A sick cat can go without food and water for days only! If your cat is really ill, then immediate action is required. Getting to the root of the problem is vital as your cat could be in need of medical attention.
While it is natural for cats to grow finicky and refuse food and water from time-to-time, prolonged refusal is not normal. You need to know the most common signs of illness and understand the importance of being proactive once you find out that there is a problem. Not eating is a lower-tier symptom of a more worrying medical issue.
In this guide, we will navigate you through the issues that can cause cats to refuse meals and liquid. We will also address the warnings signs that can highlight an underlying health problem for a cat.
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 an illness.
Let’s discuss each reason in brief detail…
- Cats have limited 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 are not supposed to have a wide selection to choose from, you’ll never convince a cat. If your cat is refusing to partake, it could be due to 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? If your cat has grown used to receiving a handout, it may have become displeased with standard cat food.
- 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 a 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? Not if you’re full. It should be noted that cats do not require a lot of water. Passing up the water bowl several times per day is common.
- Illness and disease. The most obvious concern when food and drink are refused is an illness. This cause may take a while to measure and can only be realized if the pattern has persisted for a few days. One of the most significant red flags is the lack of interest in fresh water and a variety of foods. Dry, wet, treats, etc. If your cat is rejecting every option, the reason could be due to an upset stomach, mouth or tooth pain, etc.
Is Your 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 should be taken. This point rings even truer if you are in the care of a senior cat.
Monitor your cat for behavioral changes as well as being mindful of physical symptoms. If your cat is refusing to eat and drink due to illness, there is a possibility that other issues will be present.
What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration and Starvation in Cats?
When a lack of food and drink reach a crisis point, visual symptoms will become prominent. Vet care is required if any of these issues (more notably in the collective) begin to occur.
Dehydration and starvation are due to long-term refusals rather than skipping a few meals and hydration opportunities.
In truth, vet care should be in order long before your cat reaches this stage of need.
Some of the most symptoms of dehydration include…
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of appetite (Dehydration and starvation can work in tandem)
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Dry skin (Decease in skin elasticity)
- Chronic panting
If your cat is refusing to eat, these symptoms may develop…
- Extreme weight loss
- Muscle loss
- Swelling of the gums
- Poor coordination
- Lack of grooming
- Hard feces (Difficulty using the bathroom)
- Organ failure
- Shallow breathing
Starvation (malnutrition) is extremely rare in a loving home. Generally speaking, 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 as the cause of the issue has reached a dire stage.
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 sadly a genuine possibility at this stage.
- Cats are 75% water. However, they are naturally inclined to get a fair percentage of liquid from 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 conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease are more likely to experience dehydration.
Is Your Cat Vomiting?
When vomiting accompanies a refusal to eat and drink, it is more likely that your cat is suffering from a medical issue.
Unless the vomiting is directly related to 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 can become somewhat common in cats, especially cats with long hair, chronic vomiting is a different matter. If your cat is throwing up multiple times per day or even multiple times per hour you should seek emergency medical attention.
Dr. Richard Goldstein, DVM, who serves as an associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, notes that cat owners should never ignore chronic vomiting.
Dr. Goldstein states that 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.
Is Your Cat Still Going to the Toilet?
If your cat is still using the bathroom on a regular basis, this is a positive sign. While you should continue to monitor your cat’s food and drink habits, passing urine and feces is a sign of proper functionality.
However, the longer food and drink are refused, the more unlikely and more difficult it will be to use the bathroom. If your feline “willingly” reaches this point you can conclude the issue is much greater than a refusal by 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. This trait is instinctive even if your cat lives indoors with no other animals. Keep this in mind when evaluating your cat. There will always be more than meets the eye.
- Check your feline’s feces when cleaning the litter box. Although this is not the most fun job, you can discover valuable information. The color, texture, and the other findings within feces can be of significant assistance to your vet.
How Long Can A Sick Cat Survive Without Food and Water?
It is estimated that a healthy cat can survive two weeks without food and roughly 72 hours without water.
However, these numbers change dramatically if your cat is sick. The situation is more troublesome as there isn’t a cause of illness. How long your cat can survive without food and fluids depends not only on the condition at hand but the age and current weight of your cat.
