A sick cat can go without food and water for a few days at best. If your cat is ill, then immediate action is required before it becomes a life-threatening situation. While it’s natural for cats to grow finicky and refuse food and water from time-to-time, prolonged refusal is abnormal.
A cat can survive for about 2 weeks without food, but just 3 days without water. A cat that is ill or has a disease may survive for as little as 12 hours. Your cat needs urgent medical attention from a vet and must be provided with fluid intravenously. Dehydration and the loss of electrolytes can be corrected within 48 hours with veterinary help.
We’ll explore the issues that can cause cats to refuse meals and liquid. We’ll then look at the warnings signs that can highlight an underlying health problem in cats. Cats are unable to survive without food and water for as long as humans, so you need to take action promptly.
Why Do Cats Refuse Food and Drink?
Cats may refuse to eat and drink for one of three reasons: no desire to eat the same foods and liquids, no hunger and thirst, or illness.
1) Cats Have Limited Food and Drink Choices
This can cause a cat to grow tired of the same water (especially when it’s not fresh) and the same foods. While cats don’t need a wide selection of foods, you’ll never convince a cat that’s the case.
If your cat is refusing to eat its food, it could be due to a lack of interest. Your cat may be telling you that it wants a change. Alternating from dry to wet foods or changing the water could do the trick.
Have you been feeding your cat human food? Have you been feeding your cat food from the dinner table? Well, it may have become disinterested in eating regular cat food.
2) Cat Does Not Want to Eat
Some owners tend to overfeed or keep food and drink out at all hours of the day and night. It can also become common to reward cats with food. This can come in the form of a meal or treat.
Refusal to eat and drink could at times be the result of not being hungry. Would you eat a hamburger because someone placed it in front of you? Perhaps, but not if you’re full.
It should be noted that cats do not require much water to survive.
3) Illness and Disease in Cats
This takes a while to measure and can only be realized if the pattern has persisted. One of the red flags is the lack of interest in various foods (dry, wet, treats, etc.) and fresh water.
If your cat is rejecting every option, the reason could be due to an upset stomach, mouth or tooth pain, etc. For example, your cat’s painful teeth and gums make it hard to chew food.
Cat Not Eating and Drinking Due to Sickness
While refusal can be normal to a point, the concern over sickness should be met with concern and proactive steps taken. This is even more crucial if you have an unwell senior cat.
Monitor your cat for behavioral changes and be mindful of physical symptoms. If your cat is refusing to eat and drink due to illness, it’s possible that other health issues are present.
Dehydration and Starvation in Cats
When a lack of food and drink reaches a crisis point, visual symptoms will become more apparent. Vet care is required if any of these issues begin to occur.
Dehydration and starvation are due to long-term refusals of food and water rather than skipping a few meals and hydration opportunities.
Dehydration in Cats
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Dry skin
- Chronic panting
Refusal to Eat in Cats
- Extreme weight loss
- Muscle loss
- Swelling of the gums
- Poor coordination
- Lack of grooming
- Hard feces
- Organ failure
- Shallow breathing
Cats can survive without food much longer than they can without water. If your cat has reached a crisis point involving a lack of food consumption, emergency care is needed immediately.
Long-term physical damage can be done to a cat’s body if water and food are entirely refused for more than 7-10+ days. Death is a genuine possibility at this stage.
- Cats are 75% water, but they are naturally inclined to get most of their hydration from eating wet food. This is why most cats would rather eat than drink. The consumption of wet food is ideal as it solves both issues more times than not.
- Older cats and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease are more likely to experience dehydration than healthy adult cats.
Vomiting in Cats
When vomiting accompanies a refusal to eat and drink, it is possible that your cat has a medical issue. Unless vomiting is caused by hairballs, your feline is likely dealing with a bacterial infection, virus, organ disease, etc.
Due to a lack of food, the vomit could be white and foamy in color and texture. However, if you spot traces of blood, you should act swiftly. While acute vomiting is common in cats, especially cats with long hair, chronic vomiting is an entirely different matter.
Dr. Richard Goldstein of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine notes that cat owners should never ignore chronic vomiting.
Vomiting that occurs more than once a week should be recognized, and medical assistance should be sought. Chronic vomiting should always be investigated and never dismissed.
Cat is Not Going to the Toilet
If your cat is still using the bathroom on a regular basis, this is an encouraging sign. Passing urine and feces is a sign of proper functionality.
The longer that food and drink are refused, the more difficult it will be to poop. If your feline willingly reaches this point, you can conclude that this is not your pet’s choice.
Cats are exceptional at hiding illness as a defense against other animals. The weaker they appear, the more likely they are to fall victim to attack.
- Check your feline’s feces when cleaning the litter box. You can find out useful information. The color and texture of the feces can aid your vet’s diagnosis.
How Long Can a Sick Cat Survive Without Food and Water?
A healthy cat can survive two weeks without food and roughly 72 hours without water.
