimulants, or place a nasogastric tube to manually feed your cat.

It's not unusual for cats to skip the odd meal. Cats are fussy eaters and very independent minded. If they don't want to do something, they usually don't do it.

Cats have notoriously delicate digestive systems. They're prone to the odd bouts of sickness, so they're probably just giving their little stomachs a break. In most cases, kitty will be back to his/ her normal self within a couple of days. In the meantime, just monitor the situation, looking out for any worrying sign changes in their behaviour or habits.

But a refusal to eat can be a worrying sign, even in an otherwise healthy cat. So if they still haven't eaten after a few days, then it's time to get them checked out. Other things to look out for include lethargy, discolouration in the eyes, and difficulty passing urine. And remember, refusing to drink water is much more serious than refusing to eat food. If your cat stops drinking water, get them a local vet as soon as possible.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS