cat eating from food bowl

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food Or Water?

Household cats, we all know, make great pets as they’re domesticated enough to offer us companionship and a certain degree of reliability (even when that includes reliably opting for your favorite chair to sleep on or reliably bringing you “presents” in the form of the local birdlife).

However, being the fiercely independent animals they are, they’re certainly not always going to eat and drink when you expect them to. But just how long can cats go without food and water? When does a cat’s refusal to eat or drink become less a sign of their autonomy and more a health concern?

This article will offer possible explanations for your cat’s refusal to eat or drink, whether you need to worry, and advice on what you can do about it.

So, how long can cats go without food or water? Cats can survive without food for as long as three weeks, provided they have access to water. However, if they’re not drinking water either, they probably won’t survive longer than three days.

Why Might Your Cat Stop Eating And Drinking?

There are a number of factors that might lead to your cat not eating or drinking. Here are some of the most common.

  • Like people, if a cat falls ill, the chances are he will lose his appetite and may stop eating and drinking. If your cat seems out-of-sorts (ie: is lethargic, vomiting, or has a fever) there could be any number of reasons for this. Take your cat to the vet to be on the safe side.
  • It may seem obvious, but if your cat experiences pain when he tries to eat or drink, it could be because of a problem with his teeth or gums, If your cat has a toothache or inflamed gums, he ought to be seen by a vet. Tell-tale signs include eating on only one side of the mouth, or your cat being very protective of his head or mouth and not letting you touch those areas.
  • An upset stomach is bound to leave your cat shunning his meal times. The chances are he has consumed something that hasn’t agreed with him. Other signs to look out for include vomiting and diarrhea. If the symptoms last for longer than a couple of days, take him to the vet.
  • If your cat is being given medicine for a separate issue and isn’t eating or drinking, it could be down to its side effects.
  • Has anything changed in your household circumstances recently? Perhaps you’ve moved house, had a baby, or taken in a lodger. Anything that causes significant disruption to a household can be enough to send your cat’s life into a tailspin, leading to a loss of appetite. Look out also for any changes in your day-to-day routines that might have interfered with your cat’s life.
  • If you eat exactly the same meal every day for weeks there’s a decent chance you’ll start getting sick of it. The same is true of cats. Sometimes a loss of appetite is caused by nothing more than boredom with the same food, so consider introducing foods with different textures and flavors into his diet.

cat drinking water

How Will A Lack Of Food And Water Affect My Cat?

When your cat stops eating and drinking, he will begin turning his reserves of body fat into energy, assisted by the liver. However, once the liver stops receiving a sufficient amount of protein, it will stop functioning properly, leading to liver failure, and, ultimately, death.

This is a process that happens over just a few days, so if your cat stops eating or drinking, regardless of the reason, it’s vitally important to get the issue checked out by a professional as soon as possible so correct diagnosis and treatment can be given,

What Else Determines Survival Time?

The amount of water your cat is able to drink is key to answering this question. If he’s not eating but taking in plenty of water, he will be able to survive around three weeks without food.

However, if he’s not eating or drinking, this dramatically reduces the length of time needed to find a solution to the problem, with that time scale dropping to just three days.

There are other factors at play too, including:

  • Age. If your cat is elderly or a kitten, he won’t survive as long without food or drink as a young adult cat.
  • Weather. Temperate climates will give cats the best chances of improving the time they can survive without food or water.
  • Surroundings. If your cat is living in a stressful environment, his organs may begin shutting down sooner than if his environment is stress-free.
  • Emotional wellbeing. This ties into the previous point. The happier (generally) the cat, the longer he’s likely to survive without food or water.
  • Genetic issues. Do you know the family history of your cat? If your cat’s relatives developed issues leading to a loss of appetite, this could be a factor.

How Can I Help My Cat Start Eating Again?

If your cat has been refusing food, there are a few things you can try to get his appetite back on track.

  • If your cat is stressed, a chaotic meal environment may be putting him off his food. Try placing his meals in a peaceful and stress-free part of the home
  • Following on from the previous point, give your cat familiarity in both the bowls you serve his food in and the type of food you give him. But don’t forget…
  • He could simply be getting bored with the food you give him, so if the previous tip doesn’t help, try him on a new food and see if he’ll eat that. Also…
  • Do this gradually over the course of a week or so, until he’s eating full portions of the replacement food.
  • Finally, cats tend to love food such as chicken or tuna. Give him some of these types of foods (as opposed to prepared cat food) and see if that brings his appetite back.

How Can I Help My Cat Start Drinking Again?

As we’ve already established, if your cat isn’t drinking water, this is a far more urgent issue than a loss of appetite for food. Try these tips to help him drink a good amount.

  • Add a little water to your cat’s can of food. While canned cat food is moist to begin with, adding extra water is another way of getting fluids into him, if you’re able to get him to eat.
  • Change your cat’s water bowl. Sometimes cats can be fussy about the type of bowl they have. Perhaps it’s not easy to drink from because of its depth, or the material (ie: plastic) isn’t to his liking.
  • Use bottled water instead of tap water. Because sometimes cats don’t like tap water!
  • Keep the water bowl away from the food bowl. If your cat’s water bowl is too close to the food bowl, this can put a cat off using it, so place it somewhere else, away from his food.
  • Consider buying a pet fountain. These provide an easy way for cats to get access to water.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the question of how long cats can go for without food or water is one that depends on a variety of factors, including age, environment, and any underlying medical issues. I hope the information in this article will help you if your cat experiences a loss of appetite and stops drinking water.

Of course, despite the things you can try, if in any doubt you should always have your cat examined by a vet. Then, hopefully, within a little while he’ll be eating and drinking as healthily as ever, as well as back to bringing you his “presents”!

You might also be interested in one of our related article on why cats love earwax.