Wondering how long a cat can go without food? Hopefully you’re here out of sheer curiosity.
If you’re not, my guess is it’s because you have a cat who’s refusing to eat, have seen a cat (who may or may not be yours) stuck up in a tree and are concerned for it, or (worst possible yet) left your cat in someone’s care while you were on vacation and have only recently discovered they didn’t drop in to feed or give your cat water in your absence.
If none of these apply, and you happen to have a cat who’s lost and are worried he or she will starve – if your cat is not declawed, you can probably rest assured your furry friend will probably be able to catch enough food to stay alive. Even if you don’t think your cat will be able to sustain him or herself in the world well because your pet is exclusively an indoor cat, chances are high he or she has a shot of catching smaller prey (like little mice or even bugs like crickets) to catch and eat to fill his or her belly. If you’re in this situation, my heart goes out to you and best of luck finding your furry friend.
I’d like to point out here that it’s important to get cats to eat food every single day – not because they can’t survive longer without food, but because prolonged periods without eating could mean they end up with health problems. I’ll get into this much more in-depth later, but I wanted to mention it here first because it’s important to note you should 100% be acting quickly if you know a cat’s without food or refusing to eat.
Just to reiterate this fact from the beginning, Mindy Cohan VMD for Pet MD points out:
If your cat, for no apparent reason, fails to eat for 24-36 hours, even in the face of normal water consumption, an examination by a veterinarian is recommended. Significant, and even life- threatening problems can occur if a cat is completely anorectic for a few days, or partially anorectic for a few weeks.
So if your cat has stopped eating food or has been stuck up in a tree for some time, or hasn’t eaten for a while for any other reason, be sure to get him or her checked out at a vet.
Needless to say, it’s not ideal to leave a cat to “sort itself out” and get hungry enough to eat if they’ve stopped eating.
It’s not a good idea to leave a cat stuck in a tree, hoping it’ll come down on it’s own. There is an exception to this rule – if you know how long it’s been up there in total, know for a fact the weather won’t make it dangerous to stay up in the tree, have advised animal services already, and they’ve advised you to wait some time longer.
Finally, it’s absolutely vital to get someone to check in on your pet if you think your previously arranged cat sitter has abandoned your feline and it’s deprived of food and water. After this, I’d promptly refuse to ever speak to your negligent “cat sitter” again, but that’s another matter.
I do also want to mention before I get further into this article, we probably don’t exactly know how long a cat can go without eating. At least I don’t think anybody’s got an exact, concrete number of hours or days.
This makes a lot of sense since nobody’s about to deprive a bunch of cats of food for the sake of finding out how long it takes before they can no longer make it. That would be a massively cruel and unethical study to undergo.
Also, I’d imagine every cat would be different insofar as how long exactly it could live without eating any food. What a cat is doing – whether they’re exercising and active or more sedate during the time they’re without food – as well if they have health conditions or are overweight, likely all factor into the picture a great deal.
While we don’t have exact numbers, we do have approximations. Sadly, I couldn’t find a lot of reputable sources discussing the length of time cats can survive without food, but there are a number of enlightening scenarios from the news – like cats being stuck up in trees for ages – that could shed some light on the real figure.
Let’s get into it.
How Long a Cat Can Go Without Food
How Long Cats Have Survived Stuck up in Trees Without Access to (Much) Food or Water
There are a number of news reports on cats being stuck up in trees for quite long periods of time, all while having lived through the ordeal and come out the other end to tell the tale.
It seems like a slew of cats survive at least a full day or even two full days stuck up in a tree. These types of articles don’t appear to be surprising or shocking. Cats definitely seem to be able to survive easily without food, or at least without access to much of it, for a day or two.
It could be that cats stuck up in trees graze on small insects like aphids, flies, and gnats, or even on ants, which do hang out in trees.
They could catch birds as well, but I doubt the typical cat is able to do that in it’s stay up in a tree. It wouldn’t make sense to me that a lot of birds would hang out in a tree that a cat’s sitting in. Unless of course a bird landed on a branch without noticing the cat. Then, once they discovered a cat’s existence, I’m sure it’d be much easier to fly away than it would be for a cat to catch it’s prey.
