This isn’t a question dog owners ask for any other reason than caring for a sick dog. As dog parents, most of us have been there. There worrying, the waiting, the anxiety, all the feelings that come with a sick fur baby. One of the hallmarks of an ill dog is the loss of appetite. It’s normal for a lethargic and sickly dog to not want to eat, after all, it’s the same with humans.
As concerned dog owners, many out there want to know how long a dog can go without eating and when they should be concerned. Let’s explore when it’s time for an emergency vet visit.
How Long Can a Dog Go without Eating?
Let’s get the big question out of the way. Just how long can a dog go without food? The answer depends on if your pooch is healthy or not.
Healthy dogs can last from 5 days to a week without food, given that they still have access to plenty of water. Water, like with most living beings, is more important than food for survival. Although a dog can go without eating food for up to 7 days, by no means should you leave the problem unaddressed for that period of time. We would suggest making a call to the vet if the loss of appetite lasts for more than a day or two.
The period without food will reduce drastically for ill dogs. We would say 3 to 5 days for sick dogs if they are still drinking sufficient amounts of water. Again, if you know your dog is sick, we would advise against waiting for more than one day.
Before we dive into the different reasons why a dog may lose his appetite and how to identify the problem, we will list out how long can a dog go without eating under specific circumstances.
A dog suffering from pancreatitis will need some time to adjust to the treatment. Since the pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes, we wouldn’t recommend overloading your dog’s system during this time. The suggested time frame to allow your pooch to recover from pancreatitis treatment is 24 hours. If your pooch exceeds this period and still refuses to eat, then it’s time to call the veterinarian.
Then there is the dreaded parvo or parvovirus, one of the leading causes for puppy death. Luckily, parvo is treatable but it will take time and you need to catch it early on. Parvo causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, all of which causes your dog to lose his appetite, refuse food and possibly dehydrate. Aside from giving your pooch time to recover from parvo for a few days, make sure to monitor his water intake as well.
Then there are dogs recovering from surgery. Depending on how invasive and what type of surgery your dog had, the recuperating period will be different. Spaying and neutering will cause pain, but since those surgeries do not stem from illness, the potential lack of appetite that follows is due to physical discomfort. After a day or two, your dog should be gradually back to his old self with the help of pain management medications.
More serious surgeries could see longer times without food for your dog, but as long as he is still drinking water he will be okay. Again, we do not recommend going for more than 2 or 3 days without food after serious surgeries.
A word of caution from our experts is that larger breeds can go for longer without food while smaller dogs need medical attention after 1 or 2 days.
What about Water?
We spent all this time talking about how long dogs can go without food, but water is even more so or at least equally important. Water is vital to survival and we wouldn’t recommend ever denying your pooch water, but sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances, a dog will refuse to drink. This is why it’s important for dog parents to know how long their dogs can go safely without water.
The most we would ever advise is 3 days, although even one day is a cause for concern. The variance from 1 to 3 days without water depends on the climate, the activity levels of the dog, and the food. Hot weather will see a higher need for hydration, a dog that is still active and playing will also need more liquids. If your dog is on a wet food diet, they can reach the 3-day mark safer than a dog on a kibble diet.
The figures above are for a healthy dog. For sick dogs, we wouldn’t recommend going past a day, especially if the illness includes vomiting and diarrhea. Of course, the length of time will also depend on the illness so double check what is safe with your veterinarian.
Related: Why Won’t My Dog Drink Water
Why Your Dog Won’t Eat
In order to properly treat the problem, vets and regular dog parents will need to understand the reason for the food refusal. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why your dog won’t eat.
Your Dog is Sick or Hurt
Two of the most obvious causes are ill health or physical pain. The reasons can range from something minor such as an upset stomach from eating something spoiled to more serious underlying conditions. Even something like allergies can cause your dog to not eat. If you are aware of your dog having a condition, it’s more than likely that is why he is refusing his food.
Some dogs may simply be picky eaters because they are tired of their old dog kibble or gets too spoiled by loving owners that give them lots of treats and human food. If your dog is a picky eater, then that is probably why he isn’t eating. Rest assured that most picky eaters will eventually eat and won’t go hungry for too long.
