Whether you’re a first-time cat parent or experienced cat guardian, understanding the dietary needs of your newest family member is fundamental. So you might be wondering how long kittens can go without food.
Of course, we never want it to come to that, but here it is:
A kitten should be fed every few hours in the beginning of their life, so 1 day without eating is often enough for malnourishment to set in. Within 2 days the situation can turn life threatening.
The answer also depends on the stage of development the kitten is in, and generally the older a kitten is, the longer they can go without food.
In his article, we’ll go over details of how long kittens can be without food, their ideal feeding schedule, what kitten food they should be eating, and identifying and overcoming issues that may come up in this kitten nutrition adventure.
I learned so much raising my Maine Coon and indoor-outdoor cat that I’m excited to share. Let’s start!
How Long Can a Kitten Go Without Food?
Owing to a kitten’s fast metabolism and small stomach, the average kitten requires a meal every three to five hours.
If your kitten is left without food for a day, serious illness like hepatic lidosis or hypoglycemia may occur. Contact a veterinarian immediately. Within two days, there may be organ failure or death.
Remember, kittens require three times the calories that adult cats need.
The older a kitten is when they are weaned and adopt the longer they can go without eating. A newborn kitten (AKA orphan kittens) in your care without their mom requires even more careful care and frequent feeding.
Vs Adult Cats
Adult cats can go more than 3-4 days without eating, so they have more leeway when it comes to feeding. At the same time, they have similar risks of serious injury and liver damage if going without food for any excessive amount of time.
What About Going Without Water?
During their first 4 of life, kittens don’t need much fresh water, because it’s being met by their mother’s milk or formula. After they’ve been weaned, cats require 4 ounces of water per five pounds of lean body weight daily.
Note that kittens on a wet food diet may need to drink less as wet food is more than 80% water.
Going without drinking can quickly lead to lethargy, dry gums, constipation and other serious health issues. Make sure fresh water is readily available for your kitten at all times.
How Long Can Kitten Go Without Milk?
A kitten ideally should consume their mother milk or kitten formula until 8 weeks or so. After that, kittens can go without milk. Because although mother’s milk is an essential part of a newborn kitten’s diet, once weaned, kittens become lactose intolerant.
Kitten Feeding Schedule Chart
The details on feeding kittens depends on their age, so here is helpful chart that displays it all.
|Age||Feeding Frequency||Type of Food|
|1 week||2-3 hours||Mother’s milk or kitten milk replacer|
|2 weeks||2-3 hours||Mother’s milk or kitten milk replacer|
|3 weeks||2-4 hours||Mother’s milk or kitten milk replacer|
|4 weeks||3-5 hours||Begin introducing kitten food (wet or dry) moistened with water or kitten milk replacer, continue nursing or milk replacer|
|5 weeks||3-5 hours||Wet or dry kitten food moistened with water or kitten milk replacer, continue decreasing nursing or milk replacer|
|6 weeks||4 times daily||Transitioning to mostly wet or dry kitten food with occasional nursing or milk replacer|
|7 weeks||4 times daily||Mostly wet or dry kitten food, water should be readily available|
|8 weeks+||2-3 times daily||Wet or dry kitten food, water should be readily available|
Then at the 10-12 month range, the plan is to switch from kitten to cat food!
What Should Kittens Eat?
For the initial few weeks, a mother cat’s milk is the best and most complete nutrition a kitten can have. It is rich in essential nutrients and antibodies that help protect the newborn from various diseases.
However, if the mother cat is not present or unable to nurse, a kitten milk replacer should be used. These specialized formulas are designed to mimic the nutritional composition of a mother cat’s milk.
I want to stress that cow’s milk or other types of milk should not be used as they can lead to digestive issues or even worse.
High Quality Kitten Formula
At around four weeks old, kittens can start transitioning to solid food. It’s advisable to introduce a high-quality kitten food, which can be moistened to create a gruel-like consistency.
However, the kitten should continue nursing or consuming milk replacer during this transition period.
Continuing on your journey of kitten care, it’s of paramount importance to select a kitten specific formula, and not one for adult cats. The evolving bodies of kittens demand unique proportions of macronutrients like protein and fat, and ratios of vitamins and minerals.
Wet or Dry Food?
Should you be feeding wet or dry food to kittens after the first 4-5 weeks of life? I recommend a mix of wet and dry food. Here’s why:
Wet kitten food
Wet food is soft and easier to eat, which is a boon for their tiny teeth. The high moisture content is beneficial, particularly for kittens that aren’t avid water drinkers. Additionally, it can have high fiber, an attribute that aids digestion.
More importantly, wet food is typically higher in protein and lower carb by dry matter.
But wet food is generally more expensive than dry food, and storage can pose a challenge. Its consistency makes it messier, and remember, wet food spoils if left out for too long.
Dry kitten food
On the other hand, is easy on the wallet and storage-friendly. It’s low-maintenance nature allows it to be left out without spoiling, perfect for kittens who prefer to nibble throughout the day.
But dry food can contain more “filler” grains or carbs ingredients. Dry kibbles might be harder to chew. The lower moisture and fiber content may be less than ideal for your kitten’s hydration and digestion needs.
Why Is My Cat Not Eating?
