Last Updated on May 21, 2021 by adrienne hardwick
Some dogs are ravenous every meal (Labradors, am I right?) and others might choose to go a day without eating (mine does this). While skipping a day is nothing to be concerned about, it is important to ensure that your pooch doesn’t go too long without food.
Five to seven days is how long a dog can go without eating, although three to five days is already a pretty big risk. If your dog is in poor health, they may feel the effects of not eating even sooner, and the same goes for younger dogs and puppies.
It is important that you keep an eye on your dog’s eating habits, stay in contact with your vet, and try to encourage them to eat when they go off their food. Let us help you through some of the trickier questions you might have.
How Long Can a Healthy Dog Go Without Eating?
A healthy dog can go an easy five days without food as long as they are still drinking plenty of water. Many can last seven, but you should never let this amount of time pass before taking them to the vet. After three days, it is time to make an appointment.
An unhealthy dog is going to be in a bad way by the time you reach day five, and three days is really the furthest they should go. If they are not drinking water, an unhealthy dog may not make it three days. In these cases, take them to the vet if they refuse food on the second morning.
What You Should Do if Your Dog Suddenly Stop Eating?
If your dog goes 24-hours without eating and then gets back into their food, there is nothing to worry about. However, if it has been over 24-hours, that’s when you should start being concerned. We all know how much our dogs eat, and changes are not always a good thing.
If your dog suddenly stops eating, see if you can entice them with some wet food. If they eat the wet food, this is a good sign, but you will want to keep an eye on them for any changes in their behaviour or health. Give your vet a call so that they are aware of the situation as well.
You can also try giving them cooked chicken in chicken broth with rice, this is usually an enticing meal and makes a change from dog food. However, it cannot be used as a replacement for their regular diet and so you may need to speak to your vet if they don’t go back to their normal food.
If your dog has eaten nothing or very little after 24-hours, take them to the vet and have them checked over. You will want to ensure that it is not a more serious condition like the ones in the next section. If it is, your vet will be able to help you plan care for them so that they recover.
When Your Dog is Sick
When your dog is suffering from a standard stomach bug, 24-hours without food tends to be the norm and can help them recover (we have a whole guide on it). However, no two illnesses are the same and there are some situations you need to keep a close eye on.
When Your Dog is Diagnosed with Parvo
Parvo is incredibly dangerous, especially in puppies where it can be fatal quickly if it’s not caught right at the beginning. The biggest risk that comes with parvo is dehydration, and this is part of why so many puppies that contract it will, unfortunately, die.
The first sign of this illness is your puppy going off their food and water, so if you notice that they have stopped eating take them to the vet immediately – DON’T wait for 24-hours. Puppies should not be starved unless advised by a vet because they are growing and developing.
A dog with parvo should NOT be fed because it can make them worse, and this is why it is essential that you let your vet treat them and take care of them while they recover.
When Your Dog Has Pancreatitis
This condition is fairly common in dogs, namely overweight ones who have a diet that is high in fat (or dogs that sneak an entire bag of cat food, yes that happened). It happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed and forces enzymes out into other parts of the body.
These enzymes then cause the fats and proteins in the body to break down in both the pancreas and other organs. The treatment? You have to let the pancreas rest and recover, which tends to mean no food or water for 24-hours after diagnosis.
This is because it stops the digestive enzymes from being produced and sent around the body as they can damage other internal organs. In some cases, IV fluids may be given in order to create a better balance between the electrolytes and fluids.
If they have improved after 24-hours, they should be able to start eating bland foods. However, it is important to follow up with your vet and take your dog in for an examination to make sure everything is running smoothly.
We have also created a list of all the best dog foods for dogs that are suffering from pancreatitis, be sure to check it out here.
After Your Dog Had a Surgery
It is perfectly normal for your dog to be uninterested in food and water after surgery. They are tired and groggy, and they would rather just sleep it off for a few hours. They do need to eat after surgery to stay strong and get all their nutrients, but it’s fine if they wait until the next day.
If they have gone for more than 24-hours without eating anything after their surgery, that’s when you should reach out to your vet for more advice. They are likely just feeling under the weather, but it could also be a sign of complications so stay safe.
Why Won’t My Dog Eat?
There are a few reasons why your dog might be going off their food. Just try not to panic too much because if they sense you are stressed it could put them off their food even more. Here are some common causes for you to consider.
