How Long Can a Kitten Go Without Eating? (Before it becomes dangerous)

Cat parents often wonder about their furry friends’ eating habits, especially when it comes to kittens. One common question that arises is, “How long can a kitten go without eating?” Whether you’re a seasoned cat owner or a new kitten owner, understanding the nutritional needs and potential concerns for young cats is essential.

Welcoming a new kitten into your home can be a wonderful and exciting time of your life. Seeing as they are lovable bundles of energy and chaos, it can be just as fun as it is exhausting to raise these little menaces. However, it is also a great responsibility for any new kitten owner to keep an eye on their kitten’s appetite to make sure they are getting the essential nutrients they need to grow into a strong and healthy adult cat. 

In short, a healthy and well nourished kitten can go up to 48 hours without eating, though this can vary greatly depending on other health factors, such as their hydration, weight, genetic predisposition and external environment. 

tabby-kitten-on-bed
How long can a kitten go without eating? It is important to know all the facts

But read on to find out about this in more detail,

How Long Can a Kitten Go Without Eating?

Kitten Nutrition Basics

Just as with puppies, kittens have much higher nutrient requirements than their adult counterparts. They need food that is jam packed with essential nutrients and calories while they are still growing. And while their adult mother’s milk is excellent at providing those nutrients, sometimes they need to get those extra nutrients and calories from other sources. 

In general, kittens need about twice as many calories in comparison to an adult cat of the same size. This is why it’s important to know how long a kitten can go without eating before it becomes dangerous. It can cause serious medical issues as well as stunting the kitten’s growth if the kitten is unable or unwilling to get the nutrients and calories it needs to stay healthy. 

Kittens also have a much smaller size of their stomach, so unlike adult cats, kittens need to eat more frequently. The goal is not to feed them until they are the size of an orange, but feed them until they are full.

In general, kittens will need to eat every 3-4 hours (including at night!), but it’s important to consult with your veterinarian who can determine how much and how often you should be feeding your kitten. They can also help ensure you are feeding the right type of kitten food that is appropriate for this stage of your kitten’s life. 

How Long Can a Kitten Go Without Eating?

Research shows that a newborn kitten can go roughly 12 hours without its mother’s milk before facing serious medical consequences. This is why it is absolutely crucial to ensure that a newborn kitten (and their mother) has everything they need to stay fed and healthy. Of course, the goal is not to only feed once every 12 hours. Your veterinarian will be able to help you create a feeding schedule that is unique to your kitten’s age, health status and individual need. 

A generally healthy and well nourished kitten can go up to 48 hours without eating, though this can vary greatly depending on other health factors, such as their hydration, weight, genetic predisposition and external environment. 

Hydration plays an enormous role in determining how long a kitten can go without eating. While most kittens will be able to stay hydrated either through their mother’s milk or through their appropriate kitten formula, assessing their hydration status is crucial for ensuring kittens are healthy enough to properly obtain and use the nutrients in their food. 

newborn kitten not eating
Newborn kittens can go a lot less time without eating.

Problems That Can Arise If a Kitten Goes a Long Time Without Eating

Hypoglycemia – Low Blood Sugar

This is the medical term for blood sugar (also known as glucose) that is lower than normal. As mentioned earlier, depending on their age, kittens need to eat about every 3-4 hours. If meals are skipped, this can lead to hypoglycemia, which can become extremely serious for a kitten if not addressed with urgency. 

Glucose is the natural fuel for the body that comes from food, so when a kitten goes a long time without eating, their body lacks the fuel to perform basic functions. A kitten that is experiencing hypoglycemia from not eating enough food may be experiencing weakness, muscle tremors, the inability to stand or walk, seizures, or even death. 

This is why it is absolutely crucial to speak with your veterinarian if you suspect your kitten has gone a long time without eating any food.

They will be able to help identify the cause as well as ensure the kitten eats what they need to avoid hypoglycemia from developing or getting worse. 

Dehydration

As mentioned earlier, the hydration status of a kitten plays an important role in their overall health. Kittens often get their hydration from their liquid diets before they’re old enough to eat solid foods. Their mother’s milk has everything they need not only to get all of their nutrients to grow strong and healthy, but also the appropriate amount of water content to stay hydrated.

Ensuring proper hydration means that many vital bodily functions are able to continue as normal to keep your kitten healthy. Everything from a kitten’s blood circulation, digestion, and coat health are affected by their water intake.

If a kitten becomes dehydrated as a result of going a long time without eating, it can result in serious medical consequences, such as irreversible organ damage or even death. 

Weakened Immune System

For kittens who may have trouble eating consistently, a less frequently discussed side effect is that their immune system may not become strong enough to fight off common invaders. Kitten appropriate food is highly fortified with all of the vitamins and minerals needed to build a healthy and strong immune system. When kittens go a long period of time without eating, they don’t receive all of the nutrients they need, leaving their immune system to make the best with what they have and often leaving them unable to protect the kitten from common external pathogens. 

Stunted Growth

If you’ve ever heard someone talk about a litter of kittens, you have likely heard someone refer to one of the kittens as the “runt” of the litter, also known as the smallest of the bunch. While we may think the “runt” is adorable, it’s important to note that what made the kitten so small is that the kitten probably was unable to get access to the same amount of food as its brothers and sisters. 

When kittens go a long time without eating, they run the risk of having their growth permanently stunted. Not only will they not be able to grow into the size of a normal adult cat, but they will possibly develop long term medical problems related to not acquiring the necessary nutrients needed for a healthy kitten to become a healthy adult cat. 

When to Go to Your Veterinarian about a kitten not eating

If you have a kitten who has gone a long time without eating, or if you are unsure how long it has been since your kitten has eaten, it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian about the next steps. Your veterinarian will be able to run some tests, such as a blood test, to make an assessment about your kitten’s current health and determine what the next steps are to keep your kitten healthy. 

In serious cases, your veterinarian may recommend that your kitten stays with them for medical treatment to ensure that they get the nutrients they need to stay healthy and avoid any additional harm. 

It is never too early to bring a kitten to the veterinarian for a professional opinion! If you are ever unsure about whether your kitten is healthy or not, your veterinarian will be happy to help. 

Caring for kittens can be challenging, especially if you have a kitten who is uninterested in food and can go a long time without eating. Using this knowledge above, you can ensure that you have all of the information you need to identify if you need to consult with a veterinarian. 

If you are questioning ‘how long can a kitten go without eating?’ you are most likely concerned and it is likely, it has already been too long.

When it comes to kittens, being proactive about their health will help save their life and make sure you have a cuddly best friend for years to come!