How Long Should a Cat Go Without Eating?

Here are five vet-approved tips to ensure you've perfected your favorite feline's feeding routine.

For cat lovers, our feline friends feel like family. After a long day staring at a computer screen, few things are more satisfying than flopping on the couch, flipping the TV on to something mindless, and having your cat jump up next to you. Any pet parent wants to do everything they can to ensure their cats are well cared for, including understanding how to feed them properly. Here are five vet-approved tips to ensure you've perfected your cat's feeding routine.

Cat eating out of bowl on floor
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Eliminate All-Day Grazing

Dr. Elizabeth Welch, the Chief Medical Director at Stand For Animals, a non-profit veterinary clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that, much like humans, it's nearly impossible for cats to graze all day and not become overweight.

To prevent unhealthy weight gain, she recommends feeding your cat once in the morning and once in the evening and putting bowls away in between meals. If you're trying to figure out exactly how much to feed your cat, Dr. Welch recommends a quarter of a cup of wet food and no more than one cup of dry food per day.

"Cats are carnivores. Mixing in some canned food gives them an extra protein boost that you won't get in a dry food," Welch says. If you're looking to your cat's food bag for advice, she advises doing so with caution. "Remember, cat food companies want to sell cat food," she says.

Of course, specific feeding recommendations vary based on the size of your cat and their medical situation, so she advises checking with your vet if you have questions.

Keep a Close Eye if Your Cat Won't Eat

If your ordinarily food-focused cat is turning up his nose at mealtime, know that there are several different reasons this could be the case. Anything from mild stomach upset to changes in routine or dental issues can impact a cat's desire (or not) to eat.

If you're thinking to yourself, "why is my cat not eating?" and are trying to differentiate between one-off pickiness and a serious issue, keep a close eye on your pet. Avoid going down a frantic "my cat won't eat" rabbit hole on Google as you self-diagnose your furry pal with any dangerous conditions. If they're refusing food for more than 24 hours, you'll want to check in with your vet.

Schedule Visits When You're Away

Speaking of routines, Dr. Welch says that cats typically do best when they can stay in their home when their owner is gone instead of being boarded elsewhere. If you've got post-pandemic vacation plans in mind, have someone check in on your cat every second day or so, she says, with daily visits if your pet requires regular medication or has known medical issues.

While Dr. Welch advises against a grazing feeding schedule, if you're heading out of town, she says it's okay to adopt this model for a short time. She suggests leaving out one cup of dry food for each day you'll be gone, plus another cup or two just in case, multiple bowls of water, and one more litterbox than the number of cats you have at home.

"I always end up leaving out more food than they need, though, just in case you get delayed or, you know, they have a cat party with all their friends," she laughs.

Try a Test Run Before Departing

If your cat is new to your home or you haven't traveled since you adopted him, Dr. Welch recommends a trial run before leaving. This trial run allows you to verify that he won't scarf down the days' worth of dry food you've left out before you've even left the driveway. If it turns out your cat does, in fact, instantly chow down anything set in front of him, an automatic feeder is probably a wise choice.

Find Your Cat Before Leaving

And one crucial last tip: "Always make sure you have eyes on your cat before you go," she says. The last thing you want is to accidentally lock your pet in a room as you head out so they can't access food, water, and litterbox until someone comes to check in on them.

If you're imagining a worst-case scenario and are wondering, "How long can cats go without food?" technically, they can survive for a week or two as long as they have water. But inevitably, this creates severe distress for your four-legged friend. Accidentally locking them away from their food and litter will leave you with a few unpleasant surprises waiting for you when you get home, too.

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