This is a question that any dog owner should never need to ask themselves – how long can dogs go without eating? Unfortunately, there are situations wherein dogs face neglect from their owners, as well as times when dogs must survive as strays.
There are also times when dogs stop eating due to a medical condition, stress, or dietary preferences. Whatever the case, dogs who won’t eat are a source of stress for owners and pets alike. Here, we discuss the potential causes for your dog’s loss of interest in food, and how long dogs can survive without a meal.
How Long Can a Dog Go Without Food?
If they are otherwise healthy, your dog can do about three to five days without eating a meal. If a dog is not healthy or has pre-existing medical conditions, the length of time they can go without food decreases. Other factors should be considered as well, such as the dog’s activity levels, water intake, and even changes in weather.
To explain the latter, high environmental temperatures put more stress on a dog’s respiratory, urinary, and cardiovascular system to keep cool, meaning that they will need more energy to cope with these changes.
Why Won't My Dog Eat?
Your dog could refuse food due to depression, anxiety, medical conditions, or dietary preferences. When your dog is suffering a loss of appetite, you may find yourself asking how long can dogs go without eating for. Fortunately, many cases of lost appetite can be resolved within a few days. However, if your dog completely refuses food for more than 48 hours, it’s time for a vet visit.
Like humans, dogs can struggle with depression. Maybe you’ve just brought home a new baby or dealt with a loss in the family. Out of their normal character, your dog is listless and withdrawn. Depression in dogs can manifest similarly to depression in humans. One of the most worrying signs is a lack of appetite or complete rejection of food. If your dog has recently gone through a big change and refuses to eat, depression could be to blame.
Keep in mind that symptoms of depression in dogs can indicate a medical problem. Your first course of action should be to ask for a full checkup at the vet. A pet who is listless and withdrawn, or doesn’t want to go for walks or play, could be struggling with pain from arthritis. However, although we can’t ask our dogs if they struggle with depression, there are some situations where it’s the only clinical explanation.
Unlike in humans, dogs typically aren’t prescribed antidepressants to treat their depression. Instead, antidepressants are usually prescribed to help treat severe anxiety-related problems, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and some types of aggression. Medication should not be used as a ‘stand-alone’ therapy. Instead, it should be combined with a behavior-modification program.
Stress and anxiety are two of the biggest reasons why dogs refuse to eat. Your dog can become stressed from big life changes such as moving house or meeting a new member of the family. Fortunately, a lack of appetite due to stress tends to pass quickly. In the meantime, ensure that your pooch is drinking enough water and at least eating their favorite treats. If your pup is not coping with their stress well or has not eaten for more than 48 hours, consult your vet for advice.
Another culprit is separation anxiety. One of the main differentiating features between this type of anxiety and other behavioral problems is that the behavior begins soon after the owner’s departure. It normally starts within 30 minutes, most often within the first few minutes. The behaviors include whining, howling and barking, destructive behavior, restlessness, inappropriate defecation, and escape attempts. Not all dogs will show all of these symptoms. More uncommon symptoms include anorexia, vomiting, and acral dermatitis.
There are many illnesses that come with a lack of appetite. Like us, dogs sometimes don’t want to eat if they feel unwell. Bacterial or viral infections, urinary tract infections, cancer, kidney disease, and dental problems are just a few illnesses that can cause your pooch to refuse food. Your dog might also refuse to eat if they are dealing with acute or chronic pain. If your dog is not struggling with anxiety or depression and is showing other symptoms of illness, it’s likely that a medical condition is to blame. In this case, you will need to book a consultation with your vet as soon as possible.
Your vet will need to conduct a full physical examination of your pet. This may include taking a blood sample to be tested for signs of disease. Your pet may also be weighed to check if their lack of appetite is causing weight loss.
He's a Picky Eater
Sometimes there is no other explanation – your dog is just a picky eater! Frequently, the cause of a dog’s picky eating is the result of eating table scraps or too many treats. Your dog might avoid eating their “boring” kibble in hopes of being offered more exciting food. If this sounds like your dog, hold off giving table scraps and treats at mealtimes. This should help your dog to understand that no other options exist. Hills Pet suggests setting your dog’s meal out for 30 minutes. if it isn’t eaten at this time, take the food away. When it’s next time for your dog’s meal, set out the food again and take it away after 30 minutes regardless of whether it’s eaten or not.
If your dog suddenly becomes picky with no previous signs of behavior, a medical problem could be to blame. Observe your pet closely for signs of diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of weight. Take them to the vet if you suspect a medical problem.
How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating – FAQ
Still unsure about how long can dogs go without eating for? Our FAQ section should have all the answers you need. If in doubt, always ask your vet for guidance.
A healthy dog can go without eating for three to five days. However, if a dog hasn’t eaten for 48 hours, you should always ask your vet for advice. This is because dogs can struggle with low blood sugar like humans do if they don’t eat. Hypoglycemia can be brought on by fasting in combination with rigorous exercise. If your dog is hypoglycemic, they might show the following symptoms: lethargy, trembling, muscle twitches, confusion, blindness, and unconsciousness.
If your dog is hypoglycemic, your vet may need to administer intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy. They might take measurements of your pet’s blood glucose levels and a complete blood count to rule out other conditions. Urine tests may also be conducted to rule out urinary tract infections.
Dogs are opportunistic feeders who normally won’t starve themselves to death. However, a terminally ill dog might refuse their normal diet as well as any specialist diets for their condition. This is especially the case for dogs suffering from kidney failure. Unfortunately, their refusal of food can accelerate their decline. Human kidney patients sometimes report that normal food has a soapy or “bad” taste, so the same may be the case for canine patients. Dogs with kidney disease may also feel nauseous.
In these cases, it often helps to warm food to just below body temperature and to hand or spoon-feed it. In addition, at the very end of life, many dogs will refuse anything but meat. If no accommodations are made for a terminally ill dog, their lack of appetite and consequent malnutrition often worsens their condition and causes death faster.
You should never intentionally withhold food from your dog unless it is done for a medical reason. For example, before surgery, it is common practice to fast your pet for six to eight hours. Some veterinary surgeries ask that you fast your pet for 12 hours before surgery. If your pet eats before surgery, they could be at risk of vomiting, regurgitation, or aspiration whilst under anesthesia.
If your dog has diarrhea, your vet might occasionally prescribe a brief fast. You should not withhold food unless your vet tells you to. Years ago, it was thought that gastrointestinal upsets should be treated by a fasting period to “rest” the dog’s bowels. Now, most vets recognize that your dog’s intestines need nutrition to heal themselves properly. Instead of withholding all food, it’s best to switch to a bland meal, typically made with chicken and rice, if your dog has acute diarrhea.
There are many different reasons why your dog might stop eating, including: depression, anxiety, medical conditions and simply wanting more exciting food. Your dog might also suffer a loss of appetite after their routine vaccinations. Dogs with terminal conditions may also refuse their normal diet as well as any specialist diets, and owners might need to change how they feed their pet to ensure that they get enough nutrition.
Because there are so many potential causes, it’s important that you observe your pet closely for signs of illness or behavioral problems. If you suspect your dog is unwell, always ask your vet for advice. Your vet will need to carry out a full physical exam of your pet, potentially including blood work and other medical tests.
So, how long can a dog go without eating? In short, healthy dogs can go for three to five days without a full meal. However, there are many factors to keep in mind, such as a dog’s activity levels, water intake, and their environment’s temperature. If a dog does not eat for more than 48 hours, however, they can struggle with hypoglycemia, which sometimes requires veterinary intervention.