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How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?

Whether you need to be out of the house for an extended period of time, or your cat may be ill and refusing to eat, you will naturally begin to wonder just how long can cats go without food? 

Although not a pleasant subject to consider, as a responsible pet owner, you need to know exactly how much your cat needs to eat and how often, and when you need to be alarmed about their nutrition. 

Here’s what you need to know:

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?

Technically, cats can survive for a couple of weeks without food if they have access to water. However, as they need regular access to protein, it is actually 3-4 days, even if there is fresh water available. 

Cats are what is called “obligate carnivores”, which means they need meat in order to survive. Without protein, they are highly unlikely to survive longer than three or four days. They will start to lose weight fast and their organs will begin to shut down the longer they are deprived of protein. 

Cats’ livers don’t have the ability to support their body’s need on energy stores alone. Unlike dogs and humans, who can convert body fat to energy without regular protein intake, cats require regular meals to survive. 

When a cat begins to lose weight, its fat stores will start to infiltrate the liver. Unless it starts eating enough protein to help metabolize them, it will soon go into liver failure. 

Never leave your cat alone without food. Cats can go without water for around 3 days, so it’s essential you also leave them with a fresh supply of water. 

Never leave your cat alone for longer than 24 hours, even if it has access to food. If you can’t be there to feed them yourself, ask someone to stop by, organize a cat sitter, or take them to a cat hotel or boarding. 

Can a Cat Go 12 Hours Without Food?

Yes, a cat can go for 12 hours without food. While they may experience some nausea, no serious health complications should arise. 

You can put your cat on a two-meals-a-day feeding schedule, but most cats will prefer to have several smaller meals during the day (and night). If you won’t be home for 12-ish hours, aim to leave some dry food for your cat, and feed them wet food just before you leave. You don’t have to worry about having someone come over, your cat won’t go hungry. 

Can a Cat Go 24 Hours Without Food?

While a cat can technically go for 24 hours without food, this is not recommended. No serious consequences are likely, but an entire day is too long for a cat to go without a meal. 

If your cat is refusing to eat and has not had anything in 24 hours, it’s time to take them to the vet and determine what’s causing their loss of appetite. While it’s not necessarily a cause for  alarm, it does warrant a vet visit as soon as possible. 

If you want to leave your cat alone for 24 hours, try to make sure someone stops by to give them fresh water and a fresh meal. Leaving dry food out is a must, but still, having someone check in is better. They can clean the litter box too, and give the cat some affection. 

As long as your cat actually eats their dry food, you can leave them alone for 24 hours, provided that you leave a couple of cups of it out, and provide plenty of water bowls. 

Can a Cat Go 72 Hours Without Food?

No, a cat can’t go 72 hours without food. If they have not eaten in over 48 hours, you need to take them to the vet immediately. Never leave your cat alone for this amount of time either, even if they have access to dry food. 

While your cat may still be alive after 72 hours without food, they will most likely have gone into some extent of organ failure. This is considered a medical emergency. 

If you plan on leaving your cat alone for 72 hours, make sure someone checks in on them regularly. 

What Happens When a Cat Doesn’t Eat?

When a cat stops eating, their liver will start to fail as they are unable to metabolize fat without protein in their diet. This will lead to widespread organ failure and eventually death. 

When a cat stops eating, it starts to use its fat stores as energy. Humans do the exact same thing. However, when a cat does not get enough protein through their diet, there is nothing to bind to this fat in their bloodstream. It will then start building up in their liver. 

If no protein is available, this buildup will lead to a fatty liver, or hepatic lipidosis. The fatter the cat, the bigger this issue will be, as more fat will descend on the liver and prevent it from functioning as it should. 

Hepatic lipidosis is very difficult to treat, and it can take weeks for a cat to recover. Full recovery is also highly unlikely, and the cat will most often suffer from a degree of organ damage for the rest of their life. 

Leaving Your Cat Alone

If you are heading out of time for longer than a single night, arrange for someone to check in on your cat. Leaving them plenty of dry food available can mean the cat sitter can come in every second day, but this is not quite the best solution. 

Ideally, you want someone to come every day and feed them some fresh wet food, clean their bowls and litter box. 

Alternatively, you can leave out one cup of dry food for each day you will be away, plus one extra cup just in case. Add an extra litter box as well, and several bowls of water. 

A cat fountain can be a great solution too, as can an automatic cat feeder. This is especially useful if your cat tends to wolf down most of the food you leave out for them the second you are gone. You can test their habits by leaving them alone for a very short period of time on several occasions, and checking how much food they have left upon your return. 

Also, make sure to check where the cat is located before you leave the house. You don’t want to accidentally trap them somewhere they have no access to either food, water, or their litter box. 

When to Be Concerned If Your Cat Has Stopped Eating

If your cat has not eaten anything for 24 hours, it’s time to go to the vet. If they are also not drinking, you can cut this time down to 12 hours. 

Take your cat’s usual eating habits into consideration before jumping to any conclusions. If your cat is fussy and refuses to eat sometimes, you don’t have to worry if they skip one meal, or even two. 

If they have recently vomited (hairballs being the usual culprit), your cat may also refrain from eating until they feel better. This is usually not a cause for concern either. 

Changes in routine can also disrupt a cat’s eating habits. If you’ve moved house, changed their food or bowl, or even if there has been a lot of stress in your home lately, your cat may be more fussy and picky than usual. 

If you notice your cat has not had anything to eat in 24 hours, or if they are eating less and less, take them to the vet just in case. It may turn out there is nothing wrong, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. As both dehydration and malnutrition can have serious consequences in a cat’s life, don’t hesitate to ensure they are a-okay.

Wrapping It Up 

While cats may be able to go 24 or even 48 hours without food, not eating anything for a day is considered an emergency. Take them to the vet just to be sure they are not sick or hurt.  

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