My Cat is Not Eating
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A common cause for concern among animal guardians is when your pet stops eating or refuses food. Has your cat recently stopped eating? Are you worried and wondering what to do? In this AnimalWised article we explain what to do if your cat is not eating, possible causes for this behavior, and cases in which you should take your cat to the vet.
Physically, and in extreme conditions, it is possible for cats to go up to three weeks without eating food, though they need access to water to survive. At home, however, we can care for them better, and if your cat is not eating, you should contact the veterinarian. Loss of appetite is usually indicative of a health problem, whether psychological or physical. Keep reading to find out why your cat may have stopped eating and what you can do to help it recover its appetite.
How long can a cat go without eating or drinking?
If your cat is not eating or drinking, you may think this is just a phase. If you are wondering how long a cat can safely go without food or water, and how long you should wait before taking your cat to the vet, here are some answers.
How long can cats go without food?
Cats, like other species including humans, are physically able to survive without food for about two weeks. However, this data is only applicable to healthy adult cats. How long each individual cat can go without eating will depend on its age and state of health. For example, if a newborn kitten stops eating, it will probably die within hours of its milk intake being interrupted. Therefore, if you find an abandoned litter, you should taken them to the veterinarian and begin artificial feeding as soon as possible. We recommend consulting this article on how to feed a newborn kitten.
How long can cats go without water?
When it comes to water, a cat's chances of survival are much lower if they stop drinking or have no access to water. A cat cannot survive more than three days without water. This data is based on extreme situations, for example, when a cat is abandoned or trapped. If you notice your cat not drinking water for 24 hours, or symptoms of dehydration, you must contact a veterinarian. Dehydration is cause for serious concern because it can damage vital organs in the cat's body.
How long should I wait to see a vet?
As mentioned, if your cat is not drinking water you should wait no longer than 24 hours to take it to the vet. However, if your cat stops eating it may not immediately be a cause for concern. Some cats are fussy about their food, and may skip a meal or two, or stop eating for a day and then start again with no further problems. Since you are familiar with your cat's tendencies and eating habits, you will probably be able to tell if something is wrong.
That said, remember that you should not allow your cat to go too long without food. A kitten, adult cat suffering from a disease or elderly cat would be especially vulnerable. If you notice that, during the day, your cat is not eating or drinking as they normally do, you should contact the veterinarian. If your otherwise healthy cat is not eating and shows other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in urination or pains, consult the vet as soon as possible.
Why is my cat not eating?
Like all other animals, cats are complex creatures, and they may stop eating for a number of different reasons. These could be physical and health-related, or they may be psychological. You may not always be able to determine the exact reason why your cat is not eating, and if the behavior continues for more than a day it is best see a vet to get a professional diagnosis. Here are some of the possible reasons your cat is not eating:
Medical reasons for a cat not eating
Anorexia is a symptom of several different diseases. Your cat may stop eating because of simple indigestion. On the other hand, your cat not eating may indicate a more serious illness such as kidney disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, cancer or even arthritis. As we have stated, if your cat is showing other symptoms of illness, or if it is not eating and drinking normally, you must take it to the vet. Only a trained specialist can properly examine the cat, perform the relevant tests and make a diagnosis. The vet will also be able to recommend appropriate treatment in case of a serious disease.
If your cat throws up after eating we suggest you consult this article on why your cat vomits after eating.
Psychological reasons for a cat not eating
Cats may stop eating for psychological and behavioral reasons too. One of the most common ones is taste and preference. Cats can be finicky eaters, and your cay may simply be bored with their regular food. If your cat is not eating but otherwise acting normal, try giving them something new and see if that whets their appetite. Here are some cookie recipes for cats, that you could try.
Cats are also are very sensitive to changes and, if you have just adopted it, recently moved house or have a new person in the house, the stress may affect your cat to the point that it stops eating. If your cat appears more anxious or aggressive, in addition to not eating, it is probably suffering from stress.
If you think stress may be behind your cat is not eating, here are some suggestions for what to do if your cat is stressed. Relieving its stress should help the cat recover its appetite in this case. Of course, if you are worried about your cat, it is always best to visit the vet.
How long can a sick cat go without eating?
