How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Digest Food?

How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Digest Food?

It takes around 7 to 12 hours and may reach up to 20 hours for a cat to digest food after she has consumed it.  Since cats have smaller bodies they tend to digest food longer compared to larger pets like dogs. Due to the long digestion period, felines usually consume fewer meals in a day.  

The length of time their food is digested may depend on the food that your cat eats so that the digestion process is shorter if she is fed with wet cat food and longer if your cat is fed dry food or meals with grains. To ensure a normal digestion process for your feline, make sure to feed her with meat and protein-rich meals like fish, chicken and turkey and less on food with derivatives, corn and cereals. It is also important to keep your cat well-hydrated by encouraging her to drink water regularly. 

The digestive process of cats 

A cat’s digestive process is closely similar to humans and it begins when she starts chewing her food, mixing it with saliva, grinding it with her teeth and pushing the food down the esophagus with her tongue. The enzymes found in a cat’s saliva break down the food chemically and after swallowing the food, it is additionally broken down in the stomach.

What happens next is the absorption of nutrients in the intestines and finally, the passing or elimination of waste. Digestion is essential for providing the nutrients as well as maintaining the correct balance of electrolytes and fluid in a cat’s body. 

The digestive system of a cat includes the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, intestines, rectum and anus. The functions include digestion, absorption of nutrients, movement of food or motility and elimination of waste or feces. 

How do I know if my cat has digestive problems? 

If your cat normally does not suffer from digestive problems, it would be easier to spot if she is experiencing one. Watch out for these signs and changes to ascertain digestive issues:

  • she refuses to eat her food 
  • she is lethargic 
  • she is vomiting 
  • she has diarrhea or constipation
  • excessive drooling
  • she is bleeding
  • she has abdominal pain 
  • bloating
  • she is dehydrated 
  • she is increasingly aggressive towards you and other pets 

Cats with digestive issues may express discomfort and pain by whining, meowing and crouching while arching the back. Make sure to bring your cat to the vet so he can determine the specific cause and right treatment. The signs that your cat manifests may give clues to the nature of the digestive problem. Abnormalities in ingesting food may be linked to diseases of the mouth or esophagus while vomiting may be attributed to inflamed stomach lining or gastroenteritis but it may also indicate a non-digestive problem like kidney disease. 

Diarrhea is usually a sign of digestive system disorders and your cat should be treated promptly to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Severe diarrhea is often associated with hypersecretion wherein excess fluid is secreted into the intestines and may be caused by bacterial infection and malabsorption or the failure to absorb nutrients properly due to viruses like the feline panleukopenia virus. 

Digestive disorders may also be detected when there are changes in the color, consistency and frequency of waste or feces.  Black and tarry poop may indicate stomach or small intestine bleeding and if you notice that your cat is straining while defecating it may indicate that she has an inflamed rectum or anus. 

Bloating or abdominal distention because of food, gas or fluid accumulation may be due to reduced activity of muscles that are responsible for moving food through the digestive system. It may also be due to a physical obstruction like a foreign body or may also be because of overeating.

How can I help improve my cat’s digestive process?

Here are some measures that you can do to help your cat with her digestive process and avoid digestive disorders:

  • feed your cat with food that aids with digestion like high-fiber food and avoid giving her milk and dairy products as well as grains 
  • give her supplements that promote digestive health such as probiotics 
  • pay attention to your cat’s overall diet and wellness and bring her to the vet regularly so that digestive and other health issues may be detected promptly 

You may also check our earlier article on can cats eat that for more helpful information. 


It usually takes around 12 hours or more for cats to digest their food and their daily diet and meals play a major role in determining the digestive process. To ensure good digestion and overall digestive health for your cat, feed her with high-fiber and protein food, avoid dairy products and grains and be sure to pay attention to her overall diet and wellness. 

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