Like all living beings, felines require water and food to live. Long-lasting starvation and dehydration will inevitably cause a cat’s death. No surprise cat owners get seriously concerned about their kitties’ health when they suddenly stop eating. In this guide, we’ll figure out the possible reasons why cats can refuse from food and water, how dangerous it is, and how to make them eat or drink something. Also, we’ll dispel widespread myths and try to find answers to the questions of cat owners.

Table of Contents:

How Long Can a Cat Survive Without Food?
How Long Can a Cat Survive Without Water?
Why Your Cat Can’t Go Without Food
Why Won’t My Cat Eat?
Some Tricks to Get a Cat to Eat
Frequently Asked Questions
The Bottom Line

How Long Can a Cat Survive Without Food?

Food is the source of both nutrients and water for cats. Therefore, it is the source of energy and stamina. If a cat doesn’t get food, it has no energy; its cells get no fuel, so the inner organs stop functioning, and the cat dies. Of course, this happens not immediately. Moreover, short periods of starvation can have a beneficial effect on the cat’s state. Felines often feel it and stop eating when they feel sick.

Cats can’s long survive without food

It’s hard to give a precise answer to the question of how long a cat can survive without food, as this depends on several variables. The most important thing to consider is whether the pet drinks water or not. Without food and water, a cat can last just a couple of days. If it gets enough water to stay properly hydrated, it can live up to two weeks without food. That said, there are some other aspects to consider:

  • an overall physical condition;
  • age;
  • genetics;
  • surroundings;
  • chronic diseases, and so on.

To sum it up, on average, an adult cat can live without food from one to two weeks if it drinks water. For kittens and old cats, as well as the felines with chronic diseases, the survival time is shorter.

How Long Can a Cat Survive Without Water?

Drinking water is essential for survival. Typically, wild felines drink very little water. They get enough liquid with food (their natural food is raw meat, which contains much water). That is why thirst perception in cats is a sort of dull. Often, cats simply don’t realize they need water and forget to drink. It may be OK if a cat is on natural or wet canned food. However, if a cat is fed with dry food only or it doesn’t eat anything, it must drink water or consume any liquid to survive. A cat that doesn’t eat and doesn’t drink anything will last no more than 3-4 days. In fact, it may die even after 2-day dehydration, as the stomach and kidneys can’t function normally without water.

Why Your Cat Can’t Go Without Food

We know that no living being can survive without food and water. However, few people really understand what chemical and physical processes occur in mammals’ organisms when they get no nutrition. Let’s find out why a cat can’t live without food, and what particular processes it has to go through before physical death.

Organ Failure

No organ can function without nutrition and hydration. However, a cat organism is a smart thing. It doesn’t “switch off” all the organs simultaneously. Instead, it tries to support the vital organs (brains and heart) to the utmost by collecting water and nutrients from other organs and tissues. The stomach, kidneys, and the liver, in turn, fail first. As a rule, the failure of these essential organs causes an irreversible effect, which, literally, means the pet’s death, though its heart and brains continue functioning for some time.

Hepatic Lipidosis

Hepatic Lipidosis (HL), also known as a fatty disease, is associated with liver dysfunction resulting from starvation. This disease’s mechanism is the following: when a cat doesn’t have any food to digest for a long time, its body begins to “eat” itself. In particular, it processes the fat deposits stored in the pet’s organism. This is why prolonged starvation results in weight loss and anorexia.

The problem is that, at some stage, the liver fails to process all the rapidly broken fatty cells. These cells accumulate inside and around the liver, blocking its normal functioning. The most apparent symptom of HL is changing the color of the eyes’ whites and skin – they become yellowish. If no emergency measures are taken, the liver fails, which quickly leads to the cat’s death. 


When a cat doesn’t eat, it doesn’t get any nutrients. This is called malnutrition. The results of malnutrition are not only weight loss but also worsening the symptoms of existing diseases. Malnutrition is easy to detect, as it has apparent symptoms: 

  • a severe weight loss;
  • loss of hair or dull, dry hair and skin;
  • lethargy;
  • weakness;
  • worsening of the eyesight;
  • swollen gums.

If a cat suffering malnutrition doesn’t get essential nutrients, its condition will rapidly get worse. The metabolic processes in its organism will slow down; the immune system will stop functioning. Soon, this will cause the failure of various vital organs, which, in turn, always leads to death.

