How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating? 7 Main Reasons Why Your Dog Refuses to Eat
Situations when a dog is left without food isn’t always an owner’s fault. Animals might refuse to take food due to illness or severe stress. In any case, how long a dog can live without food depends primarily on his state of health. There are also a lot of other factors that can aggravate the situation and lead to the most unfortunate consequences.
Factors affecting the time your dog can spend without food
In general, it’s believed that a dog that has been adequately fed and watered can survive for 14 days if he stops eating, provided he drinks water. A healthy and moderately well-fed animal will survive a week at most on dry starvation. If, however, the diet has been poor for a long time, as a result of which the body is weakened and exhausted, the animal will survive for about 7 days without food, and no more than 4 days without water.
The factors that affect how many days a dog can live without food include:
- Lack or availability of water. Without drinking, the chances of survival are greatly reduced, as is the length of this period.
- Health status. A body weakened by illness will be much less able to maintain vitality than a healthy one.
- General body condition. If the body lacks sufficient vitamins, minerals, water and macronutrients its energy will quickly run out along with its ability to provide basic functions.
- Environmental conditions. In freezing temperatures, animals use a lot of energy to keep themselves warm, so they have less energy to survive and are more likely to die from hypothermia.
- Build and size. Large dogs are hardier and can go without food for much longer than small dogs.
Also, breed specs have a lot to do with how many days a dog can go without food. Service and hunting dogs that are used to deprivation can go longer without pronounced adverse health effects than small indoor dogs. A prime example of this would be wolves, which also belong to the canine family. When living in the wild, they can go without food for about three weeks without any problems.
Domestic animals have less stamina, although there are known cases when a dog spent almost 2 weeks without food and drink in an apartment and survived. But we can’t speak of complete dry starvation here, because the abandoned pet could find something to eat and drink. If water and food were completely absent, it would be impossible for the animal to survive for such a long period of time.
Consequences of food deprivation
Even if your dog survives a period of prolonged starvation and thirst, it won’t pass without a trace to your pet’s health. In the best-case scenario, irreversible changes will still occur in the body, resulting in dystrophy and digestive disorders. The first sign of these abnormalities is the failure of first the hind and then the front limbs. Only a qualified physician can help a dog in this condition, so he should be taken to a clinic as soon as possible. Pets in a critical condition are categorically not allowed to drink and eat.
Food deprivation can lead to many problems, such as:
- Protein-energy deficiency.
- Muscle weakness.
- Flabby skin.
- Decreased immunity.
- Exacerbation of chronic diseases.
- Hormonal imbalance.
- Decreased vascular tone, heart malfunction.
- Decreased blood pressure.
- In case of food deprivation, some dogs have a destructive behavior in the form of aggression.
And, of course, we must mention the worst of the consequences of starvation: death. Given the trouble that refusal to eat can cause, owners should always watch how often their pets eat.
Reasons why your dog refuses to eat
Now let’s understand why a dog may suddenly refuse to eat, even though his appetite has been excellent until now.
1. Digestive disorders
This problem involves not only refusal to eat but also liquid stools, vomiting, lethargy, and anxiety. Diarrhea is a dangerous condition that quickly leads to dehydration, so inaction isn’t a good strategy. If you see your dog not feeling well – see your vet as soon as possible.
Refusal to eat can be one of the symptoms of viral, parasitic diseases and diseases of internal organs. Unfortunately, sometimes the disease is almost invisible and can be detected only via medical examination.
3. Unsuitable food
Appetite can get worse due to changes in diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean a complete change of food. Maybe the food isn’t fresh enough or the dry food was stored in an open container and got bad. Or perhaps you offered your pupper a dish for lunch that he didn’t like, and he protested? Make sure that you offer him a well-balanced, appropriate quality food.
4. Improper diet
Diet isn’t just about the quality of the food but also the combination of foods, the volume and number of portions, and the timing of feedings. For example, if you are using a balanced dry food as the basis of your dog’s diet but you are feeding him food from the table, this is an irregular diet. Incorrect feeding causes your pet’s metabolism to deteriorate and it affects his eating habits.
Stress is a very common reason for not eating. It’s okay if your dog is overanxious about the move and emotionally skips dinner. But if he’s very anxious and skips a few meals, you need to address the problem.
Eliminate the cause of your pooch’s stress as soon as possible and see a veterinarian for a sedative for your pet. This will help bring him to his senses quickly and without negative effects on his body.
Intense exercise and an abundance of new information can also be reasons for temporary food refusal.
6. Medical procedures
Refusal to eat is a normal reaction to vaccines or injections, to drug treatment and during rehabilitation after surgery or therapy.
