How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating?
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If they have recently stopped eating, you may be wondering how long can a dog can go without food or water? In extreme situations, some dogs can go weeks without food, but they will not last more than a couple of days without water. A dog may stop eating or drinking for a number of reasons related to health or behavioral issues.
A dog can go 2-3 days without eating, unless they are also showing symptoms of serious illness. If refusing food or water seem to go along with other symptoms of sickness, you should take your dog to the vet immediately. Has your dog recently stopped eating? Does your dog often refuse its food? In this AnimalWised article, we answer the question how long can a dog go without eating, explaining possible reasons your dog may refuse their food. We also detail symptoms to look out for and tips to help your dog recover their appetite.
How long can a dog go without eating?
The appetite of a dog will change over the course of their lifetime. This is mainly due to age as younger dogs will burn more energy, especially while they are still developing. When they become adult, they should maintain a steady appetite for years until they become older and stop needing as much energy. Of course, dogs should have a greater appetite if they have been more active on a given day.
There may be some cases when a dog will have less appetite, but generally speaking they are voracious animals. They are often on the lookout for a snack and will happily eat as many treats as you can provide even after a meal.
With this in mind an adult dog can go 2-3 days without eating, but even this would be unusual if they are healthy. An otherwise healthy dog can go as much as 5 days without eating. After this time, their organism will start to deteriorate and specific symptoms will develop. Although a dog can go without eating for days on end, if they choose not to eat for more than 24 hours, it means there is a problem and we should consult a vet.
Certain dogs will be more vulnerable if they do not have food. This is the case with puppies, elderly dogs or dogs which are otherwise immunosuppressed. If their lack of appetite is accompanied by diarrhea, fever or vomiting, take your dog to the vet immediately. If your dog seems otherwise healthy you can wait a day, as this may just be passing phase or discomfort. Of course, try to get your dog to eat during this time, and make sure it continues drinking water.
As we mentioned, in certain extreme situations a dog can sometimes go weeks without eating. For example, a dog that has been abandoned or trapped after an earthquake may survive several weeks without food. Of course, a puppy or an old or sick dog will not be able to hold out as long as a healthy adult dog. Size and breed may also influence the dog's ability to survive without eating.
How long can a dog go without eating and drinking water?
Although it is physically possible for a dog to survive several days without food, water is crucial. Without drinking water, a dog will die within a couple of days. It is possible for a dog to live up to three days without water, but the dog will become extremely dehydrated and reach a critical state by then. Always make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink especially in summer. If you notice signs of dehydration, take your dog to the vet.
Now we know how long dogs can go without food, we should know that a healthy dog will want to eat regularly. They will need the right nutrition for their specific needs. To know how to help you dog recover their appetite, you will need to understand the reason why they are not eating and address it immediately. We examine these possible reasons in the next section.
Why is my dog not eating?
Your dog may stop eating food for a number of reasons, whether health related or psychological. If they continue to refuse food after 2-3 days you must take your dog to the vet to get a proper examination and diagnosis. Here are some common situations in which a dog may stop eating:
- Dog not eating but drinking water: this may just be a lack of appetite or related to your dog's food preferences. Maybe they have become used to eating treats or human food and they don't want to eat commercial dog food. Even the wrong brand of food can be causing them not to eat. If this goes on for more than a day, consult a veterinarian.
- Dog is vomiting or has diarrhea: if your dog refuses food and is vomiting yellow bile or has diarrhea, this could indicate an infection or digestive illness. Take your dog to the vet if it persists for more than an hour.
For more a more exhaustive list, read our article on reasons why your dog is not eating or drinking.
Sometimes, a dog may stop eating for psychological reasons. For example:
- Newly adopted dog: while still adapting to the changes of their new home a newly adopted dog may go a few days without eating and even without urinating. Try to make your dog as feel comfortable as possible and offer it a varied and healthy diet. You will soon come to learn their preferences. If your dog is still won't eat after the first few days, consult a vet.
- Changes in food: if we change their brand of dog food, or switch to a natural diet when your dog has been used to processed foods, they may initially refuse to eat. Changes in a dog's diet should always be introduced gradually. Generally speaking, once the dog is sufficiently hungry, they will eat to survive. We should suspect something else if the dog still refuses to eat after 24 hours.
- Stress or anxiety: changes in routine such as going on vacation or having unfamiliar people in the home may cause your dog some stress. The dog may stop eating or refuse food for a few hours or even up to a day. Try to introduce any changes gradually, and reassure your dog if it appears stressed or anxious.
