How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Digest Food?
All you're doing is right. You feed your pet high-quality cat food, visit the vet once a year for a check-up, and keep them away from human food leftovers. However, you get concerned that your cat does not join you for lunch, and you discover that some of your friends only feed their cats once a day. Yeah, cats sleep for most of the day, but how long does it take cats to digest food?
Cats digest food in 7–12 hours after eating. And cats take longer to digest and absorb food because they have smaller bodies than other pets. The slow food movement in the cat's digestive tract allows nutrients more time to extract. That's why your cat can eat just once or twice a day.
As a parent, it's essential to know whether your cat isn't suffering from digestive problems or other medical issues because such problems can hinder their digestion. Other issues, such as a blockage, can also affect your cat's ability to eat and digest food.
Let's go through this in more detail, starting with your cat's digestive system.
The Cat's Digestive system
The journey the food takes in your fur friend's digestive tract starts from the mouth.
A cat's teeth are made for slicing through parts of meat rather than chewing. So, the cats tend to swallow chunks of food. But while in the mouth, enzymes found in saliva will begin to break down the food chemically as it drops to the stomach through the esophagus.
A strong acid breaks down the food in the stomach, including bones that might have passed through the digestive tract. The acid also kills bacteria.
If the stomach process is complete, the food moves to the intestines for further digestion and nutrient extraction. The remaining food material is pooped out from the rectum which explains why cats take so long to digest food.
Your feline friend's food can take 10 - 24 hours to move from the time it's popped into the mouth to when it's pooped compared to 6-8 hours for humans.
However, how long the food will stay in the cat's stomach will depend on some factors discussed below:
The Variety of Food Eaten Affects Cat Digestion
Your cat's digestive system is like that of humans in form but still differs in other ways. Whereas humans can eat most things and get nutrients, cats can process relatively few types of food.
The cat is an obligate carnivore, which means meat is its primary protein source and the core of its diet.
So the ideal diet that will maintain the cat's normal digestion processes is a protein-rich diet with a low content of cereals, corn, and derivatives.
Don't give your cat a vegan diet
The cat's digestive system lacks the enzymes and bacteria cultures required to break down plant matter and extract nutrients. If you catch your cat eating grass, it's a warning that they're suffering from a digestive disorder and are trying to get rid of it.
Cow milk for cat?
Contrary to popular belief, cow milk isn't part of necessary cat nutrition. You may think you are giving your cat a treat, but it will suffer stomach upsets and other digestive problems. Most cats lose their ability to digest the lactose found in milk after weaning, thus becoming lactose intolerant.
So avoid the temptation to open the refrigerator and pour some of the milk out of your carton into the cat's bowl. Cats like milk, but it must be milk specially made for them.
Wet or Dry cat food for bowel movement?
Many cat parents disagree on using wet or dry food.
Mostly, wet food is easier to digest than dry food; hence it goes through the digestive system faster. Also, wet food helps to keep the cat hydrated and prevents constipation. That's why many cat owners opt for wet cat canned food.
On the downside, too wet food can make your cat visit the litter box more frequently, and the cat may come out wet after visiting the litter tray.
On the other hand, some cat parents say dry food is good because it helps clean the cat's teeth.
And if you are a long-time cat parent, you may have noticed that some cats are picky eaters. So your most important consideration of the food should be to strike a balance between nutritional value and the cat's selective taste.
Change of feed can disrupt the normal digestion process
Your cat may have digestive problems when introducing new food to it. If you must make the change, ensure the switch is slow and progressive. Mix the new feed gradually with the old food until the digestive system gets used to the new type of food.
The Health of The Cat
Sadly, the cat's digestive system is quite susceptible to digestive and medical problems, which may change how your cat eats and digests food. Digestion will take less time if your cat is sick and throwing up. Mostly, when cats throw up, it is undigested food.
You'll know the digestion process is going perfectly well if your cat doesn't lose appetite, vomit, diarrhea, or is not constipated.
Disorders can affect your cat's digestion
Gastroenteritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and colitis are only a couple of the diseases that can impair your cat's digestion.
Many cats suffer from stomach discomfort, the most common cause of which is food intolerance.
For instance, like a blockage, medical problems may change how your cat eats and digests food.
Hairballs can disrupt cat digestion
The tongue of a cat varies significantly from that of humans. The tongues of cats are rough.
The rough texture assists the cat in breaking the food apart and pushing it around in its mouth.
Also, a cat uses its rough tongue for grooming.
Cats have a habit of cleaning themselves daily. Grooming with the tongue adds a lot of hair to your cat's digestive tract. This hair usually passes through the digestive system without causing any problems. And as the fur builds up in the esophagus, most cats will expel a hairball every week or so.
Hairballs are a common occurrence in animals, and they don't cause a problem for most cats. However, they can compact and cause intestinal blockages, which could be a severe health problem for your cat. In worst cases, you may require surgery to clear the bowel obstruction.
Hairballs are more common in cats with long fur or those who groom more than usual because of itchiness or stress.
You should contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has an internal blockage.
Here are some things you can do to improve your cat's digestion.
Why Does a Cat Immediately Run to the Litter Box after Eating?
You may wonder why your cat will want to relieve itself just after eating when digestion should take at least 10 hours. This sudden dash from the chow bowl to the litter tray is a natural reaction. It is a signal sent to the cat's digestive tract when food enters the stomach. It is like an order instructing the rectum and anus to remove what they are holding and create room for new material.
Tips for Better Digestion in Cats
Monitor their food and their appetite
Keep track of what the cat eats.
Never change their food or their diet at once. Make the switch gradual.
Do not feed your cat leftovers and table scraps.
Always consult with your veterinarian.
A cat's digestive system is most similar to ours, where food goes from the mouth to the stomach to the intestines before expelling it. However, while human digestion takes 8-10 hours, the cats' take 10-24 hours.
And that's only when everything is running correctly.
When digestive problems occur, seek the services of a veterinarian immediately.