Cats can be very finicky eaters. They know what they like and they aren’t usually happy about food changes – that is why, we always recommend choosing one of our best cat food (5*). But, even with the tastiest cat food, what happens if your cat stops eating it or what if you forget one day to feed them?
It goes without saying, denying your cat food can cause permanent damage to your cat’s organs, especially if your cat is overweight. Forcing a dietary change through starvation can be a dangerous way to change your cat’s food, besides being cruel.
But, some cat owners want to know the answer to the question – particularly if their cat has gone missing for a few days or may be trapped somewhere away from home. So how long can a cat go without eating? A cat can live for a number of days without food, maybe two or three at least, possibly even as long as four or five days.
My mother’s cat once got locked in a bedroom (whilst she was on holiday!) and it was just about OK for an entire week. He did lose a lot of weight though and was very shaken up. The danger comes when, refusing to eat or being denied food, the cat’s body begins to react to the starvation. I tend to use an automatic cat feeder to ensure that a) my cat gets fed b) that they eat the right quantity! I also use a water fountain as well. They are also really useful when you go away on holiday.
Fatty liver disease, or hepatic lipidosis (HL), is a condition that can be caused by starvation. When a cat goes hungry, its body reacts by sending fat to its liver. For other animals or people, that’s fine. The liver processes the fat and the creature has energy. For a cat, however, if it isn’t receiving the protein it needs to process the fat, the fat accumulates. If left unchecked, this can cause even more serious health issues and eventually, death.
If a cat is overweight, the extra fat stores that will help to sustain his/her life in the short-term, cat actually lead to fatty liver disease, faster! As a result, not feeding an overweight cat in an effort to control their weight is a big mistake! Always change a cat’s diet carefully. Discuss options with your veterinarian. Your good intentions to reduce obesity could easily cause more harm than good.
Symptoms Of HL
While starvation can cause HL, your cat’s refusal to eat may be a symptom of, rather than the cause of HL (in certain situations). If you haven’t changed anything about your cat’s diet or circumstances, HL may be the reason not the result of a cat’s refusal to eat.
If you suspect this is the case, things to watch out for besides a sudden lack of appetite include lethargy, excessive vomiting, or constipation. As is common with serious liver malfunction in any mammal, if your cat’s visible skin starts turning yellowish, call your veterinarian right away!
The Lasting Damage Of HL
Untreated HL can advance to some scary stuff, such as seizures, blood in the stool (black or tarry in color), coma, and death. Luckily, because the liver can be such a resilient organ, a cat who receives treatment can recover well in time.
Dangers of Anemia
Another danger for cats that aren’t eating is anemia. People can get anemia, too, if they are not receiving the right amount and blend of nutrients. Anemia in cats is caused by a lack of folic acid that they will usually absorb from their food. Nursing cats provide folic acid to their kittens, but even weaned cats need it to help keep their blood oxygenated.
Other than being starved of folic acid through an inefficient diet or starvation, cats can become anemic due to other health problems:
- Severe blood loss
- Kidney Disease
- Feline Leukemia
- A reaction to medication
- Exposure to certain toxins
Symptoms Of Anemia
The condition of your cat’s blood will have significant effects your cat’s health. Poorly oxygenated blood will reduce its energy, so an anemic cat will be more lethargic and most likely seem more sleepy than usual.
For a lazy house cat that spends most of their day sunning and lounging, it can be difficult to see the difference, especially if your cat’s anemia is mild. Another symptom is paleness of visible skin, like gums or inner ears. If your cat is looking pale, anemia could be the cause. The best way to diagnose anemia is a simple blood test by a veterinarian.
Lasting Effects of Anemia
Generally, if the anemia is caused by a dietary deficiency and there are no other significant health problems to consider, the cat has a strong chance of full recovery with treatment and care.
That doesn’t mean that anemia is not a serious reason for concern. If your cat is exhibiting symptoms of anemia, get care quickly. Anemia is often a symptom of far more serious illnesses that are not so easily treated if left unchecked.
Verdict – How Long Can A Cat Go Without Eating?
In summary, yes, a cat can probably live without food for several days, but not without cost. The underlying point is that for a cat, surviving without food for any longer than twenty-four hours may cause serious and lasting damage to their health.
Some Practical Tips
The physiology of a cat is different in so many ways from that of a human. They are carnivores and they need to eat as such. Any deviation from their usual diet may have significant repercussions.
While a person can skip meals or even go a day or two without food and stay healthy, though very hungry, a cat isn’t capable of missing a day or two of food. Oddly enough, though, if your cat doesn’t like a new food you present him or her with, they might refuse to eat for days regardless of the damage this will cause their body.
Some basic things to remember about caring for your cat and preventing health problems:
- Check dietary changes with a veterinarian. Get tips about how to switch out a food safely.
- Change anything slowly. From new people to new pets in the house, a cat may refuse to eat because they are stressed out about something new.
- Pay attention to when and what your cat eats. Start paying extra attention as soon as you notice that he or she has skipped their first meal.
- Most importantly: try not to let your cat get fat in the first place. Human food is not cat food, and in some cases, can be very dangerous. Obese cats are at a higher risk for multiple health problems.
Thanks for reading!