In the final section, we discuss further methods and tips to help your dog start eating again if the dog is not eating for physiological or behavioral reasons.
If you have adopted a puppy, that stops eating or refuses food, take a look at this article explaining why your puppy may not be eating.
How long can a sick dog go without eating?
If your dog is sick and not eating or drinking, you should take them to the vet. A dog that is seriously ill will often stop eating especially if they are suffering from a disease that affects their digestive system and causes vomiting, diarrhea and/or pain.
In severe cases, you may have to hospitalize your dog. The veterinarian will then administer intravenous fluids. In such situations, the dog can spend 48-72 hours not eating. The vet will determine when to restart regular feeding with moist food formulated for convalescent animals. This food is nutritious and palatable and can even be diluted for administration by syringe.
If the sick dog still does not eat, your vet may explore the option of tube feeding. When the dog's condition improves, you may find that it takes time to recover their appetite. A dog that has been ill or gone through surgery often loses their appetite for a long time. In the final section we share some tips on how to get your dog eating again. Most dogs will start eating normally a few days after recovery. If your dog is still not eating consult a vet.
Is it bad to leave a dog without food for a day?
You now know that a healthy dog can spend 24 hours without eating food without anything serious happening to it. However, this still puts a physical strain on the dog's body and is not recommended. There is information from various online sources that dogs should fast every so often, but this is not advisable. Don't ever deliberately leave your dog without food for a day.
Dogs should eat a balanced diet and eat at least once a day, so never fast your dog on your own impulse. This is even more important to remember with puppies or sick dogs, unless they suffer from a digestive condition and your vet recommends a few hours of fasting. Always consult a professional if you believe you have reason for your dog to fast and don't decide this on your own.
If a dog is feeling slight discomfort and stops eating for a day this is not the same as a person preventing them from eating. As we have explained, keep an eye out for other symptoms that may indicate illness and try to encourage your dog to eat. Below we provide some suggestions for helping your dog to eat again.
How to feed a dog that does not want to eat
Regardless of how long a dog can go without eating, we should always encourage your dog to eat or help a dog with eating difficulties. Reviving a dog's appetite as soon as possible is crucial to recover from illness. If a dog won't eat because you have changed their diet, return to their original feed and make the transition gradually to give the dog time to get used to new foods. If it is a special diet for a disease, and the dog refuses to eat, consult the vet to explore other options or assess the need for change.
If you have newly adopted a dog, or have a dog recovering from an illness, here are some suggestions to get them eating again:
- Canned food: dogs usually find canned food appetizing. For sick dogs there are specific canned foods formulated for periods of convalescence. For an otherwise healthy dog, there are plenty of options available.
- Pureed food: we can start with pureed food that is easy to digest. This can even be administered in small quantities, directly into the dog's mouth using a syringe without a needle. Remember to place the syringe at the side of the dog or puppy's mouth. Add water or homemade broth to your puree, to boost hydration. Do not use anything that contains ingredients which are forbidden for dogs as it can exacerbate their illness.
- Small quantities: start with small quantities and repeat feedings several times a day. Never force your dog to eat. It is better to try several times, even they it only eats once or very little. Slowly you should see their appetite returning
- Add flavor: spices and herbs are not generally recommended for dogs, but smell plays an important role in stimulating a dog's appetite. Mint, alfalfa, dill, fennel or ginger are herbs that are good for dogs and adding a small amount to cooked food may help your dog recover its appetite. Again, only use ingredients suitable for dogs.
- Homemade food: if you make your own dog food, ensure that any pieces are bite sized. Do not add salt, sugar, sauces, oil or bones. Unless your dog is in a terminal state where they can and should eat whatever they most want, you won't do your dog any favors by offering sweets, sausages or fatty foods. Even if your dog seems more willing to eat these than other foods, they can be damaging to their health.
- Specific foods: if your dog suffers from a particular disease, your vet may recommend specific foods for its recovery. For example, a dog with anemia will benefit from consuming liver or red meat.
Once your dog begins to eat, start incorporating elements of their normal diet little by little. Despite all your efforts, if the dog still won't eat, you must contact a veterinarian to assess tube feeding or other relevant options.
If you want to read similar articles to How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating?, we recommend you visit our Diet problems category.
- Molina, J., Hervera, M., Manzanilla, EG, Torrente, C., & Villaverde, C. 2018. Evaluation of the Prevalence and Risk Factors for Undernutrition in Hospitalized Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci., 5, 205.