The main thing in this case is to monitor the condition of your pet together with the veterinarian. In short, keep a hand on the pulse.
7. Certain conditions: teething, growth spurts, shedding, heat, etc.
Appetite can vanish if your puppy is teething, has growth spurts, is shedding, is in heat or is preparing to give birth… It’s normal and nothing to worry about. His appetite will return to normal in time.
Some other reasons might include:
- As it often happens to us, your dog might be simply tired of eating the same food over and over again.
- Sometimes, your dog might try to manipulate you into giving him a tasty treat instead of his usual food.
- Your dog might refuse to eat if his bowl is standing in an inappropriate place.
- Many puppies don’t eat well in their first few days in their new home. Appetite problems tend to persist until the little dogs get used to their new homes and new owners.
- Hot weather might be another reason for the loss of the appetite.
How to make your dog eat again
If the loss of appetite is due to a medical condition, take your pet to the doctor as soon as possible. No valuable time should be wasted if the lack of appetite causes other dangerous symptoms: refusal to drink, high or low body temperature, nasal or eye bleeding, movement problems, vomiting and diarrhea (the vomit and stools may contain blood, pus or mucus), constipation and other signs of ill-health.
However, if the animal is not starving because of health problems, owners can try to take these steps:
- Make the outdoor walks long and active. As a rule, the dog’s appetite wakes up after some energetic exercise.
- During walks many owners treat their dogs with something tasty (say, meat biscuits). If they eat too much, they might understandably refuse to eat at home (or refuse to eat at all).
- Make sure there’s variety in your dog’s diet. There are owners who feed their pets the same things day in and day out. But why not introduce novelty to the pet’s menu. For example, your dog’s usual chicken at least 1-2 times a week can be replaced with beef or by-products. Instead of regular carrots, you can put pumpkin or zucchini in the bowl.
- Switch your pup to a different type of food. If your dog refuses to eat ready-to-eat food, it means he doesn’t like it. You can buy several small packages of different brands at the pet store, so you can choose the one the dog likes best.
- Your pet’s diet should be carefully studied. It’s highly desirable to eliminate the following foods that can cause harm: candies, chocolate, nuts, grapes, raw eggs, onions, milk, salt, as well as alcoholic drinks, coffee and tea, which are particularly harmful to the dog’s body.
- To make sure that your dog’s refusal to eat isn’t due to an illness, you should give him a treat. If the pooch is happy to eat the treat, then most likely he just doesn’t like his usual food.
- Sometimes, in order to arouse interest in food, the animal can be tricked. To do this, the owner should put food in the bowl in front of the dog and pretend that he really wants to eat it (sniff the food, say that it is probably delicious). There’s a chance that the pet won’t want to share its portion of food with the you.
- Salty food whets the appetite. And while you don’t want to give your dog too much salt, the occasional piece of dried fish may be enough to get him to eat.
- Feed a dog with a poor appetite alone and in a quiet place. It’s also important to pay attention to the bowl. First of all, it should be clean. Secondly, its size should correspond to the size of the dog. Thirdly, the bowl should be stable and not wiggle on the floor while your pet is eating.
Things you should never do
- Under no circumstances should you yell at the animal or hit it. Yelling and hitting your dog won’t help but will frighten him and this will only exacerbate the problem.
- Never try to force-feed your dog by shoving pieces of food into his mouth (unless it’s absolutely necessary and recommended by your vet).
- You shouldn’t leave uneaten food in the bowl in the hope that the dog will get hungry and eat it tomorrow or the next day. The animal will probably eat the food that is lying around and spoiled but it might lead to food poisoning.
Recommendations on dog food options
Today, there are two traditional ways to feed dogs. They are natural food and ready-made industrial food. If an owner is busy and doesn’t have the time to deal with preparing food for their dog and calculating all the components, buying ready-made food is a more acceptable option. Ready-made dog food makes it easy for you as it contains all the vitamins, minerals and supplements your dog needs. You only need to measure the necessary amount of food, carefully studying the instructions on the packaging. You should use premium food to be sure of its quality. Ready-made industrial dog food is a convenient option but might be expensive.
The second option of feeding is natural food. This is not leftovers from the owner’s table but food prepared especially for the dog. It should be rich in proteins because meat was the main form of nutrition of our pets’ ancestors. As they were domesticated, porridges, dairy products, and vegetables appeared in the dog’s diet.
Natural food is considered by many owners to be healthier, more natural and of higher quality. But cooking food for a dog is a troublesome chore.