Malnutrition causes anorexia

Kidney Failure

The role of kidneys in the normal functioning of the entire organism can hardly be overestimated. Kidney failure is one of the most dangerous outcomes of starvation, which often leads to death. Acute kidney failure occurs when a cat gets too little or no water with food or separately. As a rule, it happens when a feline suffers from some other health problems. The primary function of kidneys is the filtration of the liquid and removing toxins. When no or little liquid reaches the kidneys, they can’t process toxins anymore. This results in kidney (a.k.a. renal) failure. The only way to save the pet, in this case, is by placing it on dialysis.

Why Won’t My Cat Eat?

The survival instinct in cats is very strong. A healthy feline will never starve to death if there are any foods and water within its reach. However, sometimes, cats stop eating and drinking without a clear reason. In fact, of course, there is a strong reason; the problem is that felines can hide the symptoms of diseases and pain. Meanwhile, loss of appetite can hide dangerous and even life-threatening conditions.

Sickness (Kidney, Gut, Respiratory)

Various diseases of internal organs can cause loss of appetite in cats. That is why if you can’t say for sure why your cat doesn’t eat or drink, you need to take it to a vet as quickly as possible. Timely and accurate diagnostics is the key to success. Here are just some of the diseases that may prevent a cat from consuming enough food or water.

  • renal disease;
  • many forms of cancer;
  • diabetes;
  • pancreatitis;
  • arthritis;
  • other diseases of the urinary tract;
  • ingestion of nonedible objects, and so on.

These conditions can cause noticeable discomfort, which can grow into severe pain if there is no adequate treatment. Cats can tolerate pain silently, and often, loss of appetite is the only visible symptom of a terrible disease.

Side Effects from Medicines

Medications can cause various side effects, including temporary loss of appetite. For example, your cat may refuse food after being vaccinated. This is, usually, not a problem, as, in 24—48 hours, it will recover its appetite. However, if your feline has to take medications regularly, it makes sense to consult a vet. The specialist will give you recommendations on stimulating the appetite in the pet or change the treatment. It’s also crucial to make sure the cat consumes enough water, as it is essential for preserving physical well-being.

Pain When Eating

Pain is a common reason for appetite loss. Unfortunately, it can be hard to detect, as cats may hide it very well. That said, sometimes, it is possible to understand that a cat suffers from pain. Here are the most common signs:

  • awkward movements;
  • rapid breathing;
  • anxiety, unrest, meowing;
  • muscle tension;
  • stretching out or tucking under legs.

However, even if there are no clear signs, but you suspect your kitty suffers from pain, it still makes sense to take it to a vet. Cats can’t speak and can’t explain what particularly bothers them. 


Exactly like humans, cats can lose their appetite due to psychological reasons. They may refuse food just because they are stressed or frightened. Stress in cats can be caused by a variety of reasons, as they are sensitive creatures. New people, new pets, loud sounds, and many other things can frighten a cat. Besides, cats can suffer from depression caused by separation from beloved ones.

Warm up canned wet food

Lack of Flavor

Cats have keen noses. Also, they are too finicky when it comes to food. The food odor is significant to them. Besides, cats tend to be conservative in terms of their food preferences. They may eat one sort of food every day and feel OK with it. However, sometimes, cats refuse familiar food without a clear reason.

Meanwhile, the reason is a lack of flavor or a changed flavor. Some cat food manufacturers tend to change the composition of their products without informing their customers. For you, the food looks and smells as always, but your cat feels the difference.

Environmental Changes

As we’ve already mentioned, cats don’t like changes of any kind. Any environmental changes can be stressful for them, and stress, in turn, causes loss of appetite. The common situations leading to stress include change of food, moving to another place, new people or new pets, change of the time zone or climate, etc. If your cat stopped eating suddenly, try to remember what changed in your life recently.

Dental Issues

Toothache is very annoying. In general, cats suffer from dental issues less frequently than humans; however, you can’t exclude this. Try to inspect the cat’s mouth cavity gently. If it aches, the cat doesn’t let touch it. Besides, some issues are seen with the naked eye: fractioned teeth, swollen gums, aphthous, and abscesses can be detected without the doctor’s help. The only right solution, in this case, is taking the pet to the vet as quickly as possible.

Some Tricks to Get a Cat to Eat

Prolonged starvation can be fatal for a cat. For whatever reason your feline stopped eating, you’ll want to make it consume some food or water. When it comes to food, cats can be very picky and stubborn. However, some tricks may help you persuade your kitty to eat or/and drink.