#1 Medical Conditions
There are so many different medical conditions that can cause your dog to go off their food, too many to list. However, some of the most common are:
- Upset stomach
- Pain due to wounds or arthritis
- Gingivitis or other dental issues
- Autoimmune diseases
- Serious conditions like cancer, diabetes, organ failure, etc
This is why it is important to speak to your vet as soon as possible when you notice that your dog has gone off their food. Your vet will be able to check them over and ensure they are not suffering from any of these conditions.
#2 Mental Conditions
If your dog is stressed, they may suffer from a lack of appetite. Just like humans, dogs also have mental health, and if it is in poor condition you might find that they just aren’t interested in their food.
Similarly, it could be caused by a neurological condition and so it is important you have your dog checked over fully when they see the vet. Furthermore, if you have just moved house or there has been a drastic change to their routine, your dog will likely go off their food.
Something you can do is use a food bowl from your previous home to try and coax them into eating in their new environment. For changes in routine, it is important to stay calm and reassure them so that they feel comfortable and get back into the swing of things.
Dogs can get depressed, especially if another pet in the home has recently passed away or they have lost an owner. Dogs in rescue centres also tend to exhibit depression because they have lost their family. This can cause them to stop eating.
There are medications that can help your dog through their depression if it is severe, and there are other symptoms you can look out for. These are:
- No longer as playful as they used to be, withdrawn and generally sad
- Drastic changes to sleeping schedule, sleeping all day or not sleeping at all
- No longer interested in the things that they used to enjoy
Anxious dogs can be quite volatile, especially as anxiety is driven by fear instincts. You may notice these changes to their behaviour:
- Tucking their tail between their legs
- Trying to run away constantly
- Inability to go outside without panicking
- Don’t want to be touched
Anxiety can cause a dog to lose their appetite because they are so on-edge they cannot even think about eating. Furthermore, it may make them feel nauseous and if they do eat you might notice they throw it back up later on.
In very severe cases, your vet can give your dog medication to help their anxiety. However, there are a few things that you can do to help ease their minds:
- Spend more time with them, anxiety can come from being separated from you too often
- Give them a quiet space away from loud noises and other people to just relax
- Socialise them with other animals and people in a safe and controlled environment
There are times when dogs are just picky and that’s all there is to it. You might have to go through 20 different foods before you find the right one, but once you do make sure you stick with it. They might have a more sensitive palette or that’s just the way they are.
Sometimes, switching from kibble to raw food can be a game-changer for picky dogs. It gets them excited for mealtimes and offers them a diet that is both balanced and nutritionally sound. Plenty of places also do sample packs so that you can try before you buy.
Many dogs don’t really enjoy kibble, and I can’t blame them. If you don’t want to go with raw, you can try mixing kibble and wet food together to create a dish that is more interesting for them. You might find that does the trick even for the really picky eaters.
You will need to be really patient with them, but don’t try and force them to eat something they don’t want. Not every dog will eat when they are starving, and it is not unheard of for a dog to starve themselves to death over a food they don’t like.
It’s also important to keep your hydrated, so be sure to know how much water your dog should drink, check out our guide.
What happens if a dog doesn’t eat for a day?
Nothing happens if a dog doesn’t eat for a day. They might get a rumbly stomach, and some may throw up clear liquid or bile because they are hungry. However, some dogs choose not to eat for a day because they simply don’t feel like it. One day is nothing to worry about.
Can a dog die from not eating?
Definitely, a dog can die from not eating. Just like people, dogs need food in order to live. Without it, they will starve to death. While this takes longer than dehydration, five to seven days without food, the effects of starvation on a surviving dog can be life-changing.
There you have it, everything you could possibly need to know about why your dog isn’t eating and how you can help. It’s not ideal for them to go without food for more than a day, and it’s essential that you keep a close eye on their food intake. If you’re worried, call the vet.
If you found this guide helpful and would like to know more about caring for your dog, why not check out our series of canine care guides? We cover everything from health and wellness to dietary requirements and behaviour. Written by the experts to help you be a better dog owner.
For over a decade, Adrienne has been a freelance content writer and blogger who’s passion lies in anything related to dogs. Growing up, dogs were a very important part of family life in the Hardwick household. Now, Adrienne is the proud parent to two Swedish Vallhunds called Moose and Pumpkin.