How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?
You're going away for a quick overnight trip, and if all goes well, you'll be back tomorrow. This brings up some interesting questions like, can you leave your cat alone for that long? How long can cats go without food?
Alone for the day?
All cats have individual personalities and varying levels of independence. Some cats may not be comfortable with a long absence from their humans, while others may be more tolerant and self-entertaining. This should be taken into consideration when trying to decide if you can leave your cat alone or if you need someone to check on him a couple of times throughout the day.
Let's look at feeding specifically. Assuming your cat eats free-choice dry (kibble) food, it's probably feasible to put food out before you leave and refresh it 24 hours later. Like you, your cat needs to eat every day, but many cats should be okay with this set-up, which permits brief overnight trips. If your pet is on a wet-food diet, the meal can't be left out (not refrigerated) for very long. If he's used to receiving only one meal a day, you could feed him right before leaving and immediately upon returning home.
What if your trip doesn't quite go as planned? Suppose you're delayed and can't return as quickly as you thought. Your cat's kibble will go stale, or he'll run out. It's just not safe to leave a pet unattended for very long. At the very least, figure out a backup plan ahead of time. Arrange for a friend or family member to be the on-call pet sitter if needed. You could also consider taking your cat with you.
Under normal circumstances, adult cats need to eat every day1 and shouldn't be left very long without fresh food.
How long can a cat go without eating?
In any case—ill, picky, or feral—a cat that doesn't eat might survive for as long as two weeks without food, but not without serious health consequences. A cat that goes about three days or more without eating will begin to utilize fat reserves for energy, just as a human will. But a cat's body is designed primarily to utilize protein for energy. Cats are obligate carnivores—meaning they must have meat in their diets to survive. If a cat isn't able to eat meat for a few days and begins to use its fat reserves, the liver can be overwhelmed.
While a cat could potentially survive quite a long time without food, to maintain optimal health and quality of life, he needs to eat every day, and shouldn't be left very long without fresh food.
Feral cats need the same kind of reliable meals as a pet cat, but can't always obtain them because of their challenging lives. For those colder months, the Thermo-Kitty Café is a great way to make sure feral cats have access to fresh food and water that doesn't freeze or quickly become stale. Consider volunteering with a local group that donates time and food to support feral cat colonies. This is a great way to ensure these “wild" felines get the food they need to stay healthy.
If your cat has been “off his food" for more than a day or two, it's time to visit the veterinarian, as there can be multiple, and often serious, health reasons behind this.
However, if your cat is simply a picky eater, you can try to make his meal a little more appealing by warming it, adding some wet cat food on top of dry, or even trying a new food.2
While cats can go without food for short periods of time, it's wise to make sure you plan to provide your cat with the food he needs while you're away from home.
1. Arnold, Brooke. The Catington Post. “Tips & Tricks for Getting a Finicky Cat to Eat," https://catingtonpost.com/tips-tricks-for-getting-a-finicky-cat-to-eat/ Aug 15, 2019
2. Eckstein, Sandy. WebMD. “How to Deal With a Cat That's a Picky Eater," https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/how-to-deal-with-a-cat-thats-a-picky-eater#3 July 8, 2009