If you are reading this article you are probably worried about your beloved pet and wondering, how long can my dog go without eating before I need to panic?
There are few things as alarming and frustrating as a pet that will not eat.
If your dog is not eating, you are undoubtedly distressed. It is true that this can be a very serious situation. However, there might be a simple explanation.
Before you get too worked up, let’s take a closer look at why your dog might not be eating, what you can do to get your dog eating again, and when you should contact a medical professional.
Note- If your dog is acting abnormal, lethargic, or sick, contact a veterinarian right away.
Likewise, if your dog is experiencing diarrhea and/or vomiting, contact your vet immediately.
Similarly, if your dog has any kind of underlying medical condition (such as diabetes or cancer), do not wait, go to the vet right away.
The bottom line is, if your dog skipped one meal but otherwise seems happy and healthy, you probably do not need to panic right away. Although you should certainly keep a close eye on the situation.
If your dog has not eaten anything in a span of 48 hours, it’s definitely time to get the vet involved.
Technically, a dog can live 5 or 6 days without eating (as long as they are drinking water) but you should never let it go that far without taking your dog to the vet.
Does Size Matter?
Yes, small dogs and puppies are at greater risk of hypoglycemia than larger dogs.
Hypoglycemia is a condition in which a dog suffers from low blood sugar. It can cause symptoms such as lethargy and acting uncoordinated or “out of it.”
Hypoglycemia can be quite serious and can even lead to loss of consciousness or seizures if not addressed.
If you have a smaller dog or a puppy, you will want to be even more conservative and reach out to your vet even sooner if your pet is not eating.
Why Your Dog Might Not Be Eating
There are a number of reasons why your dog might not be eating very well. Let’s explore some of the reasons why your pet may be experiencing a decreased appetite.
Dogs often lose their appetites in times of stress.
For example, if you just brought home a new dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, do not be surprised if your new friend does not eat much for the first 24-48 hrs.
This is actually very common behavior and it is no reason to panic.
Most dogs get anxious in new environments. Your new dog has been through a major transition, and he is probably scared and confused.
You might see other signs of stress as well such as pacing, panting, whining, yawning, excessive scratching, excessive drinking, and difficultly settling down—especially at night.
These are all perfectly normal responses to a stressful situation.
Do not worry. Your new pet just needs time to adjust to a new place. It might help to provide a quiet space like a crate where they can decompress.
Try to establish a routine and offer small high-value rewards for calm, settled behavior.
For example, if your new dog sits or lies down on his dog bed (even for a second), praise him and toss him a high-value treat (like a bite-size piece of chicken).
Try to take your new pet out to the bathroom at regularly scheduled intervals. However, do not be alarmed if your new dog does not use the bathroom for the first day or two either—this is also a common response to being in a new home.
If your dog’s appetite does not return after 24-48 hours, give your vet’s office a call.
Likewise, even a longtime family dog might stop eating for a day or two if you move, go on vacation, or otherwise upset his routine.
Thunderstorms or fireworks can cause some dogs to get so nervous that they skip a meal.
As long as your dog is otherwise acting normal and healthy (and has no chronic health conditions like diabetes), there is no cause for immediate panic.
Keep an eye on the situation and contact your vet with any concerns.
If there has been no change to your daily routine, but your dog suddenly stops eating, your pet may be sick.
Just like with people, dogs sometimes eat something that disagrees with them or they come down with a mild virus. Generally, these are not too serious, and they resolve fairly quickly.
If your dog is otherwise acting happy and normal, you can observe them for 24 hours to see if their appetite returns (try some of the appetite inducing strategies later in the article).
However, a sudden lack of appetite can also be a warning sign of a serious illness. If you also observe any of the following symptoms, contact a vet immediately:
- Diarrhea (especially bloody diarrhea)
- Fever (hot to the touch)
- Pale gums
- Acting abnormal in any way
One of the most serious and deadly canine diseases is called Parvovirus.
Lack of appetite can be a warning sign of Parvo.
Other symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and lethargy.
Parvo is most common in puppies, young dogs, or adult dogs with no prior vaccine history.
If your adult dog has received yearly vaccines for its entire life, it is highly unlikely to contract Parvovirus.
If you think your new puppy might have Parvo, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Parvo can be lethal, but many puppies survive as long as they receive veterinary intervention promptly. The puppy will need hospitalization, fluids and supportive care.
