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How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating?

Is your favorite floof off their food? Does your canine companion curl their nose up at their cuisine? Never fear, for here are the answers to the questions you’re dying to ask about your dog not eating their dinner.

It can be one of those common dog behaviors that mystify us. It can also be totally benign just as easily as it can be a sign that something is up with Fido. 

So just how long can a dog go without eating? Here’s the scoop on all you need to know. 


Image by Matty Coulton from Pixabay

How Many Days Can a Dog Go Without Eating?

When it comes to food and water intake, dehydration is always a bigger risk than starvation. A lack of water will start a significant health decline after only one day. If your pet is otherwise healthy and is still drinking plenty of water, though, they can go three to five days without a morsel of food and still be relatively alright. 

This is a generalization, however. How long they can comfortably tolerate a lack of nutrition depends on your dog, their health, and their metabolism. Some dogs may start to show symptoms within a shorter time frame, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or age isn’t on their side. For example, some small-breed puppies can be at risk of life-threatening hypoglycemia if they don’t eat within a single 12-hour period. 

This is extreme only because their regulatory mechanisms are still developing. So yes, a three to five-day period can be tolerated fairly well, but every dog will have a different length of time before a lack of food becomes intolerable.    

12 Reasons for Dogs to Go Without Eating

It’s not always a simple lack of appetite. It turns out there are many reasons why your dog may not want to dive into their delicious dishes.

Here are some of the most common reasons. 


Image by Adriana Morales from Pixabay

1. They’re Fussy Eaters

Yup, sometimes your pooch is just being a prima donna. They might develop a taste for steak and turn their nose up at chicken, or vice versa. Perhaps they just like to eat on their own terms and not whenever their food is plonked down before them. 

Either way, it’s nothing to be concerned over, and a change in food might encourage them to chow down. 

2. They Have an Allergy

It’s possible your pet is simply allergic to something that dominates its diet, causing them to feel ill. If you have a food intolerance yourself, you’ll understand exactly how unpleasant it can be when you eat the wrong thing. 

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You can try switching up the main protein in their food and see if they start eating again. If you really want to pinpoint it, you can try an at-home allergy test kit to identify anything that might be upsetting your dog’s stomach.

3. They’re Depressed

Your furry friend can also get the blues, and lose interest in their food as a result. Usually, they’ll also become less playful and active if this is the case, and their sleep schedule will change. 

It’s a cognitive condition rather than a medical issue and is often caused by changes in your dog’s life or environment. Never fear, for it can be treated with medication if necessary. 

4. They’re Anxious

An anxious dog can inadvertently become an anorexic dog as stress levels can cause a decided drop in appetite. Anxiety manifests with other symptoms as well, though, such as hiding, trembling, aggression, barking, aversion to touch, and fear of the outdoors. 

Your vet will help ascertain whether this is the cause of your dog’s reluctance to eat and help you come up with a treatment plan. It might involve medication or lifestyle changes, and likely creating a safe space for your best friend that’s far from loud noises or other antagonistic factors. 

They may even recommend socialization classes if they weren’t properly socialized as a pup.  


Image by Mat Coulton from Pixabay

5. There’s Too Much Time Between Meals

When doggos get very hungry, bile builds up in their stomachs and can leave them feeling quite sick, making them disinclined to tuck into their breakfast. 

Dog owners know the familiar procedure of waking up to the sound of retching only to be met with a puddle of yellow foam, compliments of their dog’s empty tummy. Giving them a treat or two before bedtime helps bridge the gap between dinner and breakfast. 

You could also set up an automatic treat dispenser so they can help themselves when they get peckish—it’ll save you some mess and them some unpleasant nausea. 

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6. They Have an Upset Stomach

It happens to the best of humans, too—a random episode of diarrhea, or a gurgling stomach that is unsettled and nauseous. The thing is, dogs are prone to these bouts of non-specific symptoms, too. 

Sometimes they eat something that doesn’t agree with them or drink some questionable water, but after a missed meal or two they feel right as rain. This is because fasting gives relief to the digestive system for dogs and resets it, so you may find they perk up after a little break from daily dining.  

7. They Have Parasites

As gross as it is, worms and ticks can make your dog quite sick if left untreated. Your vet can typically help you out, and deworming pills are extremely effective. You can also take preventative measures and give them a flea and tick collar, especially if you love to take them for walkies in the forests and fields.  

