As a dog owner, there are plenty of things to worry about with regards to your pet's health. One of the most common concerns that plague dog owners is when their dog won't eat, which begs the question, how long can a dog go without eating?

While the answer to this question can vary depending on an individual dog's health and size, there are some general guidelines for how long you can let your dog go without food before you need to contact your vet. In this blog post, we'll explore how long a dog can go without eating and what you should do if your dog stops eating.

An image of my 15 month old Working English Springer Spaniel on one of his daily walks, this is in the woodland near Esholt.

How Long Can a Dog Go Without Food?

If your dog has stopped eating, this is obviously a cause for concern. How long can a dog go without food before they starve?

Healthy dogs can go up to five days with no food, but this is only true if your dog is drinking water. Some dogs can go as long as seven days without eating, but you should never leave your dog not eating for this long without contacting your veterinarian.

If your dog isn't in the best health, they will likely be in rough shape after three to five days without food. Dogs with chronic illnesses may not be able to survive without eating for more than three days.

If your dog is experiencing a loss of appetite, it's important not to panic. Dogs aren't capable of starving themselves on purpose and most will resume eating within a day or two. If your dog has not started eating within 48 hours and is not drinking, this can be a life threatening emergency.

Why Isn't My Dog Eating?

When your dog refuses to eat, the first thing you want is answers. Unfortunately, the reason your dog won't eat isn't always simple. Sometimes getting your dog to eat is as simple as changing your dog's food. Other times, it is a lengthy process to determine the cause, particularly if the loss of appetite is caused by medical conditions.

Let's look at a few different reasons why your dog may not want to eat. Then we'll examine some solutions to get your dog to eat.

Medical Conditions That Cause Lack of Appetite

The list of medical conditions that can cause a dog to stop eating is lengthy. However, there are a few that are most common.

  • Infections
  • Upset stomach (vomiting diarrhea)
  • Pain
  • Parasites
  • Allergies or Food Sensitivities
  • Autoimmune Conditions
  • Dental disease
  • Recent vaccinations
  • Side effects of medications

If you suspect your pup is suffering from any of these conditions, the first thing to do is contact your vet. Their lack of appetite may be caused by a medical condition.

Mental Health Conditions

Otherwise healthy dogs can be affected by mental health conditions that cause them to lose their appetite. Depression and anxiety are the most common reasons why your dog may stop eating. Interestingly, dogs suffer from the same symptoms as humans when they are affected by these conditions. Here is a brief look at each condition.

Depression

Symptoms of depression in dogs include:

  • Decreased interest in play or activity
  • Changes in sleeping habits - either your dog sleeps all the time or doesn't get enough sleep
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed, like toys or treats

Your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog is suffering from depression. There are treatments and medications that can help.

Anxiety

Anxiety can affect a dog's appetite and cause behavioral changes. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • barking
  • growling
  • aggression
  • pacing
  • tail tucking
  • refusing to eat
  • aversion to touch or petting
  • hiding
  • shaking or trembling

In addition to a suppressed appetite, clinical symptoms of anxiety are fairly obvious. Your veterinarian can give you the best course of action. Often chronic anxiety is treated with medications.

Picky Eating

Most dogs aren't picky eaters, so it's important to pay attention when they are refusing food. It could be that your dog has a preference for certain flavors, but most likely there is something else going on.

First off, check to make sure the food isn't spoiled. If you have recently introduced a new food, it may smell different than your dog's old food. Dogs frequently avoid their food when changing texture, from dry kibble to wet food or home-cooked food to kibble.

Allergies and food sensitivities are another reason why dogs become picky eaters. Chicken is a common culprit for stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea in dogs. Changing your dog food to one with a different protein can solve this problem.

Before you contact your vet, take note of your dog's eating habits. If they've stopped eating altogether, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. If they are just eating less than usual, you can spend a few days tracking how much your dog is eating before you take your dog to the vet. Just be certain that they are drinking water during this time.

Are you lost?

How To Get Your Dog To Eat

Before we give you some solutions for your dog's loss of appetite, it's important to note that a dog with medical issues who is refusing food should see a vet within 48 hours. If your dog is not drinking, they should not be without water for more than 24 hours. Your dog can go downhill very quickly without medical intervention.

If your dog is healthy, there are a few things you do to try and stimulate their appetite. Most of the solutions are quite simple to implement, but the solution depends on the cause.

