How Long Does Digestion Take in Cats?

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/14/20242-4 minutes
woman petting her cat

Good Digestion is One of the Keys to Excellent Health

By digesting and absorbing the goodness from food, your cat can take in all the nutrients it needs to stay in top condition. Since your pet’s health is of utmost importance, there are a few things you should know about the cat digestive system in order to properly deal with any possible problems — read all about them below.

How Long Does Digestion Take in Cats?

Cats are relatively small animals, so they will take between 10 and 24 hours to properly digest food. They’re also obligate carnivores which means that they must eat meat. This is reflected in the fact that their teeth evolved for slicing rather than chewing. As a result, when cats eat, they swallow the meat in chunks and take longer to process it.

What Causes Digestion Problems in Cats?

There are several possible reasons for digestion problems in cats, but the most common are related to pets accidentally ingesting hard objects. When swallowing something that isn’t food like sticks, plastic or even small stones, internal transit will most probably take longer while your cat tries to digest it. If this is the case, be sure to contact a vet as soon as possible, because this problem can seriously impact your cat’s digestion if it’s not dealt with immediately.

Plants can also cause blockages as the cat digestive system cannot process plant material very well. Therefore, it’s important to also keep this factor in mind, especially if you have decorative plants around the house.

Another possible cause for digestion problems in cats is a parasitic infection. The common symptoms of these infections range from dehydration and weight loss to abdominal discomfort. Although this might sound scary, rest assured, these problems can be easily treated with medication.

While it’s perfectly normal for cats to ingest hair during the grooming process, if they’re ingesting more than normal, this will also affect their digestion. Excessive grooming resulting in hairballs can be a sign of stress or even boredom, with this behavior serving as a coping mechanism. Therefore, it’s worth looking out for changes like these in your cat’s behavior.

How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?

Creating a feeding routine that’s suitable for your cat will ensure that they get all the necessary nutrients at the right time and minimizes the risk of digestion problems. There are three ways you can go about this, depending on your cat’s adaptability.

A feeding schedule focused on two meals a day (morning and evening) has proved to be highly efficient if your goal is to monitor the food intake and be on the lookout for any behavioral changes. If, however, your schedule doesn’t allow for planned feeding, you can also opt for free feeding your cat. This means that there should always be food available for your cat to consume whenever they’re hungry.

While the first option runs the risk of your cat getting hungry between meals, the second one can result in overeating and obesity. Therefore, a combination of the two plans could prove to be the best choice. You could feed your cat wet food at specific times during the day but also leave kibble food around for them to find between meals. If you’re unsure which option to go for, test out all three of them and see which one works best for you and your feline friend.

Signs of Cat Digestive Problems

If your cat is not digesting food properly, one of the most common signs is poorly formed stools, or even diarrhea. Your cat might vomit, lose weight, have a dull coat or appear listless. Plus, if there’s a change in your cat’s bathroom routine or if they suddenly have no appetite or energy, this could also be an indication that they’re struggling to digest their food. Whenever you see any of these symptoms and are concerned about your cat’s digestion, contact your vet for advice.

What Should Cats Eat?

As carnivores, cats’ whole bodies are adapted to eating a meat-based diet. With teeth designed to seize and tear prey, the cat digestive system and metabolism are therefore geared to support this and process high levels of protein and fat from animal tissues.

Healthy digestion in cats requires certain nutrients which are only found in animal tissues, such as the amino acid taurine and the fatty acid arachidonic acid. That’s why cats cannot be fed a vegetarian diet. Good quality protein helps cats maintain lean muscle, helps support a healthy skin and coat and is vital for their immune system to work at its best.

A balanced diet for cats must also contain optimal levels of high-quality fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as selected fibers to aid digestion, plus vitamins and minerals for all-round health. Highly digestible carbohydrates are also a useful source of energy.

Depending on your cat’s preferences, you could feed them either with dry cat food or wet cat food, or a combination of both. If there are signs of digestion problems, it would be best to go with mostly wet food which is high in moisture and can help digestion.

How to Support Your Cat’s Digestion

Giving your cat the best quality food will help optimize digestion. But if your cat has a sensitive stomach — or even a mild digestive upset — you can help by feeding them a diet with the following benefits:

  • High-quality digestible ingredients to reduce their intestinal workload
  • Selected protein sources to reduce the risk of adverse gastrointestinal reactions
  • Highly digestible proteins to help improve food tolerance
  • Prebiotics to help improve the balance of gut bacteria
  • Fibers to support gut cells and ease movement through the gut

Discover the Benefits of Friendly Bacteria

Probiotics (live beneficial bacteria) can also be useful aids for digestion in cats. Ask your vet about Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Supplements Feline FortiFlora®, which is proven to promote intestinal health and the microflora balance in cats (especially in stress situations). It is also proven to improve fecal quality in kittens.

For more tips from Purina experts on cat digestion, explore our other cat digestion articles.

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