This Is How Long Your Dog Can Go without Eating, and When It’s Dangerous

Written by Peter Pchemut
Updated: November 5, 2022
© foxhound photos/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Healthy, adult dogs can go three days without food. If they are very young, old or have an underlying health issue, call your vet after 24 hours of no eating.
  • Very young puppies should not go without food for more than 12 hours. They can become dangerously hypoglycemic, especially small-breed puppies.
  • Healthy dogs will not starve themselves so if your pup is just being picky, it is OK to let them skip meals until they get hungry.

How long can your dog go without food if he loses his appetite? If he feels sick and can’t eat? You need to know how long your dog can go without eating so you can better assess when to take him to the vet.

How long can a dog go without eating? Learn how long your pup can safely go without eating, common reasons why he isn’t eating, and how to get him to eat.

How Long a Dog Can Go without Eating?

Most healthy dogs can go three days without eating and still be okay – with the exception of small breed puppies, who are prone to hypoglycemia. Many can even last five days. This is assuming that they are still drinking water. If your dog is not healthy, he can likely handle three days without food at the most.

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While that is a general guideline, keep in mind that every dog is different. If your dog isn’t as healthy or his metabolism is different, he may not be able to handle as long of a stretch without food.

Obesity in dogs has become a major problem in the US, mostly due to overfeeding and lack of exercise. If your dog is overweight, then missing some meals could be the best thing for him. Before panicking about a skipped dinner, think about what the dog has eaten in the past 24 hours. Did he get a lot of treats? Is she getting human food as well as dog food? How much food are you feeding? Make sure you know what an appropriate diet is for your dog so you can judge whether the dog is really not eating or just not hungry.

The issue is that in many cases, your dog not eating is actually a symptom of something else. Because of this, you don’t want to wait days to take your pooch to the vet if he isn’t eating. Of course, the other reason not to wait days is that, as mentioned, every dog is different. Your canine may not be able to last three days without food.

Don’t Stress Over a Single Missed Meal

If your dog skips a single meal, don’t stress. Wait to worry about your pooch until he shows other concerning symptoms or has gone longer without eating.

The Exception – Sick Dogs or Small-Breed Puppies

We mentioned that sick dogs can’t go as long as healthy ones without food. The other major exception is small-breed puppies. They can develop life-threatening hypoglycemia in just 12 hours without food. This comes from the fact that their bodies, including their regulatory mechanisms, aren’t fully developed yet.

How Long Can Dogs Go without Water?

If your dog isn’t drinking, this is a cause for more concern than if he isn’t eating. By just 24 hours without water, your pooch will likely have significant dehydration symptoms.

When to Contact the Vet About Your Dog Not Eating

At the latest, contact your vet if your dog goes 48 hours without eating anything. You should also contact the vet within 24 hours if your dog hasn’t had anything to drink.

But only wait those 48 hours if your dog isn’t showing any other worrying symptoms. Look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Gagging
  • Wheezing

If you notice any of those symptoms along with a lack of eating, contact your vet right away.

What to Expect at the Vet

At your vet appointment, expect him to give your dog a thorough physical examination. He will want to ensure that your dog isn’t showing serious signs of lack of nutrients or any symptoms of dehydration. The physical exam will also help your vet determine why your pup isn’t eating.

If your vet doesn’t find a likely cause from a physical examination, expect him to suggest other tests for your dog. He may also suggest these tests to confirm a suspected diagnosis based on the physical exam. Some potential tests include X-rays to rule out pain or injuries, urinalysis, and blood tests.

Common Reasons Why Your Dog Isn’t Eating

When you take your dog to the vet, one of the first things he’ll do after evaluating your pooch is to try to figure out why he isn’t eating. You can also check some of these potential issues at home as soon as you notice your dog refusing food.

The reasons for your pup’s seeming loss of appetite will usually fall into one of three categories:

  • He has a medical issue, such as an infection, gingivitis, or upset stomach.
  • He has a cognitive issue, such as anxiety or depression.
  • He is just being extremely picky.
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Common Medical Issues

Loss of appetite is a common symptom of various medical conditions. This is part of why it is so important to be on the lookout for other symptoms and visit your vet if your dog isn’t eating. The following are some of the common medical conditions that can lead to loss of appetite:

  • Upset stomach
  • Viral infection
  • Allergies
  • Infection
  • Pain from wounds
  • Pain from arthritis
  • Neck pain
  • Dental issues, including gingivitis, oral tumors, or tooth root abscesses
  • TMJ pain
  • Esophagitis (esophagus inflammation)
  • Enteritis (intestinal inflammation)
  • Gastritis (stomach inflammation)
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Nausea
  • Parasites
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Organ failure
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Cancer

You’ll notice that the list of potential medical conditions ranges from minor, like an upset stomach, to serious, like cancer or organ failure. The potential range is why it is so crucial to consult your vet quickly. The sooner you diagnose and treat the problem, the sooner your pup will be on the road to recovery. Or, if it is a serious condition, a faster diagnosis improves your dog’s chances of surviving.