Make sure to get your dog vaccinated for Parvovirus on a yearly basis to protect your pet from this terrible disease.
Another reasons that your dog might stop eating is because of dental discomfort.
This issue is especially common in older animals.
If your dog is refusing crunchy foods, but accepting soft foods, it might be because of dental disease.
Other symptoms of dental disease are:
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
If you see any of these signs, make an appointment with your vet so that your dog can be assessed for dental disease.
If the dental disease is severe, your pet will probably need a surgical procedure under anesthesia to remove infected teeth.
You can help prevent dental disease by brushing your dog’s teeth regularly and providing dental treats, chews and toys throughout your dog’s life.
What to Do If Your Dog Stops Eating
If your dog stops eating, here are some things that you can try to get their appetite back on track.
Make Their Food More Tempting
You might need to spice up their dog kibble to make it more palatable.
Try mixing in some plain white boiled rice. Plain white rice is tasty and also gentle on the stomach, so it is perfect for a dog that has a mild GI upset.
You could also try drizzling a little warm chicken broth over the food or mixing in about a tablespoon of canned dog food.
If you do not have any of these items, simply try heating up the food by soaking it in warm water.
Try offering your dog their favorite type of dog treat. Even though treats are not as nutritious as regular dog food, they might help kick-start your dog’s appetite.
If your dog takes a few treats, try offering his regular food again.
If you do not have any dog treats in your pantry, you can try a small amount of human food such as turkey or cheese.
If you have a cat, you could try offering your dog some of your cat’s food.
Cat food is hard for most dogs to resist!
Your dog might need a little coaxing and encouragement.
Try feeding your dog a few small mouthfuls by hand.
Praise him and pet him for taking a few bites.
You could also try placing a small amount of food on the floor near your pet or on your pet’s bed if your dog is lying down.
Try a Different Brand
It is possible that your dog is picky and simply does not like his brand of dog food.
You can try buying a small bag of a different brand and offering about a tablespoon of the new brand.
If your dog seems to like it, you can gradually transition your dog to the new food.
However, try to avoid switching dog food brands too often or too quickly because this can cause your dog to have an upset stomach.
Call the Vet
If your dog’s appetite is not improving or you feel your pet might be sick, do not hesitate to call your veterinarian at any point.
Your vet will have even more options at their disposal.
For example, your vet might want to give your dog fluids or prescribe a medication to reduce nausea or stimulate the appetite.
There are also certain prescription foods that are extremely high in calories and fat. Your vet might want to try one of these prescription diets.
What is “Normal?”
It is important to know what is normal for your dog so that you will know when something is abnormal.
How Often Should a Normal Dog Eat?
Normal amount of food intake depends on the dog’s age and size.
For example, it is ideal for puppies to eat at least three times per day—breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Once a dog is over a year old, it is ok to cut their meals back to twice per day—breakfast and dinner.
Feeding a dog only one large meal per day is not recommended for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is a medical condition called Bloat.
The Risk of Bloat
Bloat occurs when the stomach rotates, and gas gets trapped inside the twisted stomach. Bloat is painful and deadly. If a dog is suffering from Bloat, it will need an immediate surgical procedure.
Bloat is most common in large breed dogs such as Great Danes, St. Bernards and Weimaraners.
However, studies show that the risk of Bloat greatly decreases if the dog is fed two or more meals per day.
The chance of Bloat increases when the dog is fed only one large meal per day.
This is just one of the many reasons that veterinarians recommend feeding your dog at least two meals per day.
How Much Should a Normal Dog Eat?
A dog’s ideal caloric intake will depend on age, size, breed and energy level.
Your veterinarian can help you calculate the ideal amount for your dog to be eating on a daily basis.
Most commercial dog foods provide a feeding chart on the back of the bag or the back of the can for a guideline.
However, it is not unusual for a healthy dog to do just fine with a smaller portion than what the dog food company recommends.
According to a study in 2018, over 50% of the dogs in the United States are considered overweight.
Just like with people, overfeeding can lead to a lot of health problems such as:
- Heart Disease
- Mobility issues
You can use the back of the bag as a guideline but confirm the portion with your vet to make sure you are feeding the right amount.
When in Doubt, Call the Vet
We hope that this article has been helpful in demystifying some of the reasons why your pet may not be eating normally.
However, please do not use this article (or any internet research) in place of a visit to the vet.
If you have any concerns about the health of your animal, please contact a licensed veterinary professional.