8. Dental Issues Could Be the Cause

Gingivitis, root abscesses, oral traumas, and oral tumors—these are just some of the reasons your dog might be reluctant to eat their food. Every mouthful might be a terrible pain to endure, so they stop eating altogether to avoid it. 

Luckily, a trip to the vet for an evaluation should sort Fido out in no time, whether that means some dental surgery or a teeth cleaning. To help prevent issues like gingivitis and toothaches from arising, you can give your dog some dental chew toys to help keep the plaque off their teeth. 


Image by Real Natures Food from Unsplash

9. They Might Be in Pain

Pain can be a distraction big enough to warrant a lack of appetite. Some pain makes you downright nauseous if it’s intense enough. It could be pain from a wound, or arthritis, or a pain in the neck that prevents them from being comfortable enough to bow their heads and eat. A vet work-up is necessary to determine the source. 

10. They Might Be Sick

This is a broad one and almost goes without saying. There are many medical illnesses that can stop a dog from eating, from standard enteritis or gastritis to something more serious like diabetes, autoimmune disease, or hypothyroidism. 

Yes, those are a lot of big medical terms and they can sound scary, but these conditions are typically accompanied by other symptoms which you should tell your vet about. Enteritis and gastritis are fairly easy to deal with as they’re essentially inflammation of the stomach or intestines, but the others are a different story. 

Only your vet can help you here, but rest assured that these conditions can be managed with proper care, medication, and potential lifestyle changes for your pupper.  


11. Perhaps it’s an Intestinal Blockage

If your sweet floof hasn’t been going potty, odds are they might have a blockage. When this happens, food and waste can’t move through the digestive tract properly, so it backs up. Your dog will stop eating then as there’s literally no more space for the food to go. 

If they do manage to eat, they’ll usually bring it up pretty soon anyway. This is a life-threatening condition, so vet intervention is necessary as soon as possible. 

12. They Might Be in Organ Failure

One of the signs that your dearly loved pet is getting ready for the rainbow bridge is a complete lack of appetite. They’ll stop eating—and usually stop drinking, too—as their organs start to slowly shut down in the lead-up to the ultimate sleep. 

It’s heartbreaking to watch, but if you suspect this is the reason your best friend is avoiding even the tastiest foods, talk to your vet and make the best decision you can for them. 

dog-food-bowl how long can a dog go without eating

Image by Kalhh from Pixabay

What Should I Do If My Dog Isn’t Eating?

Your first choice is to try and entice your pooch with something that you know will appeal to their taste buds and overwhelm the reason they didn’t want to eat in the first place. Whether it’s a can of stewed dog food or some boiled chicken breast, whatever your pet deems the tastiest bite will suffice. 

Even heating up their normal food can increase its smell and palatability. Just avoid meats and foods high in fats and sugar, as they may have the inverse result of making your dog sick. Hand-feeding sometimes works better as it provides comfort from your touch. 

The idea is to get them to eat a little out of your hand and then encourage them to eat the rest out of their bowl. Even this can fail, though. If they won’t take solids, even some chicken or beef broth (dog-friendly, of course) added to water will hopefully get their appetite going and supply some much-needed vitamins

sick brown dog

When Should I Worry That My Dog Isn’t Eating?

If even their favorite food can’t overcome their lack of appetite and it’s been 48 hours or more since they last ate, it’s time for a vet visit. Especially if they’re showing any other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or weakness. 

Seeing as there are so many potential reasons for a lack of food intake, your vet will be thorough and start with your dog’s medical history. That’s the first step in ruling out potential triggers for a hunger strike. 

Next up is a physical exam to check for signs of a medical condition that might be responsible. If nothing presents as the obvious reason, your vet will likely recommend some lab tests. These might be blood tests, x-rays, or urinalysis, amongst others, to rule out sources of pain or infection. 

If your vet can identify the reason for your pupper’s refusal to eat, they may recommend a medically-based diet or medication depending on the cause. Anything from a simple anti-nausea shot to an appetite stimulant or anti-inflammatory can help encourage your favorite pooch to get back on its feet.

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Final Thoughts on How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating

The bottom line is to not stress if Fido misses a meal or two. Humans skip breakfast and think nothing of it, so they won’t be any worse for the wear either. When a single missed meal becomes multiple missed meals, it’s time for a vet trip just to be sure you’re not missing an important sign from your buddy that they’re not alright. 

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Is your dog pacing and you don’t know why? Read this article to learn more about this behavior and what it means.

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