How Long Can Cats Go Without Food And Water?

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Did your cat suddenly stop eating her food?

If your cat has a lack of appetite, or if you’ve spotted an outdoor cat who looks like she hasn’t eaten in a while, you might be concerned about her well-being.

So, how long can cats go without food?

We reached out to Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian at Paramount Pet Health, and Dr. Claudine Sievert, a veterinarian at Stayyy, to find out how long cats can go without food or water, and how to help get yours to eat again.

How long can cats go without food if they’re otherwise healthy?

Cats can survive up to two weeks without food as long as they have access to water, although they’ll likely survive only three to four days even with water.

“It's important to emphasize that if a cat goes for two days without food, it'll become malnourished and unwell,” Dr. Sievert told The Dodo.

All cats need a reliable food source to be healthy and happy. If a cat doesn't eat, it can cause hepatic lipidosis, which is a liver condition that's fatal if not treated quickly.

“Unlike dogs and humans, a cat's liver cannot support their bodies, so the process can start soon,” Dr. Sievert said. “If starvation continues, its organs will begin to shut down.”

How long can cats go without water?

Water is a different story.

“Water is essential for a cat's body to work correctly. It keeps the cells going so all the organs work correctly,” Dr. Sievert said. “It keeps the brain in good health, keeps blood circulating, improves metabolism, improves digestion and makes sure the cat doesn't become constipated, removes toxins from the cat's body through urine, and keeps their pH level in the appropriate range.”

So when it comes to water, the average time a cat can survive without it is three to four days.

“Within 24 hours of not drinking water, cats will become dehydrated,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo. “The longer a cat is not drinking water, the worse dehydration will become, electrolyte imbalances will occur and organ damage.”

Reasons your cat isn't eating or drinking

Cats who stop eating or drinking do so for several reasons.

Some of the most common include:

  • An upset stomach
  • Changing her food
  • Stress or emotional causes (such as her owner going on vacation)
  • Dental issues
  • Medication side effects
  • Parasites
  • Inflammatory bowel disease or other digestive issues
  • Underlying medical issues

So basically, there are tons of reasons why your cat may have stopped eating or drinking. Your best bet to figure out the cause is to contact your veterinarian.

“If your cat has stopped eating for over 24 hours, I recommend seeing your veterinarian,” Dr. Burch said. “It is essential to determine why your cat quit eating and form a treatment plan. The longer cats do not eat, the higher the chance of developing secondary liver disease.”

How to get your cat to eat

If you have to wait for a vet appointment or you’re trying to help your cat eat within the first 24 hours, there are some things you can try.

1. Keep her hydrated

First, make sure your cat’s getting plenty of water. Dehydration can make recovery longer and more complicated.

“If your cat is not freely drinking, you can try adding a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth or tuna juice to the water,” Dr. Burch said. “If this trick is not working, try syringe-feeding small amounts of water or Pedialyte every two hours.”

2. Try to entice your cat with food

Your next step is to try to get your cat to eat by using different food than what she’s used to. “Try offering a bland diet of boiled chicken, white rice with yogurt, or meat-flavored baby food,” Dr. Burch said. “Changing the food may be enough to encourage your cat to start eating again.”

Cats also aren’t huge fans of cold food, so Dr. Sievert recommended trying to warm it up to see if she’ll eat it that way.

3. Make sure her food is in a quiet place

Since cats aren’t huge fans of loud noises, make sure her food’s in a quiet area of the house. Also, make sure her food and water bowls are clean since your cat might avoid drinking and eating from a dirty bowl.

While cats can survive up to two weeks without food, this is never advised. If you notice your cat stop eating or drinking, get her to a vet ASAP to determine — and fix — the underlying problem.