So, in this case, the basis of the pet’s diet should be meat and by-products. It is extremely undesirable to give the dog pork. It’s the main source of worms. Meat like this must be frozen in the freezer for at least three days to kill the worm eggs, if there are any. The disadvantage of this kind of food is also that it’s quite greasy.
It would be better to choose beef, veal, poultry, rabbit, or lamb. As for by-products, it’s recommended to feed dogs hearts, liver, lungs, rumen, kidneys. Combine meat with cereals. Give preference to buckwheat, oatmeal and rice. Dogs have a hard time digesting cereals and millet. You can also combine meat with vegetables. They should be boiled, stewed or baked.
Be guided by your dog’s taste when choosing vegetables for him. Some pets love broccoli, zucchini, others enjoy eating stewed carrots or other stewed vegetables. The presence of potatoes in your dog’s menu is highly undesirable: it’s a heavy, hard-to-digest food.
What to do if my dog hasn’t eaten in three days?
Provided a dog has enough water to drink, he can live for 14-15 days without eating. But the fact that a dog hasn’t eaten for 2-3 days is already a cause for veterinary consultation, because anorexia is indicative of a problem. A great many diseases cause the dog to stop eating, hence the need to see a veterinarian to reach a diagnosis after examination and appropriate tests.
How long can a sick dog live without food?
Regarding how long a dog can go without food when he is sick, there are differences depending on the pathology and circumstances. Seriously ill dogs will often stop eating and, in addition, numerous illnesses will directly affect the digestive system, causing vomiting, diarrhea or pain. This prevents them from feeding normally, as they will vomit out whatever they swallow.
In these cases, your pet must be hospitalized. Usually, a sick dog that goes through treatment can go 48-72 hours without food. A veterinarian will choose an appropriate type of food for a recovering animal. This kind of food is very nutritious, tasty, and easy to dilute in case you have to feed your pooch out of a syringe.
If your dog still refuses to eat, you might consider tube feeding. When his health improves, you might notice that he has difficulty regaining his appetite.
Is it bad to leave your dog for a day without food?
When we see how many days a dog can live without food, we might think that it can safely go 24 hours without eating. But just because your dog will physically endure hunger for a day doesn’t mean that’s what you can safely do.
A dog refusing to eat because of certain discomfort and a dog deliberately left without food for a day aren’t the same thing. You must never do it to any dog, much less puppies or sick dogs, unless they are suffering from food poisoning and the vet recommends several hours of fasting. Dogs should eat once or several times a day.
How can you feed a dog that doesn’t want to eat?
To feed a sick dog, you can use an ordinary syringe without a needle filled with a nutritious mixture. Puppies can be fed using baby bottles with a teat. It’s important to know what to feed your sick pet, so be sure to consult your veterinarian about the therapeutic diet. The choice of diet depends on the age, condition and nature of the disease. Only a veterinarian can choose a therapeutic or preventive diet and determine its duration.
The food should be gentle and nutritious: meat broths, oatmeal, baby formula, soft cheese, raw or boiled eggs. Raw eggs should be given no more than twice a week. Remember that that some treatments require excluding high-calorie or high-protein foods from your dog’s diet. Food should be of liquid consistency, at room temperature. After filling the syringe with the mixture, calm your dog and open his mouth and insert the tip of the syringe into the corner of the mouth. Gradually, very slowly introduce the food. Also, don’t forget that your dog needs a large amount of water for recovery. Water or medicines are also injected into the mouth with a syringe, slowly and carefully.
Sick dogs are given lukewarm food of liquid consistency, in small portions. In case your dog eats natural food, it’s best to give him boiled chicken or veal ground into mince before feeding. Porridge should be well-cooked, preferably with some meat broth. If your pup’s diet consists of ready-made dry food or a veterinarian has prescribed a special therapeutic food, dry pellets should be soaked in warm broth or water before feeding.
The main rule that owners must adhere to when feeding sick or recovering animals is that the food must be gentle, digestible and nutritious.
Causes of refusal to eat can be divided into two groups: dangerous and non-dangerous.
The dangerous ones are when in addition to the refusal to eat, there are other symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, apathy or any other behavioral changes. In such cases, you need to see a veterinarian immediately. Delaying is dangerous!
Non-dangerous causes are when your dog is feeling well and when his behavior remains the same despite the fact his appetite dropped. In this case, you need to look at what exactly caused the refusal to eat. Maybe he doesn’t like the new food, or the new bowl smells like plastic? Or maybe he just struggles with the heat?
Keep an eye on your dog. If he’s healthy, he shouldn’t go through a hunger strike for more than a few days. Otherwise, rush him to the vet!