A dog can go without eating if they are feeling mentally upset. Similar to humans who are nervous or going through relationship issues, food may be the last thing on their minds. Luckily, if the lack of appetite is due to anxiety, you will see indicators. A dog usually won’t hesitate to let you know how he is feeling if you know what symptoms to look for. Some of these symptoms include sudden aggression, growling, whimpering, whining, crying, and barking.
Aside from vocal manifestations, a dog can also display anxiety through actions such as hiding, tail tucking with their ears laying flat, trembling and avoidance to touch.
Another mental cause for a dog to go without eating is depression. Depression is a bit harder to spot than anxiety as the dog won’t display such obvious signs. However, if you know your dog and have a bond, you will be able to detect something is up.
Tell-tale signs of depression include a loss of interest in food, exercise, and play, they aren’t as active as before, and a change in their routine. Your dog may not sleep at the usual time, sleep all the time, or not at all.
Something is Wrong with the Food
Lastly, and perhaps the reason most dog parents hope is the issue lies not with the dog, but with the food. Regardless of your dog’s energy requirements, he will refuse food intake if he senses something is wrong. It could be spoiled kibble or mold, but if your pooch sniffs the food and walks away, then it is a good indication you should give the kibble a closer inspection.
We Think You’ll Like: How to Tell if Dry Dog Food is Bad
What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat
Now we know some of the most common reasons that can cause a dog to refuse food intake, we will now take a look at what to do when it happens.
When Did it Start?
The first thing to do when you notice your dog isn’t eating is to assess when the behavior began. Pinpointing the time it started can help you figure out the issue. If your pooch isn’t feeling well, not eating for a day or two is to be expected. However, if you noticed a sudden drop in appetite that happened within the day then there could be a problem, which brings us to the next point.
Are There Other Symptoms?
Are there any other symptoms? It’s easier to analyze the situation if you look for accompanying indicators. For example, a dog that isn’t eating and is also lethargic and burning up will signify a fever. It’s very important for dog parents to look for all the symptoms to get a clear picture of why your dog lost his appetite.
Call the Vet
You can call your trusted vet if you cannot figure out the problem. The vet will ask you questions about your dog’s behavior, how it has changed over the past few days, the changes that may have happened in your life, and any known health issues your dog suffers from. Note down everything you need to communicate to the vet to hasten the process. If the vet thinks the issue is serious enough, they may call you in for a visit.
Identify the Reasons and Target the Issue
Once you have identified the reason, the next step is to target the issue. If you know your dog is ill, then the vet will have a game plan to cure him. If your dog is hurt, it also warrants a trip to the vet to discover a treatment plan.
For picky eaters, you can start by changing up the food. We will cover this in more detail later on with information about how to get a sick dog to eat and how to appeal to finicky pups. If the problem is spoiled food, then the first step is to cease feeding and dispose of the dog food.
A helpful way to determine if your dog is a picky eater or not or if there is something wrong with the food is to try treats. If your dog is still passionate about his treats, then he might not be suffering from a lack of appetite.
We Think You’ll Like: Health Benefits of Dog Treats
If the problem stems from anxiety, we would suggest contacting a professional trainer. Behaviors such as separation anxiety or nervousness, in general, are better addressed through proper training. Some of the most common advice the trainer will give you is to spend more time with your dog if you have been busy.
It’s also advised to give your dog ample time away from you to socialize with other dogs and people from a young age. Then there is depression, which might require medication to treat and a tailored regimen.
If your dog isn’t suffering from anything too serious such as adjusting to new medication, getting used to a new environment, or a mild upset stomach, the best treatment is to wait. Once some time has passed, your dog will come out of the other side like his old self.
How to Get Your Dog to Eat
How exactly do we get our pooch to eat after we know the cause? For a sick dog, you may have to coax them to consume the first few bites. You can do this by making the food more delicious by adding toppers, mixers or switching to new formulas. Some good examples of this include freeze-dried food toppers, wet food, and even subscription
Adding some human foods to the mixture can also help such as bone broth and pumpkin puree. Putting shredded boiled chicken breast in with the dry kibble will also be a nice treat your sick dog will appreciate. We have a whole article about how to make food more enticing to picky eaters. The article includes suggestions such as moving the dog bowl to a different location. Sometimes the change in scenery is all it takes.
The temperature can also make your dog feel a sense of novelty. Try heating up the food or adding warm broth. Baby food is another great addition to dog food. The ingredients are in a very pure form and readily available at the supermarket.
