It’s pretty obvious when your cat isn’t eating, and a full bowl day after day can be worrisome to parents. Cats are masters at hiding when they don’t feel well and they can’t hide their waning appetite from us anxious humans. Even though a loss of appetite can indicate trouble, that’s not always the case.
Some cats are just stubborn.
So, how long can a cat go without eating? Generally speaking, a healthy cat can go up to two weeks without food. Old or sick cats may not be able to go as long, and an overweight cat may last much longer thanks to fat stores.
While it’s good to know how long a cat can go without eating, it’s also important to know why a cat might stop eating in the first place.
Below, I’ll cover some common reasons a cat may lose its appetite and some tips to help your cat get its appetite back.
Why Do Cats Stop Eating?
Cats can stop eating for a number of reasons ranging from illness to injury to simply being a picky eater.
I’ve known some cats who refused to eat dinner because I didn’t pet them long enough.
Yes, even cats have grumpy, emotional days!
The key to understanding why a cat has stopped eating is to know the individual cat’s personality and normal habits.
When you are familiar with their usual behaviors, it’s easier to spot when they’re not feeling well or when something is wrong.
Some common causes of kitty hunger strikes include:
- Illness. Many cats will hide their illnesses by acting perfectly normal. However, a sick cat will eventually lose its appetite.
Diseases such as pancreatitis and kidney disease often present with food aversion before any other symptoms are noted.
Feline colds, on the other hand, usually show symptoms first and temporary loss of appetite is common.
- Eating something that isn’t food. If your cat ingests a non-food item, it may be making him ill.
In addition to mild tummy upset, your cat could be at risk for a serious blockage of the digestive tract. This is especially common in kittens as they tend to put everything into their mouths.
If your cat has stopped eating and shows a change in their bathroom habits, pick up the phone and talk to your vet.
- Dental disease. A cat may stop eating if their mouth hurts. Periodontal disease is a common cat problem.
It happens when food particles accumulate along the cat’s gum line. This causes plaque, then gingivitis, and finally painful periodontal disease.
I don’t know many humans who want to eat with a toothache, so it’s no surprise that sore gums and painful teeth will stop your cat from eating, too.
- Injury. Even if the injury isn’t in your cat’s mouth, they may be in too much pain to eat.
These injuries can be anywhere on the body, so look for signs of pain such as limping, favoring one side or position, hiding, excessive meowing and purring, or unusual behaviors.
- Arthritis. As with injuries, arthritis may snuff your cat’s appetite.
Stiffness and aches make it difficult for your cat to walk to and from his food bowl.
If placing the food closer to your aging cat triggers his appetite, it could be worth checking with your vet for arthritis treatments.
- Psychological issues. Stress, anxiety, fear, and a host of other psychological issues can rob your cat of their love for food. As with humans, depression and anxiety are common in cats, though not as well understood.
Watch out for mood swings, changes in behavior, hiding, and obsessive motions such as excessive grooming or scratching.
- Change in routine. A change in route may throw your cat’s appetite off. It could be as simple as a new appliance in the house making an unfamiliar noise, a different work schedule, or a new mail delivery person knocking on the door.
More drastic changes include the sudden appearance of a new baby or another pet.
Should I worry if my cat has stopped eating?
Every cat will refuse to eat at one time or another.
If your finicky feline is acting normal, other than not eating, then there’s probably nothing to worry about.
A missed meal or two won’t hurt an otherwise healthy adult cat.
If your cat is a senior, has existing health problems, or is a very young kitten, then pay close attention if they lose their appetite.
These cats can be especially susceptible to malnutrition, and it can come on quicker than you may think.
A good rule of thumb:
Any cats with existing issues or special needs should avoid missing more than one meal.
If your cat is prone to hairballs, loss of appetite is common.
Some cats love to munch on plant matter… those cats will often skip a meal or two as well.
It’s also normal for cats who suffer chronic upper respiratory infections to lose interest in food temporarily.
The bottom line.
If it’s normal for your cat to skip a meal or two, there’s no reason to worry.