Is your little fluffy pal turning up her nose at meals? The reasons for a kitten’s lack of appetite can be as diverse as they are. Don’t fret, let’s unravel the possible causes together.
Stress and Anxiety
All cats and kittens are highly sensitive to changes in their environment. Doubly so for kittens! New parents, a move to a different home, or even a rearranged living room can rattle their comfort zones, leading to stress or anxiety.
All this dramatic change in their lives can often translate into reduced appetite.
For older kittens, teething can make eating a painful ordeal, causing your kitten to shun food. A kitten teething toy can during this time!
Sickness is a common reason why kittens might not eat. Things like fleas and worms or more serious diseases like Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can cause loss of appetite.
If you notice lethargy or other changes alongside not eating, get your kitten checked by a vet promptly.
Kittens have delicate digestive systems.
Intestinal parasites, upset stomach or other digestive issues can make eating uncomfortable. If your kitten shows symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation alongside a refusal to eat, you should consult with a vet.
Abrupt Change to New Foods
Kittens, just like humans, can be finicky about sudden changes in their diet. An abrupt switch from one brand of kitten food to another can have your kitten stubbornly avoiding her food bowl.
Always transition to new foods slowly, mixing in the new with the old in increasing amounts over several days.
Does your kitten have a calm, quiet place to eat? Kittens can be easily scared off by a bustling, noisy feeding area. Ensure your kitten’s eating environment is peaceful, and her food bowl are kept away from her water source and litter boxes.
Bowl Cleanliness and Whisker-Friendliness
Kittens appreciate clean dinnerware just as much as we do! Make sure to regularly clean your kitten’s bowls to prevent bacteria buildup.
Also, consider a shallow, wide dish that is whisker-friendly. Deep, narrow bowls brush against your kitten’s sensitive whiskers, which some cats absolutely despise.
How to Get Your Kitten to Eat
When kitty turns their nose up at their meals, it can be both frustrating and concerning. Don’t worry, Let’s break down some tried and tested strategies to get your kitten to eat.
If your kitten is especially young or has been separated from her mother too early, we need to be the mother.
In this case, a specially designed kitten bottle filled with a kitten milk replacement and nipple provides the nutrition she needs. Always bottle feed with your kitten in a belly down position!
After bottle feeding your kitten, remember to wipe down their stomach and behinds with a cotton ball or similar to stimulate peeing and pooping. You’re mom now, remember?
Warm Up the Food
Cold food isn’t particularly appetizing, and that’s true for kittens as well.
A gentle warming can bring out the aroma of the food, making it more enticing. Remember, you’re aiming for just above room temperature – too hot, and you risk burning your kitten’s sensitive mouth.
Offer a Variety of Foods
Kittens, just like us, enjoy variety in their diet. Try offering different brands, flavors and textures of kitten-friendly foods to see what she enjoys. Do remember, though, any dietary changes should be made gradually to avoid upsetting her delicate digestive system.
Feed Smaller Meals, But More Frequently
Kittens have small stomachs, starting at about the size of a human thumbnail, but high energy needs. This means that they do better with small meals throughout the day, rather than one or two large ones. Please feed your kitten little and often!
What Happens If a Kitten Doesn’t Eat?
Are you noticing your little fluff ball consistently pushing away the food bowl? While it might not seem like a cause for alarm if your kitten skips a few meals, consistent refusal to eat can be a signal of something more serious.
When a kitten doesn’t eat, the first thing you may notice is a drop in their energy levels. Kittens are some of the most energetic things on the planet, and their high activity requires a lot of fuel.
Without regular meals, your kitten may become lethargic and less playful, a clear sign something isn’t right.
Potential Organ Failure
Food is not just about energy; it also provides the essential nutrients that a kitten needs for growth and development. Without these nutrients, a kitten’s body can’t function properly, which in severe cases can lead to organ failure.
One of the serious conditions that can arise in kittens who refuse to eat for extended periods is hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease.
When a kitten doesn’t eat, her body begins to use fat stores for energy. These fats can accumulate in the liver, causing damage and potentially leading to liver failure if not addressed promptly.
Skipping Meals Isn’t Always a Crisis
It’s important to remember that, while a consistent refusal to eat is a serious concern, a kitten skipping a meal or two might not be cause for alarm.
Kittens, like people, can experience fluctuations in appetite. Perhaps your kitten isn’t feeling well at the time, or maybe there’s a stressor in the environment.
When to Call Your Veterinarian
If you’re asking “how long can a kitten go without eating” and it’s been over 24 hours it’s time to call your vet. Even short periods of malnutrition can have serious impacts on a kitten’s health, so don’t delay seeking professional advice.
How Long Can a Kitten Go Without Food? – Conclusion
Knowing how long a kitten can go without food or water, understanding what they should eat, recognizing when they are not eating, and other kitten nutrition information are all essential elements in supporting your kitten’s well-being.
Should you encounter bumps on this nutritional journey, always remember to consult with a trusted vet. They are your allies in this journey to provide the best for your kitten.
I’m Gary Hu, a proud cat dad to a 15 lb Maine Coon. Have taken care of outdoor and indoor cats for over 10 years, and learned tons on behavior, habits, health, and products. I help new Maine Coon (or any other cat) parents with common questions and issues based on real, practical experience.