Cats are hardy animals who spend most of their days sleeping and do the majority of their hunting at night. While it would be ideal for a cat to catch prey every day, it’s not always possible, leaving cats hungry for a night or two. But is that safe?
Being that most indoor cats have an endless supply of food at their paws, we’re not used to seeing our cats not eat for a night. It’s easy to spot when there’s a change in routine or habit and it can be alarming when one of your cats stops eating all of a sudden, especially if your cat stops eating for prolonged periods of time.
We had a great 3 years with our little ones until we ran into our first problem where Beau refused to eat all together. Prior to Beau not eating altogether, we had to deal with our younger cat being a picky eater, but that was nothing compared to seeing Beau, a cat who would literally eat through a bag of kibble, refuse to eat any food given to him.
Having a cat stop eating can be most alarming due to the fact that lethargy and a lack of appetite are symptoms of many longterm health conditions. Although a lack of appetite can also be momentary, it is best that you begin tracking other things that change in your cat’s behaviour.
HOW LONG CAN CATS GO WITHOUT EATING?
Cats can go up to two weeks without eating, as long as they are still drinking water.
The main concern with cats not eating is that most cats aren’t huge drinkers. Since cats get the majority of their water from their food, both in the wild and indoors, your cat you may run into problems with dehydration before you run into problems with starvation.
Dehydration is very serious and may actually be fatal after two days with no water.
You can check if your cat is dehydrated by grabbing their nape. If their skin takes a long time to resettle they are dehydrated and you must take your cat to the vet immediately. Do not try to rehydrate your cat by yourself, as dehydration may not be the only problem afflicting your cat.
(LONG-TERM) MEDICAL REASONS YOUR CAT MAY NOT EAT
Many cats who refuse to eat are experiencing discomfort. Discomfort can be as small as a little bit of gas, but causes can range in severity and urgency.
Some of the most common severe medical reasons cats stop eating altogether include cancer, diabetes, dental disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, ingestion of a foreign material, urinary tract infections/diseases (UTIs) and arthritis.
In many cases, the pain a cat feels will subside when the condition is dealt with, or the condition can be conditioned to help prevent longterm pain.
NON-MEDICAL REASONS A CAT MAY NOT EAT
Some cats are really finicky. Sometimes cats get bored with the food they are being fed. Sometimes cats only like specific batches of food from a particular brand, or sometimes they lose interest with age… honestly, the list goes on and on!
It’s a good idea to have a few different foods on hand or speak to your vet about feeding your cat a rotational diet to ensure that they do not get bored of the food that they are eating. There are a lot of cases where cats can eat the same food for their whole lives, but some of us don’t get as lucky, especially when our cats become seniors.
Cats may also stop eating if there are changes in their routine or environment that bring on stress. Although stress can often be managed, it can be hard to pinpoint what the cause of that stress is.
Other non-medical issues can include hairballs and nasal congestion. I know nasal congestion is technically a medical condition, however, it is not usually longterm and can commonly be prevented.
HOW SOON SHOULD I TAKE MY CAT TO THE VET?
Well, as is with most things, if you are scared, take your cat to the vet immediately. I would strongly recommend taking your cat to the vet if you’ve noticed a few changes in your their. Take note of big changes in your cat’s behaviour such as whether or not your cat is using the litter box as often as they normally do. As mentioned, most cats will also become lethargic if they are feeling sick.
Cats usually stop eating when their illnesses have progressed immensely. Cats, like most animals, are very good at hiding ailments, and you want to make sure you catch it before it becomes even more severe.
If your cat hasn’t eaten anything at all for 2 days, I strongly suggest not waiting any longer before taking your cat to the vet. As mentioned, the scariest thing that cats can experience when not eating is dehydration.
MY CAT STOPPED EATING AND IS LOSING WEIGHT, WHAT DO I DO?
Breathe in and take your cat to the vet immediately.
Unfortunately, extreme weight loss, especially from a cat that hasn’t eaten for over 24 hours, can be life-threatening. The risk is even higher if your cat is an overweight cat as extreme weight loss can lead to kidney failure.
If your cat has progressively been losing weight but is still eating a bit, I would still recommend speaking to a vet, but feed your cat food with higher fat. As is with all switches with diet, I would still recommend running it by your vet.
OTHER SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH A LOSS IN APPETITE
While poor appetite and weight loss can come with dehydration and lethargy there are some other visual cues that will let you know if your cat isn’t feeling well.
You will be able to tell something is wrong when you can feel your cat’s spine prominently. Your cat’s eyes may seem sunken and their eyes may start looking yellow. Cats will also become depressed and weak.