Do all that you can to encourage your cat to eat and drink. Even the smallest amount of wet food can be of critical benefit.
Can a Cat Be Forced to Eat and Drink?
Filling a syringe with wet cat food (and a minimal amount of water) can be useful if your cat is sick and refusing to partake.
Listed below are several important steps to make sure the syringe feeding is a positive experience…
- After filling your syringe with wet cat food, place your cat in a comfortable position. Hunched down in a stereotypical 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 more calm and protected 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 gently close your cat’s mouth after each injection. Doing this for just a brief second will give your cat little opportunity to spit the food out.
- Syringe feedings should never be a full meal but rather small amounts. Serving your cat in this way multiple times throughout the day is the best way to proceed. This will allow your cat to take breaks.
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?
This depends on the problem at hand. If your cat is refusing to eat because it has grown tired of the same diet, then a change is likely needed. However, addressing the topic of sickness is another matter.
Cats get roughly two-thirds of their water intake from wet food. Cats that consume wet food are also far less likely to become dehydrated. If your cat is refusing to eat or drink, wet food could potentially be a life-saver.
Dry food leads to dehydration. In the case of illness, maintain a wet food diet during this critical 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 solely wet food.
Dry cat treats should be off-limits. Never bait your cat with snacks if they are refusing to eat their normal meals. This can cause more harm than good.
Can My Cat’s Vet Help?
According to PetMD, your vet may be able to introduce an appetite stimulant, such as Cyproheptadine (Periactin). This will naturally lead to a 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.
You need to read between the lines and understand the importance of signals and behaviors. You should never allow your cat to reach this stage before seeking professional medical attention. The longer you wait to consult a vet, the longer the problem will last. The delay in treatment alone could make eating all the more difficult (once resumed) and the cause of the problem that much worse.
Why Do Healthy Cats Refuse Food and Water?
Cats are finicky. If your cat is healthy, a refusal of both food and drink is likely due to the demand for a change. Turning up the nose and turning away are the signs that the current food (and perhaps water) is no longer working.
Here are some tips to improve your cat’s diet while encouraging them to eat and drink again:
- Variety is the spice of life and cats don’t get too much choice. This is why it is wise to supply your 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 is constant.
- Flowing fresh waters. Cats love cool fresh water, and they love things that move. 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 and also the bowl.
Does the bowl smell? Never underestimate your cat’s sense of surroundings. If things smell different, then 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 cats act hungry, consider administering food in a new location for a short time. This will not only provide your cat with a different environment but allow you to evaluate the issue better. Refusal to eat under any circumstance (hungry or not) is a cause for concern.
- If your cat has not eaten in 24-48 hours, make a note of your cat’s behavior. Record your findings and provide them to your vet. This can help in the diagnostic and treatment stages.
- Teeth and mouth alert. Senior cats often experience painful gums and difficulty chewing. Your cat’s desire to eat, yet ultimate refusal, could be due to mouth discomfort. Not all “sickness” is the same.
Why is Water More Important Than Food?
Water is the essence of life and health deteriorates rapidly without it. This is why is it vital that your cat receives fresh water if nothing else. Food, although important, is a secondary concern by comparison.
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. Staying adequately hydrated at all times is essential as it not only supports life and functions but it can sustain your cat when it refuses to drink.
- Cats, on average, require 5-10 ounces of fluid per day. The exact amount depends on age, activity level, current standing of health, and overall diet.
- In addition to dehydration, lack of proper water consumption can lead to bladder issues and various urinary diseases. Other problems that may arise can include, tumors, ruptured bladder, kidney stones, and urethral blockage. This condition is life-threatening and can be quite dire in male cats.
Knowing what is “normal” is vitally important. Because every cat has a unique personality and specific traits, knowing your cat can prove invaluable. This knowledge can be the difference between just finicky behavior and uncovering a major health concern.
If you care for a senior cat, you need to be proactive. Cats that are over the age of 15 can fall into the clutches of a dire health concern if 24+ hours pass without food and water. Caring for a cat is more about what you do than what you can see.