How long can a dog go without eating?

By MarĂ­a Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. Updated: October 30, 2019
How long can a dog go without eating?

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If your dog has 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. In normal cases, 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 it is 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 its food. We also detail symptoms to look out for and tips to help your dog recover his appetite.

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How long can a dog go without eating?

When it comes to the everyday life of our pets, an adult dog can go without eating for 2-3 days, without this necessarily being too much of a concern. A healthy adult dog can even go up to 5 days without food. However, food is what provides your dog with nutrients and energy, and poor eating habits will be detrimental to your dog's health in the long run. Even if there does not seem to be anything wrong, try to help you dog recover it's appetite.

If you have a puppy, or an old or sick dog or if not eating is accompanied by symptoms such as 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 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.

How long can a dog go without eating? - How long can a dog go without eating?

Why is my dog not eating?

Your dog may stop eating food for a number of reasons, whether health related or psychological. If it continues 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 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 it has become used to eating treats or human food and is doesn't want to eat dog food. 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, so 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 the changes of its 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 its preferences. If your dog is still won't eat after the first few days, consult a vet.
  • Changes in food: If we change your brand of dog food, or switch to a natural diet when your dog has been used to processed foods, it may initially refuse to eat. Changes in a dog's diet should always be introduced gradually.
  • Stress or anxiety: Changes in routine like going on vacation or having unfamiliar people in the house may cause your dog some stress. The dog may stop eating or refuse food for a few hours or 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 dog go without eating? - Why is my dog not eating?

How long can a sick dog go without eating?

If your dog is sick and not eating or drinking, you should take it 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 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 its appetite. In fact, a dog that has been ill or gone through surgery often loses its appetite. 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.

How long can a dog go without eating? - How long can a sick dog go without eating?

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 not is recommended. There is information circulating 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 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 it from eating. As we have explained, keep an eye out for other symptoms that may indicate malaise, and try to encourage your dog to eat. Here are 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 recovery from illness. On the other hand, if a dog won't eat because you have changed the diet, the trick is 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 syringe at the side of the dog or puppy's mouth. Add water or homemade broth to your puree, to boost hydration.
  • Small quantities: start with small quantities and try repeat them several times a day. Never force your dog to eat. It is better to try a several times, even if it only eats once or very little.
  • 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.
  • 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 it can and should eat whatever it most wants, won't do your dog any favors by offering it sweets, sausages or fatty foods. Even if your dog seems more willing to eat these than other foods, they can be damaging to its 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 its normal diet little by little. If, despite all your efforts, the dog still won't eat, you must contact a veterinarian to assess tube feeding or other relevant options.

How long can a dog go without eating? - How to feed a dog that does not want to eat

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. and Villaverde C. 2018. Evaluation of the Prevalence and Risk Factors for Undernutrition in Hospitalized Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci. 5: 205.

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Khandaker Raiyan
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