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How Long Can Cats Go Without Eating? Vet-Approved Dangers and Tips

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on January 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat not eating food

How Long Can Cats Go Without Eating? Vet-Approved Dangers and Tips


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

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

Learn more »

Cats are often hungry little monsters devouring their food rapidly. Conversely, they may be picky eaters that refuse to eat anything but their favorites! In either case, if your cat stops eating, this is a cause for concern.

Cats are independent creatures and like to handle things on their own, meaning they have an innate ability to hide or disguise any illness until they can no longer do so and will only stop eating when the condition or injury has reached a well-developed stage.

How long cats can go without eating is an important topic due to their unique system, as we will investigate. A cat’s age and health condition makes a big difference here. A healthy adult cat that doesn’t eat for more than 24 to 36 hours should be seen by a vet, even if they are still drinking. On the other hand, young kittens that stop eating for more than 12 hours can suffer from serious consequences. Cats that suffer from a health condition such as obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, or digestive signs including vomiting or diarrhea should be seen by a vet as soon as they skip a meal. Essentially, this means that healthy adult cats really should not go longer than a day or a day and a half without eating.

Don’t assume they are eating elsewhere or can fend for themselves. Have your veterinarian examine them even if you believe they are eating their food elsewhere and you have noticed no other changes with your cat.

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Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating?

Animals don’t stop eating for no reason. Eating is an instinctual process they possess to survive. They won’t starve themselves in defiance until you bring in some cooked chicken or their preferred cuisine simply because they object to your chosen diet for them. Missing an odd meal or two might be normal in some cats, but a strong and healthy cat won’t continue to not eat.

Anorexia is the term used when an animal is not eating. Anorexia can be due to many causes, whether this is partial or full, and a veterinarian should always be consulted if your cat has not eaten anything for 1 day.

cat not eating
Image By: plew koonyosying, Shutterstock

Causes for Cats Not Eating

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is helpful to understand the plethora of conditions that can affect your cat’s eating habits so they can be addressed as soon as possible. Potential causes include:

  • Underlying systemic illness or disease or progression of a current one, such as kidney disease, tumors, and diabetes
  • Infection or abscesses
  • Internal ulcers
  • Dental disease, including all aspects of the mouth, gums, and teeth
  • Problems with the jaw
  • Nausea
  • Foreign body (a blockage)
  • Behavioral/psychological issues, such as a new home, new pet, new cat on the street, another cat bullying them, stress
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Abnormal environmental temperatures
  • Pain
  • Medications
  • Poisons
  • Fear

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The Dangers of Not Drinking and Eating

Cats’ bodies function differently from dogs in numerous ways, and they can suffer from a potentially fatal condition called Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Syndrome) if they stop eating for a number of days. Overweight cats are at high risk of developing this condition.

Hepatic Lipidosis begins in response to a few days of no food causing the body to begin breaking down fat to supply nutrition and energy. The mobilized fats get sent to the liver and accumulate in the liver cells. This can severely compromise the liver and requires immediate veterinary intervention.

cat not eating
Image Credit: Alena Lebedzeva, Shutterstock

How Long Is It OK for a Cat Not to Drink?

We are all aware of how important water is to maintain life, and if your cat is not drinking, it is a state requiring immediate veterinary attention, especially if they are also losing fluid via vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Generally speaking, cats need to drink water every day, otherwise dehydration may begin to affect the cat’s body and organ function within hours. A visit to your vet is required to prevent this situation from spiraling as a lack of water (fluids), if not treated, rapidly progresses with potentially devastating outcomes and problems.

How Long Should I Wait to See My Vet?

Not long! As soon as you notice they have skipped one meal, you should start monitoring your cat closely and implement some tempting measures. If your cat still refuses to eat, call your vet to discuss. Let them know if you notice any other signs and issues with your kitty. As their pet parent, you know them the best and should never discount any inklings or a feeling something isn’t right.

If they are not drinking, speak to your vet straight away.

Tips to Get My Cat to Eat

Here are a few clever tips and tricks to get your cat eating again and back on the road to full health and happiness. You may wish to try these as soon as you notice your cat not eating, but they can also be helpful during recovery from an illness or trauma. It is advisable to check with your vet if some of these foods suggested are suitable for your cat and not contraindicated because of a medical condition.

Cats rely heavily on smell, so anything which can be done to enhance the smell of tasty food will surely help.

  1. Check the environment where they eat. Is it clean and relatively quiet? Is the air free of any weird smells or scents? Are there any nearby windows where other cats from the neighborhood are watching them from the outside?
  2. Make sure their food and water bowls are clean.
  3. Change their feeding area to a different room.
  4. Try a different bowl, particularly if you have recently changed it. Some cats dislike the smell of plastic bowls. Others don’t like hearing the ting noise a collar or tag may make when knocking against a metal bowl as they eat.
  5. Try a different flavor of their usual diet.
  6. If they are fed kibble/dried food, switch it up to a canned meat or pate version, you may wish to warm the meat slightly, as it increases the potency of the smell.
  7. Place a small amount of warm cat gravy over their kibble.

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Some cats are very greedy and others are very picky. You know your cat best, so if your feline friend shows a change in appetite, or even stops eating, this is a sign to be worried about.

If this occurs, you can follow our tips and tricks to tempt your cat to regain their appetite. However, iif they fail to work, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. This will increase the chances of success and will avoid the complications associated with not eating.

Featured Image Credit: Elena Kutepova, Shutterstock

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