Nonetheless, I imagine stuck up on a tree, there’d be slim pickings. And if a cat’s stuck on a pole – like an electricity pole – my guess is they’d have no access to food at all.
So one or two days, it seems a cat’s perfectly fine for. This didn’t seem particularly shocking to me.
To my surprise, however, quite a lot of cats also seem to survive in trees for up to three days. This to me sounded like quite a lot of time to be without food and without a lot of water. Maybe they’d lick condensation off of a branch or leaf or get a bit of water content out of the little bugs they found to snack on, but that’s still not a lot of water, because of the reduced access to food.
But it seems to me like it’s actually likely the vast majority of cats can survive over three days stuck up in a tree or on a pole.
There’s an interesting part in this article by CP24 News that lends itself to this conclusion. The article mentions the Toronto Animal Services advises individuals contact them if a cat’s been stuck up in a tree or on a pole for over 72 hours, which is 3 days, unless the weather is particularly bad and threatens the cat’s safety:
“We usually advise residents to contact Toronto Animal Services, if an animal is observed up on a tree or pole for more than 72 hours,” Animal Services said in a statement. “However, due to inclement weather today, an officer has gone out to assess the situation.”
Since cats can usually find their own way down, and my guess is that the vast majority do work it out within around 24 hours, it makes sense for Animal Services to advise people to wait some time before calling for help.
I would’ve personally thought their advice would be to call after a 24 hour time slot, maybe even a 48 hour time slot, but since they’re advising waiting over 72 hours, it seems likely to me that the vast majority of, if not nearly all, cats can survive over three days without eating.
To be honest, I think this is impressive. But the plot thickens…
What’s the longest cats have been stuck up in trees and been rescued or come down having survived the ordeal?
There are a number of times when cats have been stuck up in trees for six days. It does seem this is the most common large stretch of days a cat goes without feeding, yet is rescued. This cat was even stuck on a railway bridge for six days, so it seems likely very many cats can last up to 6 days without eating much if any food.
The six day ones were the longest straight-forward ones I managed to find. Less straight-forward, but the absolute longest stay in a tree I’ve manged to find?
A cat who stayed up in a 90 foot palm tree for 11 days, until he was rescued, though his owner seems to believe he was eating something up in that tree:
He just wouldn’t budge. Not for the canned tuna she left out, not for the dry food, not even for the Kentucky Fried Chicken she wafted for him — the latter is what the local animal control agency suggested trying.
By Thursday, the Fire Department came out again, but its ladder couldn’t reach the cat. We’ve never had a cat die in a tree, they reassured her. He’ll come down when he gets hungry, they said again.
But he didn’t, so he must’ve been eating something up there, she thought. “He’s cleaning up the palm tree,” Lopez said, laughing. “Whatever’s living up there, he’s exterminating it.”
Best Guess – How Long a Cat Can Go Without Eating Completely
If we’re going more straightforward based on these news articles, it seems to me that a cat can probably last roughly 4-6 days without eating food.
Roughly 3 days in, it seems to me it’s chances of survival are pretty high, and 6 is likely, in my opinion, the cap for how long a feline can go without eating entirely.
Though under the right conditions – and that certainly includes being able to get water somehow, either with precipitation or with rain.
Basically something needs to happen to allow the cat to stay hydrated. Because cats absolutely can’t live anywhere near as long without water, just like humans can last a lot longer without food as they can without water. Dehydration is incredibly life threatening for humans and animals.
Speaking of dehydration…
Life Threatening to Non-Fatal Dangers for Cats Who Don’t Eat for Some Time
Dehydration in Cats Who Refuse Food for Some Time
Cats are notorious for being bad at staying well hydrated and drinking enough water to avoid issues like UTIs.
Most of the tricks I recommend pet owners use to encourage their cat to drink more include mixing food – favourite snacks, kibble, wet food, and catnip – with water as that’s something a cat’s much less likely to turn down.