However, your cat won’t last as long if it’s sick or elderly. How long your cat can survive without food and fluids depends not only on the condition, but the age and weight of your cat.
Do all that you can to encourage your cat to eat and drink.
Can a Cat Be Forced to Eat and Drink?
Filling a syringe with wet cat food (and some water) can be useful if your cat is refusing to partake.
Listed below are several important steps to take:
- After filling your syringe with wet cat food, place your cat in a comfortable position. Hunched down in an eating position is ideal. Place the syringe in your cat’s mouth and inject a small amount of food. Keeping your cat calm through petting is essential.
- If your cat becomes a bit rowdy, you can place a blanket under the belly, over the back, and in front of the paws. Forming a “cat burrito” can be helpful. If only the head is exposed, you will be less likely to get scratched, and your cat will enter a calmer state. If you are concerned about your cat lashing out, another person can stand above and gently place pressure on the cat so it won’t get away and cause harm.
- If your cat is refusing to chew and swallow the food, you should close your cat’s mouth after each injection. Doing this will give your cat less opportunity to spit the food out.
- Syringe feedings should never be a full meal but instead small amounts. Serving your cat in this way multiple times throughout the day is the best way to proceed.
Much of this process will depend on your cat’s general wellness. You may not have to endure a struggle if your cat is sick and struggling to move about. Nonetheless, this technique is invaluable and could potentially save your cat’s life in a dire situation.
While wet food carries a healthy amount of liquid, you may also wish to fill the syringe with water only. If signs of dehydration are pronounced, you will have to force your cat to drink water.
Will Switching from Wet to Dry Food Help?
If your cat is refusing to eat because it has grown tired of the same diet, then a dietary change is likely needed. However, the cause of your cat’s sickness will need to be addressed separately.
Cats get roughly two-thirds of their water intake from wet food. Cats that consume wet food are far less likely to become dehydrated. Dry food leads to dehydration. In the case of illness, maintain a wet food diet during this time.
- Explore the various types of wet food and supply a wide selection for your cat. This can help in times of finicky habits and illness. Variety is crucial, and that variety can be found in wet food.
Dry cat treats should be considered off-limits. Never bait your cat with snacks if they are refusing to eat their normal meals.
Can a Vet Stimulate My Cat’s Appetite?
According to PetMD, your vet may be able to introduce an appetite stimulant, such as Cyproheptadine (Periactin). This will naturally lead to more intense hunger.
Additionally, a feeding tube can also be introduced. Often the last line of force, a feeding tube can ensure that proper nutrients are being supplied to your cat. Feeding tubes can also ensure that medication is being received without any form of rejection.
Why Do Healthy Cats Refuse Food and Water?
Cats are finicky. If your cat is healthy, the refusal of food and drink is likely due to a desire for a change. Turning up the nose and turning away are the signs that the current food (and perhaps the presentation or freshness of the water) is no longer working.
Here are some tips to improve your cat’s diet while encouraging them to eat and drink again:
- Additional food choices. This is why it is wise to supply a healthy adult cat with a wide selection of their favorite meals (both dry and wet) as well as snack treats. Change things up on a routine basis so that no specific meal becomes dull and boring.
- Fresh-flowing water. Cats love cool fresh water, and they love things that move. That’s why cats like to drink from the toilet bowl (not recommended due to the chemicals and germs.) The introduction of a flowing fountain can renew your cat’s interest in consuming water. Change it up, and your cat will drink more as a means of curiosity and play.
Cat Seems Hungry but Won’t Eat
Cats can act hungry yet refuse to eat. If sickness is not an issue, the cause could be related to the food or the bowl itself.
Does the bowl smell? Never underestimate your cat’s sense of smell. If things smell different from what’s normal, then a refusal to eat could be the result. If you are using a plastic bowl (most notably a new bowl) the smell could be a bit off-putting.
If your cat acts hungry, consider administering food in a new location for a short time. This will provide your cat with a different environment and allow you to evaluate the issue. Refusal to eat under any circumstance (hungry or not) is a cause for concern.
Cats (especially older cats) often experience painful gums and have difficulty chewing. Your cat’s desire to eat, yet refusal, could be due to mouth discomfort.
Why is Water More Important Than Food for Cats?
Water is the essence of life, and a cat’s health deteriorates rapidly without it. It’s vital that your cat receives fresh water, if nothing else. Food, although essential, is a secondary concern.
Hydration is the key to survival. If your cat is ill but was drinking properly beforehand, it will have a much better chance of survival.
- Cats, on average, require 5-10 ounces of fluid per day. The exact amount depends on age, activity level, health, and diet.
- A lack of proper water consumption can lead to bladder issues and urinary tract infections. Other problems include tumors, ruptured bladder, kidney stones, and urethral blockage.
Knowing what is “normal” is critical because every cat has a unique personality and specific traits. This can be the difference between telling finicky behavior and health issues apart. Cats that are over the age of 15 can become seriously ill if just 24+ hours pass without food and water.