Change Food

If your cat doesn’t show any symptoms of an illness, it looks and behaves, as usual, the simplest solution is to change the food. Try other flavors of the same brand or another brand. Alternatively, you may experiment with texture, kibble size, or shape. Felines are very picky about how food smells and tastes. However, keep in mind that new food must be introduced gradually and no more than one type of food at a time.

Heat up Canned Food

Sometimes, this trick works. If your cat on wet (canned) food, try to make it warmer before serving. Of course, it must not be hot, just warm. Some kitties are sensitive to the food temperature; besides, the flavor of heated food is, usually, stronger. It can encourage your feline to try a little.

Warm up canned wet food

Try Cold Cuts of Meat

If your cat is on natural food, offer it different sorts of meat to choose from. Make a so-called “cold cut” of different kinds of meat and meat by-products. This is an easy way to find out what kinds of products the kitty prefers.

Change the Location of Food

Another trick is to experiment with the location of food. For example, cats don’t like having their food placed near the litter box. Also, it is not recommended to place a food bowl near a water bowl. The problem is that small particles of food get to the water and make it dirty. After all, your cat may dislike the odor in this particular place. Try to shift its food bowl and check for results.

Treat with Vitamin B12

B12 is an essential vitamin for cats. It is contained in meat products, primarily in the liver, but it can also come in the form of food supplements. The deficiency of vitamin B12 causes loss of appetite, apathy, and lethargy. It is boosting the level of B12 ерфе increases the appetite. However, keep in mind that if your cat has problems with the digestive tract or kidneys, treating with a B12 supplement is useless, as it is simply not absorbed properly. In this case, you’d better consult a vet.

Slowly Incorporate Food

The last but not the least strategy is to incorporate food, i.e., to mix up different components until they get homogeneous. Try to mix the “right” food with something delicious to attract the cat. Also, this works when you need to introduce a new type of food gradually. If the cat is too weak to eat, try to feed it by hand or use a baby teaspoon. Give food often in tiny portions, until the kitty gets strong enough to eat on itself. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When a cat suddenly stops eating and drinking, its owners often get frustrated. Meanwhile, in this situation, you must not lose time, as delays are dangerous. Check our FAQ section to find the answers to frequently asked questions quickly.

Q: How Long Can a Cat Go without Eating after Surgery?

A: Surgery is a significant stress for any cat. It can cause various side effects, including weakness, upset stomach, and loss of appetite. Typically, cats begin eating and drinking within 2448 hours after the surgery. Of course, you can offer your cat some food and water earlier, but don't force it to eat and drink if it doesn't want to.

Q: Why isn’t a Cat Eating or Drinking for 3 Days?

A: There are several possible reasons. Pain, sickness, stress, anxiety, and change of food are the most common ones. If you can't find out the cause by yourself, take your cat to a vet as soon as possible to prevent a life-threatening situation. Keep in mind that cats are very sensitive to feeding and hydration. They simply can't survive without water for three days and more.

Q: When to Seek Medical Help?

A: It depends. In some situations, a temporary loss of appetite can be considered normal. For example, after surgery, cats can refuse food and water for 24 hours. A sudden change of environment or separation anxiety can cause stress, which also may lead to a decrease in appetite. However, if your cat stops eating (and mostly eating AND drinking), you must take it to a specialist as soon as possible. You don't need to wait 24 or 48 hours – just show it to a veterinarian, as there is no time to lose.

The Bottom Line

Cats are finicky eaters. However, like all living beings, they will never starve by their own will. If your cat leaves its food bowl untouched for more than 24 hours, it’s crucial to determine the reason for this behavior. It’s equally important to screen the pet for other symptoms, as loss of appetite can sign severe disease.

Depending on its age, state of health, breed, and other variables, a cat can last without food 7 through 14 days. Mind that this is possible only in the case the feline consumes enough water. If the pet doesn’t intake food and water, it will last no more than 2-3 days. That is why timely diagnostics and proper treatment are crucial. We hope our recommendations will help you to find the right solution.


Sources: – Feline Hepatic Lipidosis – How Long Can Cats Live Without Food and Water? – How Long Can Cats Go Without Eating? – 10 Reasons Why Your Cat is Not Eating

Did the article help you?
Voted: 706
Alisa Mendoza
If you still have questions after reading the article, do not hesitate to ask questions.
Ask Question
Rate article
Tips, FAQs & Pet Products

Product reviews

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x