  • Feeding a new dog food - Switch your dog's food gradually over several days or weeks or try feeding the old food. If your dog suddenly starts eating again, you know this is the problem.
  • Try a different protein - If you suspect your dog may be getting an upset stomach from their food or they are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, try feeding a food with a different protein. Chicken is a common cause of upset stomach in dogs.
  • Chicken broth - If your dog isn't eating, one way to get your dog to eat is to add some extra flavor to their food. Chicken broth makes everything taste and smell better and can encourage your dog to eat.
  • Cut back on treats - If your dog isn't eating their food, it may be because they aren't hungry. Feeding dogs too many treats can cause them to start refusing food.
  • Don't let your dog win - If your dog is being stubborn and holding out for a different food, you may have to win the battle by letting them get hungry. Place your dog's food down for 30 minutes, pick it up, and don't put it back down again until the next meal time. For picky dogs, their hunger instincts will take over and force them to eat at some point. If your dog doesn't start eating within 48 hours, it's time to head to the vet, as your dog should not go three or more days without eating.
  • Try food toppers - Some dogs can go without eating for a long time in an effort to get tastier food. Picky dogs will consume just enough food to keep themselves going, but they don't eat well. Food toppers come in a number of different flavors to give your dog incentive to eat.
  • Mix in wet food - If your dog won't eat their kibble, try adding in some wet food with it. Wet food can add moisture and it usually smells and tastes better than dry food. Since your dog needs to stay hydrated, it's also a great way to ensure your pet has enough moisture in their diet.
  • Feed your dog in a safe space - If your dog eats in a busy room of the house, like the kitchen, they can easily get distracted and refuse to eat. Puppies, in particular, are easily distracted by things around them so it may be that your dog simply needs a quiet space for meals.

Important Things to Know When Your Dog Isn't Eating

How long a dog can go without eating varies between individual dogs. Every dog is different. While some dogs are like humans and eat three meals per day, other dogs may only eat once a day. Some dogs eat every scrap of food they can get hold of, while others only eat when they are hungry.

The issue is that a dog not eating can be a symptom of illness, so you don't want to wait until your pet has gone several days with no food before seeing the vet. Before you contact your veterinarian, however, you should know what your dog's normal eating habits are. Changes in these habits are what will determine whether your dog is sick or just having an off day.

It's important not to stress over a single missed meal in a healthy pet. You can wait to call the vet until your dog shows other symptoms of illness, or they go longer without eating.

For most dogs, it is ok to wait a couple days before you contact your vet. The exception is puppies and dogs who are already sick. Small breed puppies especially cannot go for more than 12 hours without food before they will develop life-threatening hypoglycemia. Their underdeveloped bodies cannot compensate for the lack of food, so they must be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dogs who are already sick or have an underlying diagnosis should also be seen by a vet, as they can experience serious side effects from not eating.

How Long Can a Dog Go Without Water?

Not drinking is a much bigger concern than not eating. Like humans, dogs can go several days without food, but they can't survive more than 24 hours without water. Your pet is likely to start showing symptoms of dehydration after not drinking for 24 hours, so you should see the vet immediately.

When to Contact the Veterinarian

For healthy dogs, it is safe to wait to contact your vet until your pup has gone 48 hours without eating. If your pup isn't drinking, you should contact the vet within 24 hours. The following signs and symptoms can tell you if your dog is sick and needs to be seen sooner:

  • signs of dehydration, including lethargy and weakness
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • weight loss
  • gagging
  • wheezing

If your pet isn't eating and has any of these symptoms, it's important to seek veterinary care immediately.

FAQs

How long can a dog go without eating?

Since every pet is unique, there's not a set number of days a dog can be without food. Many dogs have been known to go on "hunger strikes" and not eat for 2-3 days without health consequences as long as they are still drinking. However, the general rule is 3-5 days. If your dog has gone three to five days not eating, it's time to contact the vet.

What if my dog is lost and can't eat?

Losing a pet can be a traumatic experience and you may worry that your dog will get sick without you there to feed them. If your dog is able to find water, they will survive for several days without food. It's important to note that dogs are very resourceful and while they may be used to eating dog kibble, their hunger instincts will tell them to find food wherever they can while they're away from home.

You can prevent your pet from getting lost by using a GPS collar on your pup. Collars, like the Fi collar, connect to a cellular network so that you can locate your pup at any time, anywhere. Fi GPS collars give you peace of mind, so you don't have to worry about your pup getting lost.

Why do dogs stop eating?

There are a number of reasons why a dog won't eat, including: pain, illness, stress, side effects from medications, dental problems, or simply being picky about their food.

Most dogs will resume their normal eating habits within a day or two, even if they are not feeling well, but every dog is different. If your dog isn't eating and they have other symptoms that indicate they may be sick, contact your veterinarian.

Summary

Dogs can survive for 3-5 days without food, but require water within 24 hours to avoid dehydration. If your dog isn't eating and has symptoms of illness, it's important to see your veterinarian to find the cause. In the case of picky dogs, there are a number of things you can do to make your dog's food more appealing and get them eating again. In most cases, a skipped meal or two isn't cause for concern and your pup will be back to eating again in no time.

For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.

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