Cats have fairly simple digestive systems, just like humans, but there are certain differences between the two that make feline digestion somewhat particular.
How long does it take cats to digest food? What types of medical conditions can make a cat’s digestion difficult and, therefore, fast or slow? Find out the answer to all of these questions and more by reading on!
How Long Does It Take a Cat to Digest Food?
We’ve come across a variety of sources according to which in domesticated felines, digestion can take just about 24 hours. This is not true.
A complete digestive process (with high-quality food) should occur in about 5-6 hours or 7 (tops), but things don’t work like this in reality.
If the food passes from the small intestine (where most of the digestion occurs) to the large intestine and your cat doesn’t eliminate it in the form of poop, she’s going to feel hungry again as the stomach and the small intestine (particularly the duodenum) are going to be empty.
Carnivores, especially obligate ones such as cats, have a shorter and much simpler digestive system compared to omnivores and herbivores. If you were to compare the length of the entire digestive system in cows to that in cats, the latter would be much shorter — and not just because cats are smaller in size.
Meat and protein-rich foods are a lot easier to digest, and that’s what cats are supposed to eat. This is why cats have to eat more often than other animals. Even though they might not poop, they will digest the food in a shorter amount of time compared to other species.
Think of it this way – if you eat oatmeal in the morning, it’s highly likely that you aren’t going to be hungry for at least 4 or 5 hours.
Cats don’t have that luxury, and they have to get all of their necessary nutrients from meat alone – and meat can be broken down by digestive enzymes very, very fast. Fat is the only ingredient that provides satiety, not protein.
Of course, these days, when most commercial cat food varieties are packed with grains and other such nasty ingredients, digestion can be made more difficult, so your feline friend might take up to 8 or even 9 hours to digest food.
Digestion times are also influenced by your cat’s health status in general and by the health of the digestive system, in particular. If your cat’s stomach is upset and she’s vomiting or having diarrhea, it’s clear that the digestion time is going to be much shorter – if it’s going to happen at all.
What Can Make Digestion of Food Difficult?
There are many factors that can influence the way your cat digests food. Kittens have a higher metabolism, and they can digest food faster than adult cats and especially geriatric pets.
Food is supposed to sit in your cat’s digestive system at least for several hours in order for her body to be able to absorb the nutrients she needs.
Eating too fast can lead to a difficult digestive process. Moreover, the quality of the cat food also has a say when it comes to how long it takes your cat to process the food and whether it passes through the digestive system without creating any issue.
Grain-rich cat foods can cause a variety of digestive issues, from flatulence and diarrhea to vomiting, IBS, and other such complications.
Feline and Human Digestion
The digestion of these two species is also unique because there are differences in their anatomy. There are many similarities, such as the fact that both people and cats have a gallbladder attached to their livers. The way most of the organs in the digestive tract function is also similar.
But humans have an appendix, for example, and cats do not — and that’s because they don’t need it, since they’re obligate carnivores. Another example of a species that has an appendix is the rabbit, which, as you know, should eat mostly plant-based foods.
The human liver has just four lobes, whereas the feline liver has six lobes.
Is Wet Cat Food Easier to Digest?
Not only is wet cat food easier to digest, but it also contains water, which can be essential in preventing urinary pathologies. As you know, some cats really have a problem with drinking water on their own, and this can cause a variety of renal health issues.
On the other hand, wet food is a little riskier than its dry counterpart as it can develop bacterial growth, but if you feed your cat small meals, she’ll be able to finish the portion instead of leaving the food to get bad in the bowl.
How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?
There’s a lot of talk about meal feeding vs. free-feeding these days. Free feeding is convenient for most cat owners, especially if they are out of the house for many hours during the day.
On the other hand, cats are usually capable of balancing their appetite, and they can wait for a while until they get a copious and healthy meal.
But those that have access to food anytime can lose this instinct and begin eating larger quantities more often, so they can be prone to developing obesity.
If you are lucky enough to be working from home, it would be better for you to give your cat meals at set times during the day. Considering an average of 7 hours per digestion process, you could feed your cat three or four times per day.
Improving Your Cat’s Digestion
If your cat’s been having an upset stomach for a while, whether from food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances, or a deficiency in digestive enzymes, you can improve your pet’s digestion by using probiotics and by adding some canned pumpkin to her wet food.
If you suspect that a minor digestive upset is not at the root of the problem, make sure to get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Cats can quickly get dehydrated, and dehydration is extremely dangerous and sometimes, even lethal.
Cats can suffer from a truly wide range of digestive problems ranging from gastroenteritis and colitis to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and small intestine malabsorption. Regular yearly or by-yearly checkups can help prevent these health issues.