How long can cats go without food? When to be concerned if your cat stops eating

How long can cats go without food? Cat eating out of pink bowl sat on top of sheepskin rug
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The question of how long can cats go without food is a popular one among loving pet parents who often voice concerns that their feline fur baby has suddenly become disinterested in dishes they used to find appealing. 

You probably put a great deal of thought into selecting only the best cat food for your much-loved moggy, so it can be worrying when their eating habits change and you find their kibble sitting untouched in their bowl night after night. 

The good news is, cats are remarkably resilient and so a few days of little to no food intake doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something seriously wrong. In fact, there are plenty of things you can check when your cat’s not eating that may point to a problem that’s easy to fix. 

Below, you’ll find some of the most common reasons your cat may have stopped eating, when it’s time to see your vet, some handy tricks to help entice your feline friend to eat up and of course, we answer the burning question, how long can cats go without food?  

How long can cats go without food?

If you’re as much of a foodie as we are, the thought of missing a meal most likely leaves you feeling horrified. But your feline furkid has a different relationship to food and can survive for up to two weeks without their kibble as long as they have access to plenty of clean water. Without this, they would be unlikely to survive for more than 2-3 days.

That being said, just because your cat could technically survive for that long without eating, it doesn’t mean that they won’t become seriously unwell and malnourished. Just like us humans, food is where cats get all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to thrive, so going without is far from ideal.

Domestic cats should never be left without a food source. While we often think cats could survive just fine without us, not all felines are good at catching their own food. This is especially true for indoor cats who don’t have the same hunting skills as their largely outdoor brothers and sisters.

But if you’re filling up your kitty’s food bowl with dry cat food or wet cat food every day and you’ve noticed they’ve gone from gulping it down at lightning speed to barely sniffing it, then it’s time to investigate why they’re not eating as much as they usually do. 

Why has my cat stopped eating?

While some pet parents have the issue of their cat eating too fast and too much, others have the problem of their cat stopping eating altogether. It’s true that not eating can signal a health problem, but there are other more benign reasons why your kitty may have gone off their chow. The most common include:

  • A recent vaccination or new medication
  • Anxiety or stress brought on by a change in routine
  • New food
  • A slower metabolism - this is common in older cats
  • Digestive issues
  • Dental/tooth pain
  • Kidney disease
  • An obstruction/indigestion/constipation
  • Pancreatitis
  • Boredom/fussiness

Cat behavior is complex, so there could be any number of reasons why your moggy has stopped frequenting their food bowl and while some of them are indeed a cause for concern, others will likely settle down as quickly as they came. Which of course begs the question, when is your cat’s lack of appetite serious enough to warrant a trip to the vet?

How long should I wait to see my vet?

How long can cats go without food?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This is often a tricky one for pet parents. It’s the kitty equivalent of the human problem of how sick you feel you need to be before you call your doctor to request a check-up.

A lot of us worry about bothering our vet with something that could turn out to be nothing but trust us when we say that your vet would rather you pop in and have it turn out to be a minor issue than not go and have your kitty quickly go downhill.

The first thing you want to consider is your cat’s normal eating habits. If they’re prone to being fussy and turning their noses up, then skipping a meal or two could be nothing out of the ordinary. If you notice they have a mild cold or upper respiratory issue, that’s another reason they might not be eating and some cats will also reduce their food intake for a day or two after a vomiting episode involving a hairball.

If you’ve recently added another pet to your family, have had guests staying with you, or have moved house, and your cat’s lack of appetite coincides with that change in routine, it could well be they’re suffering from some stress or anxiety. Monitor them over the next few days and see if re-establishing their routine causes their eating habits to return to normal. 

We recommend you monitor your kitty for 24 hours from the time they first decrease their food intake or refuse food altogether. You’ll want to pay particular attention to whether or not they’re also reducing the amount of water they’re drinking and if there are any other behavioral changes. If, after 24 hours, they still won’t eat, take them to see your vet who can rule out any serious medical concerns. 

Tricks to get your cat to eat

Before you take your kitty to the vet, there are a few tricks you can try to see if you can entice them to eat. Sometimes it can be as simple as swapping their food over to another brand, trying a different flavor or texture, swapping out dry cat food for wet cat food, or if you’ve been storing leftover food in the fridge, lightly warming it to take the chill off.

Another trick you can try if your cat will let you do it is to open their mouth and place a small amount of food on their tongue and see if that stimulates their appetite. If your cat is reluctant to have you handle them in this way, you can pop a bit on your finger and see if they’ll lick it off.

Having a selection of good quality cat treats (opens in new tab) to hand can also prove useful when it comes to enticing your kitty over to their food bowl. Try sprinkling some on top of wet food or placing a few in the palm of your hand. You can also try feeding them out of a new bowl, moving the location of their eating spot, and making sure their food is always fresh can help too. 

Worried about your cat’s diet and keen to learn how you can give it a boost? Take a look at these ways to improve your cat’s diet to ensure it contains everything they need to thrive.

Kathryn Rosenberg
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past three years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with a very mischievous Cocker Spaniel and a super sassy cat, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.