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Rosie_MRCVS, Cat Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1065
Experience:  BVetMed MRCVS, Qualified veterinarian of ten years in small animal practice in England
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How long can a cat go without eating food She is still drinking

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How long can a cat go without eating food? She is still drinking water. My 12 year old cat was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her ear 12 months ago. She did well until the past few weeks. Now the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes (neck). Her vet also thinks the lungs are involved (she sometimes coughs like there's fluid). She has virtually no appetite, but drinks water. She has lost several pounds in the past month. She sleeps alot, and is extremely affectionate when she is awake. I know I will have to put her down, but don't want to do it too soon. How long can she go without eating?
Hi I'm Rosie one of the vets and I'd like to try and help you and Millie. I'm so sorry to hear that she has cancer - it sounds like you are both going through a really tough time at the moment.

Cats generally cannot go too long at all without eating. Dogs can comfortably go up to 48hrs without food and people longer than that but cats tend to start running into difficulties before that. This is because cats are extremely prone to a liver disease - hepatic lipidosis - when they don't eat. What happens is that the patient starts to try and digest their body stores of fat (so it is worse when fatter cats stop eating) to compensate for the food they are not eating. This fat overwhelms the liver, and causes liver failure. Generally when feline patients get to the point of not eating it is an indication that they are feeling pretty rotten.

I am not sure from your question if Millie is on any medication at the moment. If she isn't, it would be worthwhile talking with your vet to see if they think if steroids would improve her quality of life. Sometimes with patients with cancer steroids can help control the symptoms for a period of time. They cannot cure it unfortunately, so you are looking at keeping her as happy as possible for as long as possible. When patients have got to the point of not eating if my clients want to give steroids a try I give a short-acting injection, and get them back to reassess the next day. If the steroids have not helped at home, then I feel that that would be the point to discuss euthanasia, unfortunately.

It might also be worth trying her with some a/d. This is a prescription diet that is designed for patients who are very ill - it is extremely palatable and calorie dense, so patients do not have to eat much of it to get the benefits. Another benefit of this is that when whisked up it turns into a liquid, so can be syringe fed if necessary.

Having said that, I do feel that it may be time to think about euthanasia for Millie. I am so sorry to have to say this, but when patients get to the point where they don't eat this is usually an indication that they are not finding things fun any more. It might be kinder to put her to sleep sooner rather than attempting to treat an incurable disease that is making her feel ill. I believe that euthanasia is one of the kindest things that we can do for our pets - we are choosing to suffer without them rather than making them suffer from something that just isn't going to get better.

I am so sorry that she is this ill. If you have any questions from this then please hit 'reply' and I will get them and get back to you. Otherwise, if you have found this useful, please hit 'accept'. Take care, Rosie.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for your answer. Her vet did give Millie steriods last Monday, and she perked up and ate for several days, but then took a turn for the worse on Saturday and now only nibbles on Pounce or a few bites of dry food. Lots of water. I am indeed thinking about euthanasia, and do not want to put her down too soon. I am confused now because she is so responsive and affectionate. She still sits outdoors in the sun, jumps in my lap, responds to my voice, wants to play, and wants to be near me or with me or on me. Is she somehow still enjoying life?
Thank you for getting back to me. I can certainly understand your confusion. If she is still wanting to play and lively at home then this shows that she isn't feeling too bad. Cats that are in pain or feeling ill tend to do one of three things - hide away, become aggressive or adopt strange postures. If it was only a short-course of steroids then I would consider asking for a longer course of tablets to give her at home - we do not have to worry about the side-effects associated with long courses of steroids for this condition, unfortunately. If she is still nibbling little bits this is also a sign that she is not yet finding things too bad.

This is complete cliché, but it is true. She will let you know when she has had enough of things - you will notice a difference in her behaviour, and you will know when she is no longer finding things fun any more. Rosie.

Edited by Rosie_MRCVS on 1/31/2011 at 5:42 PM EST
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