Several months ago, one of our family cats (specifically my sister’s cat) was dying of diabetes and old age. She had been ill for several months, in and out of the vet, on medication, and very carefully monitored, but she was seventeen and her time had come. My cat has seen other pets come and go before, but this one took her the hardest. For her, watching her ‘buddy’ slowly dying was hard and as a result, she largely went off eating for several days leading up to the death of her friend.
Understandably, I was concerned. She’s a bigger cat, so losing the weight was definitely beneficial, but she had been having these bouts of not eating for periods of time for months, usually coinciding with when her buddy had a dip in health.
Fortunately, in her case, going off food mostly helped in the long run since she lost excess weight and became more active; however, for many other people, such a trend would be extremely worrying, to say the least. In fact, when you see your pet turn up her nose at her food bowl time and time again, you will quickly start to wonder how long cats can go without eating?
The good news is, as long as your cat is still drinking water, most healthy cats can go up to two weeks without eating and not suffer too much damage for it. Heftier cats can go longer since they live off their fat stores while older, skinnier, or sick cats (or kittens) will obviously have a harder time going long without sustenance. It’s important to note here though that this assumes your cat is still drinking water. Without water, most cats won’t last much longer than a few days as dehydration will destroy their organs.
What Puts Cats Off Eating?
Your cat used to step on your face and wake you up at whatever time they felt like it to eat breakfast, so why won’t she eat now?
There are a number of reasons why your pet may be off her dinner and while sickness is a major factor, it’s not the only one. Cats can go off food for a number of reasons, including:
- Injury (may simply be too sore to feel like eating or have a hard time reaching their food)
- Illness (from a simple case of indigestion or up to diabetes, cancer or kidney failure)
- Feline depression (pretty sure this is what my cat had that knocked her off eating off an on for months)
- She may be sick and tired of her food and going on a food strike (my cat also refused to eat chicken during her buddy’s illness and her buddy would only eat chicken. What a mess come dinner time!)
- Anxious (my sister’s cat went off a lot of food when we moved to a new place. Fortunately, it didn’t last long)
- Feeling grumpy, over-tired, and just not hungry. Some cats are just moody like that.
You know your cat better than anyone – if you think your pet is unwell, take it to the vet for care. If on the other hand, your pet has only missed a meal or two and otherwise seems fine (litter box is normal, acting fairly normal, etc.) then you probably have nothing to worry about, although if it goes on past a couple of days, visiting a vet would be a very good idea.
The Effects of Not Eating on Cats
While healthy adult cats can go up to two weeks without eating, it’s certainly not a good idea for them to actually do it. Malnutrition in cats causes a host of problems for them, including loss of energy, nutrient deficiencies, and damage to internal organs if it goes on too long.
Cats also get a lot of their hydration from the food they eat, so if they aren’t eating, they also aren’t getting as much fluid as they need. Fortunately, once a cat starts eating again, they usually bounce back quickly.
Not drinking water on the other hand can quickly cause organ damage, organ failure, and death, so make sure that at least the water bowl is getting emptied if your cat is on a food strike.
One of the most severe issues that a cat who refuses to eat can face is Hepatic Lipidosis. This an illness of the liver which is directly caused by cats not eating.
Liver damage is irreparable and can cause a host of other problems down the road. Kidney failure is also a serious issue, particularly if your cat is also refusing to take fluids.
All in all, it’s definitely worth trying to bribe your cat with food if they are off their food dish!
Getting Your Cat to Eat
So, the food dish is full, and your cat is disdainful towards it. You should book an appointment with your vet if this has been going on longer than a day or two, but in the meantime, there are some things you can do to try to entice your cat to eat:
- Change up their food to something else. Maybe they’re sick of the normal food
- Feed your cat tuna or another slimy wet meat with plenty of odor. Cats usually react well to this sort of thing, even if you don’t!
- Use a dropper to get something into your cat (last resort before the vet as a dropper will probably really piss off your pet!)
- Bribe them with their favorite treats (even when my cat would refuse anything else, her treats would get her every time)
- Try adding cat gravy to her food to soften it up
- Feed your cat somewhere quiet and private
- Try giving your cat bone broth. Broth will also hydrate your pet. But make sure it has no salt in it and no added spices. Homemade bone broth is best, made from chicken or beef
You know your cat better than anyone else. If you feel like not eating is a symptom of something broader in terms of their health – or you’re just not sure – you should make an appointment with the vet to rule out any health or physical conditions.
If on the other hand, you think it’s because your cat is stressed out, sad, or being finicky, then maybe some extra TLC and some treats are all that will be needed. Either way, if your cat has missed a meal or two, you can probably rest assured that he will be fine, as long as he is still drinking water and doesn’t miss more than a couple of meals at once.