In nature, my guess is a lot of cats get the vast majority of the moisture they need from what they eat. Birds and insects would have a lot higher water content than dry cat foods/kibble. In my head, that’s likely to be a part of why cats sometimes struggle with drinking enough – the fact that they’ve probably evolved to get the majority of the water they need from their food source.
Either way, if a cat’s refusing to eat very much – especially if your cat typically struggles to drink enough – can sometimes mean that your cat isn’t getting enough water in them either. This can lead to dehydration.
Needless to say, if you suspect your cat is dehydrated (the symptoms as per WebMD include: sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, dry mouth, depression, elevated heart rate, decreased skin elasticity, and panting), it’s important to get your cat to a vet ASAP. Dehydration can most certainly be life-threatening.
Fatty Liver (Hepatic Lipidosis) Which Can Lead to Liver Failure
Besides dehydration, cats who refuse to eat can develop a condition known as hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome. This is a liver disease that typically occurs after a cat has gone without eating at all, or eating very little food for about three or four days in a row.
Catherine Barnette, DVM and Ernest Ward, DVM point out in an article about hepatic lipidosis in cats for VCA Hospitals:
When fat is broken down rapidly to supply energy and nutrients to the anorectic cat, it can overwhelm the ability of the liver to process it. This fat becomes stored in and around the liver cells, further compromising liver function. The cat usually becomes icteric or jaundiced, as evidenced by a yellow color in the whites of the eyes or in the skin. At this point, the disease will be fatal if not treated rapidly and aggressively.
Aggressively nutritionally supporting the cat who has this condition until he or she is happy to eat on his or her own again.
The very same article sheds light on why this needs to happen and how long it would take to get your cat back on his or her feet –
A consistently high level of nutritional support is required for the liver to resume functioning so it may mobilize the excessive fat stores. This takes an average of six to seven weeks. Therefore, a method of feeding must be used that allows you to feed your cat at home.
What else can be done for cats who have this condition? Again, from the same source:
While nutritional support is the most important component of treatment, many cats are also treated with medications to support liver function, decrease nausea, and correct electrolyte imbalances. Cats may also be hospitalized for intravenous (IV) fluids during the first several days of treatment, in order to correct dehydration.
This is a serious, life-threatening condition if it’s not treated, so again, it’s incredibly important to get your cat to eat every day. If you’re worried because your cat is refusing to eat and hasn’t got an appetite, you definitely need a visit to the vet.
The sooner you go, the higher the chance you’ll have to prevent the situation from escalating. And if you think the situation has escalated and your cat may already have hepatic lipidosis, you need to see a vet as soon as you physically can.
Weight Loss Is Another Threat to Cats Not Eating Enough
Cats who don’t eat at all, or don’t eat enough for long enough may lose weight noticeably, and this too in itself could be problematic. Even if cats are overweight, if they lose weight too quickly, it could be dangerous, so please get your cat checked out if he or she has had noticable weight loss.
The easiest way to tell? Pick up your cat once a day to gauge his or her regular weight. Your cat will be lighter (as well as visibly thinner likely) if he or she has lost weight.
Another test? Touch or pet the spine of your cat to feel how distinct the bone feels beneath the layer of fat. If your cat feels substantially thinner, this could be problematic, so err on the side of caution and visit your vet.
The Pet MD aricle mentioned previously points out:
Cats that have been eating poorly and losing weight will also become depressed and weak. The observation of any of these problems warrants an immediate veterinary visit.
Your Thoughts on How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?
Do you have any thoughts, opinions, or stories to share related to cats going without food for some time?
Did your cat ever stop eating before, and if so, why do you think this happened? Was it a medical condition? Does it happen sometimes? Was your cat ever stuck up in a tree without access to food?
How long before your cat had access to food again or began to eat again?
How long do you think cats can go without eating? How long do you think it’s safe for them to ignore their meals before it’s time for a visit to the vet?
Would love to hear any and all thoughts, stories, and opinions you have related to cats going without food in the comments down below!