How Long Can Cats Go Without Eating?

Last Updated on: September 21, 2020

How long can a cat go without eating? There are a number of reasons why a cat owner may ask this question. Your cat might be unwell and is refusing to eat, causing you understandable concern.

Or maybe your cat is acting out of character. Physically they seem okay, however behaviorally something is amiss. Your cat refuses to eat and you don’t know why. Exactly how long can they go with eating?

Let’s take a look….

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How long can a cat go without eating – The Horrible Truth

Like most animals, a cat needs water to survive. The cells in a cat’s body need water to function, without it they would not be able to live for more than a few days.

To exacerbate the issue, cats get a high proportion of their water from the food that they eat. If they are not eating, (and are also refusing to drink any water) they can quickly be in a lot of trouble.

Quite simply, if a cat consumes nothing at all – they could only go as long as a few days without eating or drinking before they would pass away.

If however, your cat is drinking a little bit of water, they would be able to go without food for up to two weeks.

They would of course experience many issues if this were the case, (slow starvation would cause kidney problems for instance), and one would hope that you had taken your cat to the vet before it ever got to this stage.

How Long Can a Cat Go Without Water? – The Fast Decline

As we have said, cats can only go a few days without water. The simple fact is, every organ within your cat’s body needs water to work.

Dehydrated organs will steal energy and water from the rest of the body, affecting the cat’s bloodstream and other vital functions.

The body has a clever way of shutting down vital organs in order of importance. Kidneys and stomach will fail first, drying up and shutting down.

This often causes irreversible damage to the cat’s organs should they even survive the trauma of severe dehydration and starvation. Finally, the heart and brain will cling on to any remaining resources until they finally too would shut down through lack of water.

Overall a horrific scenario that no cat should ever go through.

What to do if your cat is neither eating nor drinking?

If you are concerned because your cat is not eating or drinking, (and who wouldn’t be), try gently encouraging them with a liquid-based treat of some sort.

As we have made clear, water is the highest priority and anything you can do to make your cat have some is of vital importance.

Try offering them a can of tuna water. The fishy smell and taste should definitely appeal to them, and while the trace element of tuna will give them some nutrients, the water itself will supply the life-supporting h2o.

And of course, if your cat refuses to drink anything at all, you should contact your vet immediately.

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Reasons a cat might not be eating or drinking

Lack of appetite is a common symptom of a wide range of cat health issues, from simple stomach upset from disagreeable food to the early signs of diabetes, to what might even be feline depression symptoms.

Again, your vet is the best person to turn to, should you witness a lack of appetite in your cat.

Hepatic Lipidosis

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

The condition arises due to an accumulation of fat inside the cells and tissues of the liver, leading to organ break down and biliary tract dysfunction.

If a car goes a long duration without eating, the cat’s central nervous system looks to the fat cells of the body, metabolizing the cells for much-needed energy.

All animals do this in response to starvation. That’s why a starving body looks so thin. The body is literally eaten away by itself in the hunt for energy.

However, the process also sees fat cells build up in the liver, disrupting its function. A vicious circle scenario then takes place, as the cat will not want to eat due to the sickness brought on by the liver problems.

A cat can experience two types of hepatic lipidosis, they are:

  • Idiopathic HL: Here your cat may have stopped eating for no apparent reason. This may have been brought on by stress, such as moving house, or a new animal brought into the cat’s environment. Cats are very sensitive to such disruptions.
  • Secondary HL: This is where your cat may have pre-existing disease or other physical ailments. Diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, pancreatitis, or cholangiohepatitis can all cause your cat to stop eating. These can all lead to anorexia, which then results in HL.

How long does a cat have to go without food to be vulnerable to HL?

This can vary. A larger cat will suffer quicker due to the larger fat deposits that the cat has. However, the average length a cat can go without eating before the disease can become fatal is 2 to 10 days.

If a vet suspects that your cat has HL, they will measure the liver enzymes as these will be increased if the cat has the disease.

Radiographs and ultrasound imaging may also be used. However, the only way to give a positive diagnosis of HL is by performing a liver biopsy.

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As we have said, without water your cat will last no more than 2 to 3 days. Without food they could possibly live for up to 2 weeks, however much of the damage done would be irreparable.

If your cat shows signs of not eating, you have no option but to take them to the vet as soon as you can.