However, if your cat is notoriously gluttonous and suddenly misses his lunch and dinner, it might be worth a call to the vet.
When should I worry about my cat’s loss of appetite?
If your cat has stopped eating for several days, it’s natural to be concerned.
Before rushing to the vet, look for other signs of trouble:
- Loud vocalizations
- Urinating outside of the litter box
These are often signs of illness and distress.
If it’s been over a week and your cat still hasn’t eaten but is otherwise acting fine, you may still wish to speak to the vet.
They’ll probably advise you to come in for an exam and possibly some bloodwork.
NOTE: If you have a senior cat, please always get blood work done every 6 months. Trust me.
If your cat has spent the last week or two intermittently eating and fasting, there could be something serious going on.
Pay attention to your cat’s weight.
If they seem to be losing weight rapidly, even while occasionally eating, get to the vet right away.
An immediate trip to the vet is in order if your cat suddenly seems:
Loss of consciousness and paralysis are signs of serious trouble, so don’t delay.
How do I get my cat to eat?
It’s been two days and your cat hasn’t touched their food bowl.
I know it can be nerve-wracking waiting to see if they’ll eat on their own.
But you don’t have to wait.
Here are a few tricks to get your finicky kitty back to the food bowl: (If these methods don’t work, it can’t hurt to call your vet.)
- Try a new food. Just like humans, cats can get bored with their normal food. Try replacing your cat’s meals with a different flavor, raw or cooked food. To avoid tummy trouble, add just a few pieces of kibble at a time to your cat’s regular food. For canned food, you can try mixing half a can of the new flavor with your cat’s normal fare.
- Make it smelly. The sense of smell is a cat’s primary way of exploring the world. That includes their food. Even more than flavor, the smell of their food will entice a picky cat to eat. Try adding a stronger-smelling food to the mix. You can also buy flavor and smell enhancers to spritz over your cat’s food.
- Warm it up. Warming up canned food can help enhance its smell without adding anything to it. If you use the microwave, be sure to stir the food thoroughly and test it for hot spots before serving.
- Soak dry food. Even if a cat has been raised on dry kibble, they may decide one day but that it’s not good enough now. Try soaking your cat’s dry kibble in warm water until it becomes soft. Give it a quick stir to enhance the smell, and then see if your cat will take a bite.
- The puzzle of shapes. Your cat might just be bored. Something as simple as changing the shape of the kibble might work wonders. Try a variety of shapes and sizes. Some even come with multiple textures.
- Move the bowl. A change of scenery may be all your cat needs to begin munching again. Try moving the bowl closer to where the people eat. If the bowl is already in a busy area, try moving it to a quieter area. Perhaps your cat is shy!
- A dab on the nose. One of the easiest tricks is to dab wet food on the tip of your cat’s nose. They’ll be eager to lick it off to stay clean, and the taste may entice them to take a bite.
- Dine alone. If you have multiple cats in the house, try serving their meals in separate rooms.
- Group dining. Though most cats are naturally solitary, some truly love the company of other cats. You can try feeding your cats in one large bowl or setting their individual bowls closer together.
- Hand feeding. Cats deserve to be worshipped, and nothing says worship more than hand-feeding her. Place your cat in your lap and offer one piece of kibble at a time. If your cat eats soft food, you can try serving it by hand on a fancy human spoon.
Sometimes none of these tips will work.
If your cat is otherwise healthy and acting normal, that’s okay.
I can’t tell you how often my cat has refused to eat just because it suited him.
All it took was some patience on my part and my cat started eating again.
How long can a cat go without water? A cat can go several days to one week without water, depending on the individual cat’s condition and what they’ve been eating. Cats on wet food, for example, may be able to go longer than those exclusively eating dry kibble.
No matter what they’re eating (or not eating at all) if your cat suddenly stops drinking water for more than a day, you should call the vet.
How long can a sick cat survive without food? This will depend on the cat’s specific medical condition and starting weight. A slender cat won’t have the fat reserve that a plump cat will, so it won’t last as long.
However, a fat cat with kidney disease or stomach cancer likely won’t last as long as the slender cat with a simple case of the sniffles.