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How Long Can Cats Survive Without Food and Water?

picture of a cat outside

As resilient as cats might seem to be, especially since they are so good at hiding illness, they can’t go long without food and water. If you have some outdoor cats coming by your home, but they’re too afraid to get close to you or accept your food and water, you might be wondering how long they can survive like this.

You’ll ask yourself the same question if you are unlucky enough to lose your feline companion. So, just how long can a cat go without any food or water? Here is what you should know.

How long can cats survive without water?

Water is indispensable to a mammal’s body. It is the most important component, and it supports the way tissues and organs function. Some studies suggest that water makes up at least 60% of a mammal’s body, but some have an even higher water content, going up to 70% and beyond.

But what you should know is that many cats are used to not having access to clean drinking water for a while. In fact, some of their ancestors used to live in dry climates where they could go up to a week or more without drinking a lot of water. 

In theory, a cat could survive for up to two weeks without drinking water (but not any water). Yes, that is impressive, but it is also due to a cat’s water-drinking habits. As you know, besides cats that suffer from diabetes, cats don’t have a reputation of drinking a lot of water – which is why they are also predisposed to a variety of urinary pathologies. 

We couldn’t find any studies that actually subjected cats to a treatment where water would be completely absent from their diet. It would have been highly unethical to test this ability no matter the time span. 

The reason the estimate is this time period, up to 14 days, is that cats can get water from a variety of other places. If your cat gets lost or leaves home when in heat, it’s quite likely that she’ll find water in the environment. Any cat can drink water from a spring or a puddle where water has accumulated due to rain. 

But cats are natural hunters, which means that if they don’t have access to food, they will hunt small rodents. As you can expect, the bodies of their prey also contain water. 

So 14 days is a rough estimate of a mere partial absence of water. 

Without any at all, no cat would be able to survive for more than five days. This would be when organ failure would start to happen. 

How long can a cat survive without food?

The absence of food isn’t that dangerous compared to the absence of water. If there isn’t a cat in the world that might be able to go without any water at all for more than four to five days, things are different when it comes to food. 

Depending on the cat’s age, health status, and above all, fat deposits, a cat has a pretty good chance of going without food for one to two weeks. When an animal (or a human) doesn’t have access to any type of nutrition, their body turns to burning body fat to produce energy.

In time, this can cause a condition called ketoacidosis, so it is highly unhealthy for a cat to go through starvation. The liver is the organ that’s in charge of breaking down fat and turning it into energy, but a side component of the process and one that can severely harm a cat’s internal organs are ketones. 

Ketones are chemicals produced by the liver, and they tend to accumulate in the blood and in various organs when they are produced in excess. High levels of ketones can effectively poison a cat, so using body fat as a primary energy source is detrimental.

That’s why if you put a cat on a diet, you merely restrict the amount of food – but you don’t stop giving your feline friend any food at all. 

Older cats and kittens can’t go without food for as long as healthy, adult cats. 

What if your cat doesn’t drink water or eat any food?

Prolonged periods of anorexia can have a severely negative impact on a cat’s body, but it gets even worse if she becomes dehydrated.

Dehydration is a life-threatening problem, and it occurs mostly in cats that don’t have enough time to replenish the water that they have lost due to diarrhea or vomiting, for example.

If your cat is known to suffer from a urinary problem and you want to get her to drink more water, it can be challenging. However, you could try getting a cat water fountain — since most cats like fresh water from fresh sources. Another way of making sure your cat gets enough water is to feed her only canned food. 

If you notice that your cat doesn’t eat or drink water for more than 24-36 hours, get to the vet as soon as possible. Dehydration can be particularly dangerous for geriatric cats and kittens. 

Keep in mind that your cat could be physiologically restraining from eating any food if she has recently had a vomiting episode due to hairballs, if she has eaten a plant that has upset her stomach, or for other reasons. 

Is there any way to prevent this?

House cats are less accustomed to getting their food elsewhere if you’ve fed them and given them water for all their life. Many of them might be too shy to go around exploring, but you will be glad to know that most cats have a survival instinct that doesn’t even resemble that of any other species.

They are highly adaptable to stressful situations, which is why it’s quite likely for them to hunt and manage to eat something. Naturally, if they catch small rodents, they’re also likely to get internal and external parasites from them, so you will have to deworm your cat if she’s been absent for a while.  

If your cat is indoor-only, try to make it as difficult as possible for her to get out. If you care for a stray, make sure you change their food and water every day – cats really don’t like stale water. 

In case you notice that your cat isn’t eating or drinking water even though she has access to plenty, keep an eye on her for a day. If the behavior continues, take her to the vet. 

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