If your cat has any of these symptoms, immediately take them to the vet. Your vet will commonly recommend giving your cat some IV fluids.
WHICH IS MORE SERIOUS, NOT EATING OR NOT DRINKING?
When a cat doesn’t eat, they lose a great number of nutrients and start to fatigue, but luckily, as soon as they eat next they should be back to their normal self.
This is not true of water though. If a cat is dehydrated, much like a human their internal organs will begin to fail.
This is true most of the liver and kidneys, but it does, in fact, affect other organs. The process goes as such: Stomach > Kidneys > Liver > Other Organs > Heart > Brain. Even if you get water into their system after the organs start shutting down, the damage may already be unrepairable.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO WHILE WAITING FOR THE VET?
Absolutely, but please don’t use these as ways to avoid the vet!
If your cat starts showing signs of dehydration grab a clean syringe and help them drink by gently opening their mouth and squirting the syringe in their mouth. The same can be done with wet food.
Again, a vet visit is the best answer, as they can hook your little buddy up to fluids, but if this is a dire case where the vet is closed or you’re on your way to the vet, that’s your best hope.
I wouldn’t do this regularly (ie. every day to get your cat in the habit of drinking) as it can be traumatic, but a number of vets do recommend doing it when your cat has frequent UTIs or is commonly dehydrated.
I must stress again, you hydrating your cat may not be enough to save them, make sure you take your cat to the vet if you suspect they are dehydrated.
MY CAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN PICKY, ANY ADVICE FOR A PICKY CAT?
Well, it highly depends on why your cat isn’t eating. Some tips that have worked for us are:
1. Heat up your cat’s food
Your cat is more likely to eat food that smells more potent.
To make food more smelly you can either mix in warm water to your cat’s food (which will also keep your cat hydrated) or you can give your cat’s food a quick zap in the microwave (a maximum of 10-seconds).
2. Simply adding water and mixing the food
Cat’s can be picky about the consistency of their food and some cats actually prefer food that’s extremely wet and soft.
3. Put a couple of treats into your cat’s food
We’ve all seen those Temptations commercials so we all know how much cats love treats. Although I don’t usually recommend feeding your cat treats due to the high calories, they are a great way to entice them to eat.
4. Rotating between different flavours or proteins
Cats get bored with foods just like we do. As much as I love sushi, I don’t think that I’d be able to eat it every day for the rest of my life. That being said, it’s best to rotate your cat through different flavours or even brands every so often.
Just because two products are labelled as “chicken” it doesn’t mean that they taste the same, so give it a go and see if your cat starts eating again! You might even notice your cat reaping added benefits as your cat explores new options.
5. Feed a rotation of wet & dry food
It’s good to give your cat options, especially if they are picky.
Both of our cats eat a mixture of wet and dry food, although each one has to eat them in a particular way. Both cats get fed 4 times a day. Kalista gets both wet and dry at all meals, while Beau only gets wet during 2 meals and dry during 2 meals.
Sometimes I recommend mixing some dry food into the wet food for cats who are extremely picky. I would be wary about doing this too frequently though as your cat may only want to eat their food mixed if it becomes habitual. That being said, play around with how and how much you feed them to see what works best.
6. Try finding food consistency that your cat likes
The awesome thing about cat foods, especially wet foods, is that they come in different consistencies like Stews, Patés, Broths, etc. That being said, your cat may be picky about the textures and consistencies their food has.
For example, Beau doesn’t like patés too much. He does love stew though, or when his food mixed with a good amount of water.
7. Try to find a differently shaped kibble
It sounds like such a dumb thing to think about, but cats can also be picky about the size and shape of their kibble.
Again, cat food is a pretty awesome thing because there are so many different types of kibble out there varying in all shapes and sizes.
8. Try a different type of diet
Before you change your cat’s diet to something you’ve never tried before, I recommend speaking to your vet, but there are some really great alternatives out there that aren’t just wet or dry food.
You may want to try Freeze Dried Raw Food or even Raw Food if it better suits your cat’s diet, but again, please consult your vet as many of the newer lines of food do not have years of success under their belt. What do I mean by that? Well, some are just too new on the market so we don’t know whether or not they are suitable for every animal, however, your vet will have a much better idea.
While cats are hardy and can last quite some time without food, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned at all.
Not eating commonly leads cats to become dehydrated, especially if they are eating predominantly wet food.
Make sure to be checking in on your cat and making sure they are at least getting some water in their system to stay hydrated.
Have any other advice or experience? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear!