Your cat’s diet plays an important role in her health. But if you notice your feline has halted her feedings, how long should you let her go without food? Find out what to do if your kitty stops eating.

By Katie Mills Giorgio
August 24, 2020
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Credit: Thorsten Nilson / EyeEm / Getty

Felines can be finicky when it comes to what, where, and when they eat. After a particularly picky mealtime or two, you may be left wondering how long your cat can go without eating all together. Understanding your cat’s eating habits can become extra tricky if you are trying to manage multi-pet mealtimes, or have a cat that spends time outdoors.

Read on to learn more about feeding your kitty and how many days a cat can actually go without food or water (and when it’s time to call the veterinarian).

How Much Food & Water Does My Cat Need?

First, it’s important to know how much food and water you should be giving your cat on a daily basis. Cailin Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN, and Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist encourages pet owners to take a measured approach to feeding your feline (literally). 

Ideally, Heinze says each feeding would be weighed and consistent so you can calculate the amount of calories your cat is taking in. Your cat’s age, weight, and activity level will all play a role in how much they should eat, and your cat’s diet will change as she grows and changes. Online tools like a calorie calculator for cats can be helpful in deciding how much to feed your cat daily and how to adjust as needed.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that your feline friend can get 90 percent of their nutrients from their main food source—whether wet or dry food—and the other 10 percent (or less) of their diet can be reserved for healthy treats. If you have questions about what ingredients are best for your cat, or how many she needs based on her age and weight, consult your vet or a veterinary nutritionist for their help. 

Do Indoor & Outdoor Cats Nutritional Needs Differ? 

Indoor and outdoor cats need to be fed differently. When a cat lives indoors, it is reliant on you as the pet owner to provide for all its nutritional needs. An outdoor cat may prefer for you to leave out a bowl of food, but they are likely to hunt for food on their own and go slinking around the neighbor’s house to see if they will feed it, too. Outdoor cats and their diets are much harder to keep track of than indoor cats. And while they may find a few extra snacks outside of the house, those al fresco dining situations can cause issues.

“When [cats] bring hunting into the equation, that increases the risk for parasites,” said Heinze. “And because they spend time outdoors, they may have higher energy needs because they're more active or dealing with the elements.”

Cats who spend time both indoors and outdoors can be especially challenging, Heinze adds, as pet parents can work to control what they eat while inside, but once they get outside they are able to eat whatever they find.

How Do I Know If My Cat Is Eating Enough?

If you don’t know how much food your cat is eating to begin with, you may have trouble figuring out if they have stopped eating. “Depending on how you feed your cat, you may be oblivious to how much they’re eating, especially in a multi-cat household or if you feed your cats free choice,” said Heinze. “Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for cats [to visit] the vet that have probably not been eating normally for multiple days or even sometimes weeks.” 

Your cat’s personality can also come into play. “If you have a cat who is usually a chowhound and typically begs you for food, and then you notice that they're not doing that for a day or so—that's probably worth a trip to the vet,” Heinze says. “If you have a cat that is not very food motivated, and it isn't unusual for [them] to miss a meal, then you might be less worried in the short term.” But Heinze says that a “dramatic decrease in intake over three or more days” for most cats is worth a visit to the vet. If they have not eaten anything for more than a day or two, she says it’s time to bring them to the vet for an exam.

There are many reasons that a cat may not be eating, whether it’s a health issue, they are uncomfortable with their surroundings, or they simply don’t like the food you’ve offered them. Reasons include:

  • Illness or they feel sick
  • Food lacks flavor or has gone bad
  • Experiencing pain when they eat
  • Recent vaccination
  • Stress

Keeping better track of what you feed your cat and when your cat eats can help you better notice if your cat is having issues with their food. Cats cannot go more than a few days without food and water because their liver is not made to support their bodies for long living off their body’s energy stores alone.

If your cat has not eaten for more than two days, you should reach out to your vet for their expertise. A physical exam can help determine why your cat is skipping meal time, and help determine next steps. Heinze says that cats who haven’t been eating the majority of their calories for three or more days may need intervention to help them get the nutrition they need via appetite stimulants or a feeding tube.