How Long is it Okay for a Cat Not to Eat?

According to Pet MD, it is okay for a cat not to eat for 24-36 hours. However, a cat not eating for more than this timeframe needs to be checked out by a vet.

In general, it is not rare for a cat to skip a meal or two, as they are picky eaters and develop food boredom rather often. Plus, cats usually have hairballs that make their tummies sick and reluctant to eat.

Anyway, a cat not eating is not always normal. In fact, there are many severe and potentially life-threatening health issues that cause appetite loss and anorexia. Therefore, call the vet if your feline friend is not eating for more than 36 hours.

Why Is My Cat Suddenly Not Eating?

If your cat’s eating habits suddenly change, there are many potential culprits – some are way less serious than others.

Here are some of the most common reasons for a cat not eating.

  • Old Age. The cat’s health declines with age, and it is typical for senior cats to eat less. In other terms, a cat not eating can result from entering the senior years. Also, older cats metabolize food differently and benefit from cat foods formulated specifically for seniors (with specific nutrient ratios).
  • Environment and Bowl Issues. Changes in the environment can affect the cat’s appetite. Loss of appetite can also be due to issues with the cat food bowl. If the food bowl is set in the wrong location (near the litter box), the cat may find the place repulsive and refuse to eat. The bowl itself can be wrong, too – in terms of size and shape.
  • Food Boredom. Cats are picky eaters – this is something all pet owners know really well. A specific formula can be the cat’s favorite meal and transform into something it hates in a matter of days. Switching to a new food formula frequently is good for preventing cat food boredom.
  • Stress & Anxiety. Stress and anxiety are potent triggers that harm the cat’s health, both mental and physical. A cat not eating can be caused by various types of stress – from cat separation anxiety to changes in the environment to bringing new pets home.
  • Using Food as Pill Cover. Cats have a strong sense of smell and tend to check their food due to their survival instincts – sniff any food before consuming it. So, if you used the food to sneak in some meds, chances are your cat became mistrustful and refuses to eat completely.
  • Recent Vaccination. One of the side effects of feline vaccines is loss of appetite. So, a recently vaccinated cat not eating is a somewhat expected scenario. However, in such cases, the anorexia episode is transient and should not last for more than a day.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues. Every issue affecting the cat’s GI tract can cause appetite loss. This can be something as simple as ingestion, dietary indiscretion, and colitis. It can also be as severe as tumors, inflammatory bowel disease, or gastrointestinal obstruction. All GI tract health problems can result in a cat not eating.
  • Pain During Eating. A cat not eating might be in pain. Pain during eating can be caused by dental issues (abscesses or periodontal disease), spine injuries, and arthritis. A cat with dental disease cannot chew the food, while a cat with spine and joint issues has trouble hunching in the right eating position.
  • Systemic Health Issues. A cat not eating can be caused by systemic conditions such as hormonal imbalances (hyperthyroidism), pancreatic issues (pancreatitis), liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), or cat kidney disease (kidney failure). In such cases, the anorectic cat will show additional signs and symptoms.
  • Infectious Diseases. A cat not eating can have an infectious disease. The most common infectious diseases in cats are feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and toxoplasmosis. A cat with such an infection will be feverish and manifest an array of troublesome signs in addition to anorexia.

What Should I Do if My Cat Stops Eating?

What Should I Do if My Cat Stops Eating

If your cat stops eating, call your trusted veterinarian and schedule an appointment. If the appetite loss is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, do not wait for a regular visit – instead, go to the nearest emergency clinic.

However, before seeking veterinary help, it is advisable to quickly evaluate the situation and try answering the following questions:

  • Were there any recent changes in your cat’s food (another type of food, different treats, new feeding schedule)?
  • Is your cat not eating an ongoing issue or occurs on occasions? If so, when is it most prominent?
  • Are there any changes in the environment (different interior design, new pets, a family member being out of home)?
  • Are there any additional signs and symptoms, like lethargy, vomiting, cat diarrhea, avoiding the litter box, urination accidents, behavioral changes, etc.?

Changes in the cat’s eating habits are much easier to spot if there is a fixed feeding schedule and if you are using the same food formula over a prolonged period.

Answering these questions is important because the more information you give the vet, the easier it will be for them to give the right advice.

When Should I Worry About My Cat Not Eating?

When Should I Worry About My Cat Not Eating

You should be worried about your cat not eating if the issue lasts for more than 24-36 hours or if it is accompanied by other troublesome signs and symptoms.

In such cases, chances are the appetite loss is caused by an underlying disease and needs to be adequately managed. The veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests (from blood work to x-rays and advanced imaging) to determine the root of the problem.

Such diagnostics tests and follow-up veterinary care can be costly. Therefore, it is helpful to have a reliable pet insurance plan. We recommend the FirstVet plan. With FirstVet, for $90 a year, you get 24/7 access to an online vet with unlimited virtual visits.

Is a Cat Not Eating an Emergency? 

A cat not eating can be an emergency. According to Memphis Veterinary Specialists, a cat not eating needs veterinary care if throwing up, having diarrhea/constipation, or suffering from weight loss.

On the other hand, a cat not eating simply because it dislikes the taste of the food you are offering or if it prefers canned cat food over kibble is not an emergency.

Determining whether your cat not eating is an emergency or not should be done by a vet after they conduct a thorough physical examination. Only a veterinarian is qualified to give a diagnosis and establish if the situation classifies as an emergency.

How Can I Stimulate My Cat’s Appetite?

How can I Stimulate My Cat's Appetite

From using tasty toppers to placing the food bowl in a different location – there are many things you can do to entice your cat’s appetite.

Here are simple yet efficient ways of stimulating your cat’s appetite.

  • Feeding Schedule. Although it is okay for cats to be fed ad libitum, do not leave food out constantly. Create mealtimes for your cat, and make sure its food is always fresh. Some cars prefer fixed schedules overeating food that stayed a few hours in the bowl.
  • Location, Environment, and Bowl Type. Place the cat’s food bowl in various locations, as accessibility is important to cats. Some cats are social eaters, while others prefer eating alone. Also, consider the type of food bowl.
  • The Right Type of Food. Try different types of foods (dry food or kibble, wet food, and canned food). In general, cats are more likely to eat when offered wet cat foods. However, some prefer munching on dry kibble.
  • Use Enticements and Flavors. To make the food more appealing, you can add special food toppers for cats or cat-friendly human foods. For example, you can use low-sodium chicken broth, tuna juice, or fish oil.
  • Prescribed Appetite Stimulants. If everything else fails, talk to your trusted veterinarian about appetite stimulants. The most often used and FDA-approved appetite stimulant for cats is Mirtazapine.

author avatar
Katelyn Son