Medication Side Effects

If your dog takes any medications, look at their potential side effects. Loss of appetite is a common potential one. You may also have to give the medication in a certain way to prevent loss of appetite, such as either on an empty or full stomach.

Depression

As mentioned, depression is one of the cognitive conditions that can cause your dog to stop eating. If you suspect your pup is depressed, be on the lookout for other symptoms. Depressed dogs are not as active or playful. They may also have changes to their sleeping schedule, potentially leading to irritability. Depressed dogs may also seem indifferent to things that they previously enjoyed. This can include everything from activities to toys to foods.

If your dog has these symptoms, your vet will likely ask about your lifestyle and recent changes. He will also rule out medical conditions that can have similar symptoms. After diagnosis, your vet can recommend some treatments, potentially including medication, for your pup.

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Anxiety

Anxiety is the other big cognitive issue that can lead to a lack of appetite. Some of the most common signs of anxiety include:

  • Hiding
  • Trembling
  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Aggression
  • Constantly running away (or trying)
  • Not wanting to go outside (or panicking when outside)
  • Tucking the tail between the legs
  • Aversion to touch

As with depression, your vet will diagnose the anxiety and then come up with a treatment method. It can include medication as well as lifestyle changes, such as spending extra time with your dog. Your vet will also likely recommend giving your pup a quiet space away from others and loud sounds. Or he may suggest socializing your dog if he was never properly socialized.

How to Get Your Dog to Eat

The very first step to getting your dog to eat is figuring out why he isn’t eating. Then, you can treat the underlying problem and improve your pup’s appetite. While you figure out the cause and address that problem, you can also try the following. Some of these will also be good solutions for some specific causes of your dog not eating, such as pickiness.

Try Hand-Feeding

Some dogs won’t feel healthy enough to eat from their bowl but will eat a little with some gentle encouragement. Try hand-feeding your pup bit by bit. This may make eating easier for him or provide comfort. The ideal scenario is that you hand-feed your pup a few pieces of kibble, and that encourages him to finish his bowl himself. But even if you hand-feed him the entire serving, at least he ate.

Change His Food

If your dog isn’t eating, you can try tempting him with one of the best foods for picky eaters. It may just be that your pooch doesn’t like what you have to offer him. Try another brand or flavor.

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Tempt Him with a Treat

You can also try to get your dog to eat by adding something delicious to his food, such as peanut butter or chicken broth. You can also add another tempting dog-safe human food to his kibble. Good options include canned pumpkin (ensure it is just pumpkin without any additives), skinless chicken, and rice.

Or just give him a few dog treats, so he has at least something in his tummy.

Heat His Food

You may not realize it, but just heating up your dog’s kibble or wet food can increase its smell and overall palatability. The stronger, more fragrant smell may tempt your dog to take a bite. Then, the improved taste will encourage him to continue eating.

Appetite Stimulants

Depending on what your vet finds from his examination and testing, he may prescribe your dog an appetite stimulant. Or he may suggest specific foods to tempt him.

Let Him Eat Grass

It may seem odd to let your dog eat grass if he doesn’t eat his kibble, but it makes sense. Eating grass can cause your dog to vomit, which can relieve gastrointestinal distress. But there are some important caveats. First, ensure your dog stays hydrated. And if your dog vomits more than two times, bring him to the vet.

Conclusion

How long can dogs go without food? Most domestic canines can go between three and five days without eating, assuming they are still drinking water and are otherwise healthy. However, you want to consult the vet after 48 hours or if your dog starts to show other symptoms. The best way to get your pooch to eat will depend on the cause but can include changing his food or offering him some treats.

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The Featured Image

A corgi lying on a tile floor
Don't panic if your dog refuses to eat a single meal.
© foxhound photos/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer and editor with over 10 years of experience. I'm a proud dog owner; we often go on hikes and adventures in the mountains to appreciate nature. I relish writing articles on pets that are informative and entertaining. Moreover, I enjoy traveling, reading, and writing for fun when I'm not working.

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