Healthy cats can survive for 1 week (or more) without food, and just 3 days without water consumption. However, a sick cat’s body is already weakened, which means that the adverse effects will be magnified further by starvation or dehydration.
Start to encourage eating and hydration if your cat doesn’t eat for 24 hours and/or doesn’t drink for 12 hours. A sick cat should never go without food for more than 48 hours, or 24 hours without water.
Water helps the blood flow, and ensures internal organs continue to work optimally. Starvation and dehydration will exacerbate existing health concerns. Unless your cat gets fluids and nutrition very soon, it will not be well enough to make a recovery.
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How To Make a Sick Cat Eat and Drink
If unwell, you will need to take a hands-on approach to encourage eating and drinking in cats. Do not simply lay down food and water and hope for the best. An unwell cat is unlikely to eat of its own accord.
Inappetence is a generic symptom. Look out for these symptoms, which may shed more light on your cat’s health concerns:
|Pawing at or swelling around the face:||Dental pain|
|Sneezing and streaming eyes or nose:||Respiratory tract infection|
|Chewing food then spitting it out:||Sore throat|
|Hiding and reluctance to engage:||Arthritis pain or stress|
|Rash and hives on the skin:||Serious allergic reaction|
|Vomiting and swollen abdomen:||Gastritis or intestinal blockage|
This is not an exhaustive list of health concerns that cause cats to lose their appetite. However, these are the most common reasons that a cat will not eat or drink. Here are further reasons why your cat has stopped eating.
How To Encourage Cats To Eat
There are several ways to convince a sick cat to eat. Make the thought of eating food more appealing than any discomfort that not eating food may cause.
Start by attempting to hand-feed your cat its usual meal. Cats enjoy the one-on-one attention that comes from hand-feeding. Avoid making a habit of this because some cats will expect this service every time.
Stimulate your cat’s sense of smell. While humans decide if food is appealing by sight, cats do so by scent. Even a sick cat will struggle to resist a strong-smelling meal that appeals to its senses.
Offer your cat a particularly strong-smelling fish, such as sardines or tuna fish. Alternatively, drizzle tuna juice over your cat’s regular food. If your cat prefers meat, use a feline-friendly gravy.
If this does not work, check that your cat can actually smell the food. It may have a blocked nose as a result of ill health. Run the hot taps in the bathroom and place your cat inside for a few minutes as the steam will help clear its sinuses.
Consider heating the food. This will release more scent and taste more appealing. Gently warm the food to a cat’s body temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid using a microwave.
How To Get Cats To Drink Water
Convincing a cat to drink can be more challenging as most cats teeter on the brink of dehydration, even when healthy. Cats are also fussy about drinking water. As hydration is so important to sick cats, you must persevere. Tips to encourage the drinking of water include:
- Leave water bowls throughout the house.
- Half-fill the bowls.
- Use a water purifier or mineral water.
- Add flavor to the water by adding tuna juice.
A running water source may also tempt your cat into drinking. A water fountain is ideal. If you do not have one, leave a kitchen tap running. If your cat feels up to it, it will drink straight from this source. Even sick cats struggle to resist a running water source.
Cats can be offered water through a syringe, or intravenous fluids if necessary. This is not ideal, but it may be essential to your cat’s recovery.
What Happens When a Cat Does Not Eat?
A cat’s small body will not retain nutrients for long. If a cat is not eating, it is not obtaining protein. The amino acids in protein are the building block to countless essential functions and reactions in a cat’s body.
A cat with diarrhea is at particular risk. Cats shed taurine through their waste. Taurine is not created organically in the feline body, so it must come through food. If a cat is not eating, it will experience taurine deficiency.
Most importantly, food provides a cat with energy. If a cat is sick, it will be weak and lethargic. Without the energy provided by food and calories, the health of the cat will inevitably deteriorate further.
If your cat is sick and stops eating, malnutrition becomes a possibility. This means that the cat is not obtaining sufficient nutrients from food. This will worsen the symptoms of an existing illness.
A malnourished cat will lose weight rapidly. Eventually, the cat will start to appear virtually skeletal. Physical symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Muscular weakness
- Dry, scaly skin
- Lack of grooming
- Swollen gums
- Loss of coordination
- Poor eyesight
The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery also lists a reduction in metabolic function, wound healing, and immunosuppression as symptoms.
Malnutrition will lead to organ failure in cats. Each ingredient in cat food is designed to keep a cat’s body working optimally.
Arguably the biggest concern when a cat stops eating is hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver. When a cat no longer eats food, its body processes fat reserves to stay alive. Unfortunately, a cat’s body is not engineered for this purpose. Your cat’s liver will struggle to process this fat efficiently.
The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine surveyed 77 cats with hepatic lipidosis, finding that older cats are at higher risk. It is also connected to many feline illnesses, most of which list inappetence as a symptom. Warning signs of hepatic lipidosis include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Muscular weakness
- Inability to hold the head up
- Lethargy and depression
- Jaundice (yellowing skin and eyes)
This issue needs to be caught early to promote recovery. Even then, your cat will need treatment. Encouraging a sick cat to eat as soon as possible minimizes the risk of hepatic lipidosis.
What Happens When a Cat Does Not Drink?
Water is even more important to a sick cat than food. If a cat becomes dehydrated, its internal organs will inevitably suffer.
Dehydration is the most obvious concern when a cat does not drink. Water helps the blood to flow around a cat’s body. This, in turn, keeps organs working appropriately.
A sick cat may have a fever. This heightened body temperature will increase the need to hydrate. Sick cats may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, purging a cat’s body of stored water.
Test your poorly cat for dehydration by pinching the skin at the nape of its neck. A cat’s skin should be elastic and go back into place. If the cat is dehydrated, the skin will slowly fall back into place.
Acute Kidney Failure
Among the biggest risks of dehydration in cats is acute renal failure. This condition occurs when a cat’s kidneys suddenly cease function. Thankfully, unlike chronic renal failure, this condition can be reversed.
Renal failure is linked to ischemia by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Ischemia occurs when an inadequate supply of blood reaches the internal organs. A lack of water intake can cause this to happen.
If your cat is already feeling unwell, its body will struggle to process waste and toxins. This will give the kidneys more work to do. If these organs are not hydrated, they will struggle due to the pressure being placed on them. Symptoms of concern include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea, often containing blood
- Foul breath
- Changes to frequency of urination
Acute kidney failure requires dialysis. This will place fluids into your cat’s body intravenously, kickstarting the kidneys again. This will also resolve your cat’s issues with dehydration.
Dehydration will also have an impact on your cat’s heart. Dehydration causes your cat’s heart to beat faster and harder.
Senior cats find it harder to cope with these added demands on vital organs, even if they’re healthy in other ways, due to their weaker hearts. If the cat has another health concern, this risk is further increased.