It is common for a sick cat to stop eating, especially if the disease affects their digestive system or the cat suffers intense vomiting. In these cases, we cannot feed the cat, because they would throw up. It is also normal for a sick cat to stop eating if the problem is in their mouth (for example, with periodontal disease) and food intake is physically difficult. In both these cases, hospitalization may be required, so that the veterinarian can administer intravenous fluids to make sure the cat's body gets enough water and nutrients. The vet will also be able to determine when to restore regular feeding, perhaps initially through a tube. Restoring a proper diet is essential for the cat's recovery.
Cats require a high protein intake, so a sick cat that is not eating can very quickly suffer from malnutrition. If they are placed under intensive care, a cat can go no more than three days without eating, or less if they suffer a high loss of weight or muscle mass. If the cat's anorexia is prolonged, its prognosis will worsen. It can also be complicated by the appearance of hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, especially if the cat is overweight. This is a disorder in which fat accumulates in the liver, preventing its proper functioning.
My cat is not eating - what to do?
Although you now have a rough estimate of how long a cat can go without eating, this does not mean that you can ignore your cat if it stops eating. You should always encourage your cat to eat, offering it a balanced and healthy diet. How to deal with your cat not eating will depend on the underlying reason they are rejecting food.
If their lack of appetite seems psychological - stress being the most common reason - then examine the possible causes of your cat's stress and try to remedy them. An ethologist, or specialist in feline behavior, can help you tackle behavioral or psychological problems in your cat that may have caused them to stop eating.
Your cat may also refuse to eat if you change its food abruptly. If this is the case with your cat, you should introduce any new foods slowly, adding small amounts until the cat gets used to it. Or maybe your cat is not eating because it becomes bored with its regular diet. In that case try to vary its diet, bringing in new foods and rotating flavors and textures to see what it likes.
My cat is not eating - tips and tricks
Here are some tips to help your cat recover its appetite and encourage it to start eating again.
- Hydration: Being well hydrated is essential to a cat's appetite and desire to eat, so make sure your cat has enough water to drink. You can also try feeding them homemade broths which are both nutritious and hydrating.
- Homemade food: if you make your own cat food, ensure that any pieces are bite sized. Do not add salt, sugar or oils. Unless your cat is in a terminal state where it can be allowed to eat whatever it wants, you will only be harming your cat if you feed it sweets or fatty foods. Even if your cat seems more willing to eat these than other foods, they can cause serious health problems. Take a look at our article on forbidden foods for cats to make sure you are not offering your cat anything harmful.
- Tempered food: tempering a cat's food improves its aroma. Since smell is important for appetite, this can encourage your cat to eat.
- Variety: giving your cat a variety of different foods - dry, wet and homemade - is the best way to encourage them to eat whiling providing them with a healthy diet. As we have mentioned, cats can be fussy eaters and sometimes a little variety is all they need to get back on board.
Check out the videos below for some healthy and tasty homemade recipes for your cat.
It is also normal for a cat to reject food or eat very little after hospitalization or convalescence. Following these tips can help your cat get back to its regular diet:
- Canned or wet foods: cats usually enjoy canned foods. For convalescing cats there are specific canned foods formulated to help recovery. For an otherwise healthy cat, try different flavors and types to see what whets their appetite. You can also make homemade wet foods.
- Pureed food: you can start by introducing pureed food that is easy to digest. Try putting a drop of puree on the cat's nose or paw, encouraging it to clean the area and lick the food in the process. Purees of thinner consistency can be administered directly in the mouth, using a syringe without a needle. Adding water to think out the puree also gives your cat a boost of hydration.
- Start with small quantities: to encourage your cat to being eating again, start with small quantities of food. Only increase the amount gradually as your cat's appetite increases. Never force a cat to eat more than it will take. This could result in food aversion or even cause aspiration pneumonia if the food ends in the cat's lungs.
- Visit the vet: If your cat is still not eating, you must go to the vet. This is essential for both healthy and convalescing cats, as only a professional will be able to determine the cause and recommend further steps to get your cat to eat again.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat is Not Eating, we recommend you visit our Diet problems category.
- Villaverde, C. and Hervera, M. (2013). How to feed hospitalized cats. Veterinary Portal. Retrieved 30 October, 2019.