How Long Does It Take a Cat to Digest Food

Cats have a simple compartment in their stomach structure. Theirs are just like humans. Their simple stomach structure contributes to faster digestion than ruminants. The stomach may be filled with a particular diet in about 10-15 minutes and, in not less than 15-20 hours, the food is completely digested. The bowel is then later emptied of waste within the period for complete digestion. The digestive system is consisting of all organs involved in ingesting, and processing food. The system is said to also include excretory organs. This is because complete digestion ends with excretion. It begins with the mouth and includes the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, rectum, and anus. This article will give you detailed information on how long does it take a cat to digest food.

Overall food digestion in cats

Cats’ ancestors are obligate carnivores, the domesticated cats nowadays seem to have evolved from that. They need more animal protein to survive. Fewer carbohydrates are supplied in their meal because feline nature does not exert this source of energy. There is no such thing as a vegan cat. Most obligate carnivores take a time profile for flesh protein metabolism before food is finally digested. Though their metabolic system utilizes protein more rapidly than carbohydrates does it for energy in humans.

It generally takes ingested food (ingesta) a minimum of 10 hours to move through the entire digestive tract. This depends on the nature of the food substance. The maximum period for a cycle of digestion for any food substance ingested is 24 hours. Some objects are however trapped in the stomach for longer periods. These substances are like indigestible synthetic materials. They can remain in the bowel for even months. These objects are mistakenly swallowed with food by cats. Sometimes, the persuasion to ingest such materials e.g polythene materials derives from the pleasant smell on them. This indigestible material when swallowed in large mass may delay digestion.

Diet type and digestion profile

There’s a reason for having a range of 15-20 hours for complete digestion. This is to accommodate the average digestion profile for most cat diets.

  • Protein: The mother of a cat’s diet is protein. Fats and carbohydrates are important as well but less essential to carnivores. Cats are obligate carnivores. Protein digestion begins in the stomach of carnivores with the secretion of hydrochloric acid. The HCL acid activates pepsinogen in response to the presence of protein in the stomach. Pepsinogen is activated to pepsin in the presence of hydrochloric acid. This begins the enzymatic breakdown of protein into polypeptides. Any irritation to the gut wall before the stomach and the duodenum is negligible for protein hydrolytic digestion. After 8 – 10 hours, a protein-empty digestive tract begins to send signals to the brain stimulating a hunger response.
  • Carbohydrates: The total apparent digestibility of starch is reported to be 40–100%, depending on the source of starch and processing involved. This proves that cats can digest and absorb carbohydrates. As in other mammals, proper processing and cooking are necessary. Carbohydrate sources are not provided to cats as raw ingredients. This report is according to NCBI.

When digesting starch (carbohydrates), cats, and carnivores generally take time to digest most grain starch. Dietary carbohydrates complex with fibers to obstruct digestion in cats. Hence, dietary carbohydrates are to be discontinued in cats. Due to evolutionary pressures, cats developed several physiologic adaptations of carbohydrates.

  • Digestion and absorption: This reflects its original carnivorous nature. However, it depends on how a kitten has been trained up in a diet for it to sustain digestive capability for such when in the adult stage. Cats possess only a small capacity for starch
  • Digestion by endogenous intestinal enzymes: Similar to canine like dogs, salivary amylase responsible for the initiation of starch digestion in the feline saliva is limited. Amylase is found in the feline pancreas and chyme; however, the intestinal amylase activity is low compared to other animals.

For these reasons, when major food sources of carbohydrates are lured into the cat’s digestive tract, they are very slowly converted to end ‘glucose’. The digestion cycle for carbohydrates ingested may take up to 28 hours for completion.

Indigestion in cats

At times your cat may show signs of interrupted digestion. When the course of digestion seems abnormal to you, it’s in the best of care to find out. Indigestion is noticeable when comparing the bouts of appetites and excretion. When it takes longer than average for your cat to digest its meal, there might be a digestive defect in the site. For the same reason, some cats may eat a large meal with a voracious appetite, yet they tend to be malnourished. In a condition such as a dyspepsia (when stomach acid is irregularly secreted), digestion of protein, in particular, may be altered. Proteinous food substances in the stomach of a cat are held for a longer period of even 28 or more before complete digestion. In such a case, the cat may show a burp reflex or run a rumbling stomach.

Also, gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal wall) predisposes cats to digestive problems. This may be as a result of irritation from swallowed toxic substances. In the case of gastroenteritis, the gastric wall may fail to secrete necessary digestive enzymes. The outcome of this defect is delayed digestion or complete indigestion. The cat may poop unprocessed (raw undigested) food as a waste product.

Hyperthyroidism on the other hand in cats results in an increased metabolic state. With cats losing weight despite normal or often increased appetites.

Indigestion is a serious disorderly food processing feature in carnivores. Undigested food can stay for a week or more if care is not taken. This can give your cat an upset stomach, which can usually be spotted with the following signs: trouble sleeping, crankiness, or loss of appetite. It can also have the same effect as a stomach bug,

There are palpable signs of digestive problems in cats. They may include the following;

  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Bad breath.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Reluctance to eat or struggles to eat.
  • Weight loss or a painful abdomen.


Maintaining a proper diet for your cat is quite essential. Grieving the digestive tract with unruly diets can affect digestion. It may take longer than habitual for food to be digested. This causes loss of appetite and other digestive problems already listed. The best thing to do in cases of indigestion is to give the best dry cat food for sensitive stomach. Consulting a vet to avoid digestive complications is ideal, mostly. I hope you’ve gotten enough information on how long does it take a cat to digest food.


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