If your dog is refusing to drink water aside from not eating food, you can pour water in with the kibble to change things up.
In more serious cases for very sick dogs, it may require you to hand feed your pooch, and sometimes you will need to use an apparatus such as a syringe. In cases as severe as these, you will most likely have the go-ahead from the vet.
Vets can also prescribe an appetite stimulant to help your dog eat. These medications will increase hunger in your dog and suppress any ill feelings they have towards food.
Don’t Overdo It
The main discussion point is how long a dog can go without sustenance, but it’s also important not to overdo it. Water and food are both crucial to survival, but too much can have its drawbacks. For example, a dog that eats too much will suffer from obesity and mobility issues due to joint strain. A dog that drinks too much water could suffer from a health condition such as kidney failure.
Make sure to monitor your dog’s behavior closely to determine what should cause alarm. When in doubt, always consult with your trusted veterinarian before taking matters into your own hands.
If you need to leave your dog at home for the day and cannot monitor them while you’re at work, make sure to leave out plenty of water. You can do so by leaving out many water bowls or use an automatic fountain. As for the food, leave the suitable amount for however long you will be gone and not more than that. If your dog is sick, we would suggest asking someone to come and check in on him and to make sure if anything needs replenishing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my dog eating grass but not eating food?
Your dog is eating grass and not eating his food most likely due to him eating something foreign. If your dog eats something that doesn’t sit right, his natural instinct is to eat grass. Eating enough grass will induce vomiting and get rid of the irritant. If your dog is suddenly eating a lot of grass, our advice is to let him. Any time your dog vomits or has diarrhea, you have to make sure they are drinking water to avoid dehydration.
Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
What happens if a dog doesn’t eat for 3 days?
A dog that doesn’t eat for 3 days will be okay if he is healthy, but they cannot go without water for that long. A healthy dog with no underlying conditions can go for 5 days to a week without food but not without water. For a sick dog, we wouldn’t recommend going above 3 days, especially if he isn’t drinking water. We wouldn’t wait up to 3 days and would suggest contacting the vet f your dog refuses to eat after a day or two.
Will a dog starve itself to death?
No, a dog will not starve itself to death. Even the pickiest of eaters will eventually make their way to the bowl in order to survive. While death by starvation isn’t something your dog will do intentionally, it could happen if he is very sick and doesn’t seek treatment. If their basal metabolic rate and general metabolism needs are not met, it could eventually lead to organ failure and death.
What foods should I feed my sick dog?
If your dog is sick, he may not want regular food and would prefer a treat. Since the pooch isn’t feeling well, we would say they earned a healthy snack. A dog can go without eating for a while, but we wouldn’t advise letting them. Make sure think are still drinking water when you add supplements to their meals.
Chicken soup and rice, pumpkin puree, baby food, bone broth, and shredded chicken are all healthy and nutritious treats to add to your dog’s kibble.
What to do after 48 hours of my dog not eating
If you have monitored your dog for 48 hours and he still isn’t eating, then we would recommend going to the veterinarian. A dog shouldn’t be permitted to go more than two days without food, especially without water as well. It’s important to make sure your pooch is getting sufficient water despite a health problem.
How long can a sick dog go without eating?
A sick dog can go without eating for 3 days at most, but we wouldn’t recommend waiting until then to visit the veterinarian. A sick pup’s immune system is under attack, and they would need more food than a healthy dog for the energy to combat the foreign virus.
There are various reasons why a dog will not eat. It may be okay for a healthy pooch to go up to a week without eating, but a sick dog won’t last as long. It’s important to make sure your dog is eating enough to sustain his metabolism and to at least get enough water during this time. If your dog exceeds the safe period, then we would suggest an emergency vet visit. There are many things you can try at home to get your dog to eat including switching up the food and adding mixers, toppers, and broth as a treat.
Did You Know?
You may not be aware of the bond you share with your dog. Your actions and emotions will affect your pooch in ways you may not realize. Changes in your mood, behavior, and environment could affect your dog’s willingness to eat. It’s always a good idea to assess and address any changes that could cause your dog to lose his appetite.
A common way to get your dog to eat food again is to make it more appealing. However, don’t forget to pay attention to what may harm his condition even more. Stay away from seasoning and sauces when looking for ingredients to supplement his meals.
We Think You’ll Like: How to Make Dry Dog Food More Appealing (5 Ways)