Pet InfoRx
Cat Isn't Eating or Drinking


If your cat isn't eating or drinking, this is a very concerning situation, and the reason must be determined. The cause may be simple or serious, but either way, a solution must be found.

This information will help you know what to do, how to make your cat more comfortable, and how to get them to eat and drink again.

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'Meatless in Seattle'
– Your Cat's Not a Fan

cats are meat eaters

People, and even dogs, can get along just fine on a vegetarian diet. Your cat... not so much. That's because cats are obligate carnivores – meaning that they have a biological need for animal protein (meat). They can't survive, let alone thrive, without it. Not only is your kitty's digestive system designed to break down and absorb animal proteins better than plant-based ones, but those animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids your cat needs to keep their heart, vision, and immune system functioning properly. So, please don't try to make your cat a vegetarian or vegan. It won't go well.

How Much Should a Cat Eat and Drink?

A cat should consume 3.5–4.5 ounces of water per 5 pounds of body weight, so a 10-pound cat should drink 7–9 ounces (approximately a cup) of water daily. Water bowls should be cleaned and refilled to the same place each day. This will help you gauge how much your cat drinks and make it easier to notice a change.

Water can be consumed through canned food too. A can of wet food is about 70–80% water. So if your cat is eating wet food, which is highly recommended, they might get between 3.85–4.4 ounces of water from a single can (an average 5.5 ounce can). That’s half their daily water right there.

Cats cannot go without water for more than three days. Dehydration can create its own series of negative issues for your cat. If you notice that it has been more than 24 hours since your cat drank, it is important to contact your veterinarian.

An average cat should eat a minimum of 1/2 cup of food each day. Some cats may need more, but your veterinarian will be able to instruct you depending on your cat's health and body weight.

While a cat can feasibly go without food for a week if they have water, this isn’t a good situation. The lack of protein can make them even weaker than the possible cause of the lack of appetite. This situation is even more dangerous for obese cats because they risk developing hepatic lipidosis

cat not eating and drinking

How Do You Know If There's a Problem?

The cause of your cat refusing to eat or drink can be as simple as they don’t like their bowl or the location of the bowl. Another issue, if there are other cats in the household, is bullying may be occurring when the cat attempts to eat. And then some cats just are really picky eaters and refuse certain foods after a certain period of time.

More serious issues that can cause and lead to a lack of appetite or drinking are intestinal issues, diabetes, kidney disease, problems with their teeth or gums, etc.

Whether the cause is simple or serious, any time your cat has stopped eating or drinking for more than a day, contact your veterinarian. The sooner the problem is diagnosed, the better you and your cat will feel.

If your cat is consuming less, this may cause dehydration and may indicate sickness.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • skin tenting – when you gently lift the skin up over the shoulder area, and it just stays that way or very slowly returns to normal
  • sunken eyes
  • tacky gums – when you lift your cat’s lip and the gums feel dry or don’t look shiny because of lack of moisture
  • depression
  • decreased urine output or vomiting and diarrhea
 

If your cat isn’t eating enough, your cat may:

  • lose weight
  • lose muscle mass
  • possibly develop a serious condition called fatty liver disease if this continues for too long
  • risk damaging the muscles of their heart

What You Should Do If Your Cat Is Dehydrated or Not Eating

If you think your cat is dehydrated:

You should call your veterinarian ASAP. In the meantime, there are a few things you can try at home.

  1. Add a little flavor such as tuna water, clam water, or low-sodium chicken broth (without onions or garlic) to the fresh water you are providing.

  2. Add low-sodium broth and/or some water to your cat's dry food and then warm it up in the microwave to make it more appealing. Just be sure it's not too hot before serving.

  3. Mix some canned food to your cat's daily allotted dry food — the stinkier the concoction, the better!

  4. Add ice cubes in the water as it can be fun and enticing for your curious feline. 

  5. Water fountains have been found to improve how much a cat drinks. There are several types, so you may need to experiment a little to find one your cat loves.

  6. If you are using city or well water, you may want to try bottled water. Sometimes city water can have a strange taste due to additives. Also, well water can have odd odors or changes in the mineral content that your cat may not like. Bottled water tends to be the most consistent with smell and taste.

  7. Another thing that may help is placing water bowls throughout your home. In addition to this, try using different types of bowls. Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel and see what may suit your cat’s needs best. Be sure to change the water a few times per day and clean the bowls daily.

Remember, canned food counts as a source of water consumption! 

Read our article for tips and more information on dehydration

If your cat isn't eating:

Steps 1 through 3 above may help entice your cat to eat, in addition to consuming more water. If not, try some of these additional tips.

  1. Try substituting meat baby food instead of their dry food (be sure there are no onions in it). Or mixing a bit into their wet food for variety.

  2. There are also additives such as a cat-specific probiotic like Purina's FortiFlora®, or even the addition of tuna, anchovies, or Parmesan cheese that may get your feline friend eating regularly again. The addition of fish oil can help as well.

  3. Sometimes warming the food and the additives in the microwave for just a few seconds will be all the smelly encouragement your cat needs.

  4. Crushing and mixing in their favorite treat can sometimes give them a boost as well.

  5. Changing where you feed your cat may make a difference. This is especially true if there are other cats in your home or the feeding bowl is near a litter box. In addition to this, you may need to change the type of bowl that you place the food in. Some cats have particular preferences. You may need to experiment with glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowls. There are even some cats that prefer plates.

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

If your cat is eating 1/3 to 1/2 cup of food and consuming 7–9 ounces of water, your cat is back on track!

cat eating wet food

How Do You Know When Things Are Not Improving? What You Should Do.

If your cat has already been to the veterinarian, and you've been trying additives in their food, and there is no improvement within 36 hours, it’s time to call your veterinarian again. Your vet will perform some additional diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause of your cat’s change in food and water consumption.

Your veterinarian may also ask you questions about any changes that have occurred in your cat’s environment. This can include new pets or people, new furniture, construction, sounds, etc.

If a medical cause, such as infection, pain, or disease, cannot be found, your veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist.

Preventive Vet Shield

How to Prevent This from Happening in the Future

Always offer fresh water and food. To keep your cat’s dry food fresher, divide it into weekly servings upon opening the bag. Next, place the weekly servings in a Ziploc® bag and place them into the freezer. Then only take out a bag at a time. Some cats prefer food that is super fresh. It never hurts to add canned food to increase water consumption. And don’t forget, there are plenty of additives to entice your cat to eat and drink!

Be aware of any environmental changes that may impact your cat’s desire to eat or drink. What may not be a big deal to us may be significant to your cat.

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