Cats are incredibly resilient. These animals can easily fend for themselves during seasons of diminished food supplies. Cases abound of cats that were separated from their owners, survived on their own for weeks or even months, only to return home looking just as strong and healthy as they did before.
However, even the hardiest animals will still require food to survive. If there’s virtually no food to eat (or if your feline friend simply refuses to eat for whatever reason), it will only be a matter of time before the animal starves to death.
But just how long can cats go without food and when should I seek professional help?
That question shall be the focus of this post.
How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?
Cats can go for one to two weeks without food. That’s way longer than many mammals would.
For comparison, a dog may not survive more than five days without food. Therefore, cats far outweigh dogs on the survivability scale.
Is The 1-2–Week Period Cast In Stone?
The average duration your cat will live without eating is one to two weeks. But as you shall find, this duration can become considerably shorter or longer, depending on several factors.
For starters, a cat will only live up to two weeks without food if the animal has access to a reliable water supply. Without food and water, your furry housemate may not last beyond the third day. Dehydration is far worse than hunger pangs because it deprives your cat’s body of water, which happens to be the primary medium for all biological processes.
Your cat’s breed and activity levels may also have a direct bearing on the actual duration the animal can go without food. Boisterous cats tend to burn calories much faster. Such cats will suffer the consequences of starvation much sooner than their lazier counterparts.
There’s also the question of stray cats and feral cats. Stray cats refer to cats that have been momentarily separated from their owners while feral cats are cats that prefer to live in wild colonies. Unlike housecats, stray cats and feral cats usually have limited food resources. All other factors held constant, these cats will succumb to starvation sooner than housecats.
Last but not least, the ambient weather may also play a role in determining how long cats can go without food. Metabolism tends to be higher in warmer than colder weather. Warmer temperatures are also associated with a higher rate of moisture loss, leading to dehydration. Therefore, your cat is likely to die sooner if he starves during summer than winter.
Why Won’t My Cat Eat?
1. Problems with the Food
Problems with your cat’s food are one of the main reasons the animal sticks his nose up whenever you try to feed him. And it’s important to note that your cat’s perception of ‘bad food’ may not necessarily be the same as yours.
Your cat may refuse to eat his food because of a new flavor. Food rejection may also result from unfamiliar food color, unpleasant food shape and texture, or a new food type.
For instance, if your cat is used to dry food, he may express aversions to canned foods. Similarly, the animal may reject seafood if he’s used to consuming beef or poultry products.
Lastly, almost all cats will decline food that has gone bad. And as you may already know, these animals are incredibly gifted at sniffing out rancid foods.
2. Problems with the Food Bowl
Your cat’s food may be perfectly alright. But there could be something amiss with the bowl.
Cats are notorious for being extremely clean. A subtle speck of dirt on their food bowl might be all it takes to turn them away.
Cats are remarkably picky too. They may choose to ignore their food due to the shape, size, depth, and even color of their bowl.
Deeper and smaller food bowls are especially a big problem because of their ability to irritate a cat’s sensitive whiskers.
3. Problems with the Feeding Routine
Changes in a cat’s feeding routine will almost always cause a temporary loss of food interest.
These changes include adjusting the feeding hours, changing the feeding spots, and even replacing the food bowl.
Remember that cats are habitual creatures who prefer to have their routines maintained at all times.
4. Health Issues
Refusal to eat could also emanate from certain underlying health issues.
Any condition that causes pain while chewing food will likely make your cat reject his food. The same is true for diseases that cause abdominal discomfort, nausea, and inappetence. Examples include;
• Oral sores, tender gums, or painful teeth
• Digestive system diseases like acid reflux, gastric tumors, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and pancreatitis
• Foreign bodies causing gastrointestinal blockage, such as hairballs
• Respiratory infections like asthma
• Stress and anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety
• Organ diseases, such as liver and kidney disease
5. Other Factors
The following are additional reasons why your cat may lose interest in his food;
• Slower metabolism, especially in older cats
• Recent vaccination
• Side effects of certain medications
• Fear, for instance if there are other dominant cats around
How Do I Get My Cat To Eat?
The best way to get your cat to eat is to start by understanding why the animal is rejecting his food in the first place. Here are some strategies you can implement to rekindle your cat’s interest in food;
a) Change the Food
As already indicated, most picky eaters usually take issue with the nature of their foods. Changing your cat’s food is the only way to uncover the aspects of the food that the animal finds disagreeable.
You can start by changing the flavors. If nothing works, proceed to change the food color, texture, and shape.
You could also swap kibble for canned food and see if the problem was the moisture content. Most importantly, always feed your cat fresh foods.
b) Change the Food Bowl
If your cat is fussy about his food bowl, you can consider changing the bowl. But even before getting the animal a new food bowl, be sure to clean the current one thoroughly.
Cleaning helps rid the bowl of dirt, grime, and pheromones from other dominant cats. It also makes the food presentable and enticing.
c) Go Slow On Routine Changes
It could happen that your cat isn’t eating because of a recent routine change. Well, how about you revert to the former situation?
For instance, you may have changed your cat’s feeding spots and it so happens that the animal doesn’t feel safe eating from the new location. Returning the cat’s food bowl to the original location will help do the trick.
d) Seek Professional Advice
If you’ve tried all the above-listed tips but nothing seems to work, then you could be dealing with a full-blown medical condition. Your best bet would be to schedule a visit to a vet clinic.
Be sure to provide your veterinarian with all the information they need to perform a proper diagnosis. That includes the duration your cat has gone without food and any accompanying symptoms.
Cats may go up to two weeks without food but only three days without food and water. As a loving and responsible pet parent, it’s important to take your feline friend to the vet if he doesn’t eat or drink anything for more than 36 hours.