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How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating or Drinking?

By Aviram K.
May 15, 2021
5 min read
How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating or Drinking?
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

You’ve taken the time to lovingly prepare your dog’s meal and have just placed it on the ground before him.

Instead of seeing a hungry dog chow down, you’re met with a blank stare. He won’t eat.

Eating is one of the most basic, primal, and enjoyable activities…so what’s going on?

Any disruptions in your dog’s eating patterns can propel you to go searching for answers. You need to know if it’s okay for your dog to be refusing meals like this!

How long can your dog go on like this?

Healthy dogs can typically survive 1-2 weeks without food and 4-5 days without water. However, going this long without food or water is life-threatening. Take your dog to the vet immediately if he has not eaten in 1 or 2 days or has not had water in the last 24 hours.

In this article, I will explore what it means when your dog refuses to eat.

That includes more details on how long dogs can go without eating or drinking before they die and the reasons why a dog may or may not eat or drink.

I will also let you know when to worry about it, and what you should do in that case.

Let’s begin.

How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating or Drinking Before Dying?

As I previously mentioned, healthy dogs can survive 1-2 weeks without food and 4-5 days without water. However, this is more accurate for healthy and strong dogs that appear to be refusing food or water due to behavioral reasons.

How long a dog can truly go without eating or drinking can depend on the dog’s size, breed, health, activity level, and environmental conditions like temperature and sun exposure.

Also, if the dog has any medical problems this can make the situation direr. If your dog is fighting illness and has a fever, they need even more calories if they won’t eat.

Water intake is much more critical and urgent than food intake. If your dog has gone long without water, they may get dehydrated and need urgent medical care.

The signs of dehydration can be life-threatening and may include:

  • sticky, dry gums
  • a dull and depressed appearance
  • tiredness
  • dry, sunken eyes and more

If your dog is showing these signs, please, rush him to the vet. It could save his life.

Will a Dog Starve Itself to Death?

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It is unlikely that a dog can starve themselves to death. It’s doubtful they can do this, whether intentionally or unintentionally because dogs don’t have a fully realized concept of what death is.

Dogs feel hungry if they don’t eat, and they feel full when they do eat. They don’t comprehend the cause and effect that if they stop eating forever that they will die.

Like humans, dogs usually don’t eat when they don’t feel well. A sick dog is not intentionally trying to starve themselves to death.

Also, an attuned owner will usually figure out the problem before it leads to death.

Tragic events can happen, but more often than not, your dog would not be able to stop eating for an extended period of time before you notice and take charge.

An attentive owner can often see when something is off and do all they can to help their dog. Due to this, it is unlikely that a dog will not eat for long enough to actually starve themselves to death.

Why Won’t Your Dog Eat or Drink?

There can be many reasons a dog won’t eat or drink. A few of the most common ones are:

Sickness

This is similar to how humans may not have an appetite if they are under the weather. If no other symptoms accompany the lack of appetite, it’s advisable to watch the situation, and it will usually resolve on its own.

If vomiting or diarrhea is present, it is best to take your dog to the vet within 8-12 hours.

You Are Away

Since dogs are pack animals, they may wait for their pack leader (you) to be present for them to eat.

This may make things tricky if you can’t trust them to eat when you’re not around, but it doesn’t mean there’s an underlying problem.

Preference to Eat at a Particular Time of Day

Like some people aren’t “breakfast people” and have their own eating preferences, dogs can have eating preferences, too. Sometimes dogs like to eat at a specific time of day.

Reaction to a Medication

Certain medicines can upset your dog’s stomach and throw off your dog’s appetite. Common offenders include chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

Food Preferences or Expired Food

A dog can pick up even a slight change to their regular food’s ingredients. It can be good to rotate their food from time to time, so they don’t get too attached to any exact formula.

Food that has expired and tastes stale can also cause a dog to turn their nose up.

Emotional Problems

A recent move, change in routine, or death in the family may cause your dog to lose their appetite. They are quite like us in this way and can feel off when something isn’t quite right.

Is My Dog Trying to Be Bratty by Not Eating?

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It can feel that way sometimes, especially if there seems to be nothing wrong with them.

Your dog may be a fussy eater and could have figured out that they end up getting more attention and better food if they refuse to eat.

If your dog has realized that not eating gets them extra care and better-tasting human food, they may not be eating in anticipation of these benefits.

When Should You Worry About Your Dog Not Eating or Drinking?

If your dog has skipped a meal or two, it’s usually no reason to worry.

Since the causes can vary so much, there’s no need to panic right off the bat.

If your dog has gone a couple of days without eating or drinking and is showing other abnormal behaviors or physical symptoms, it may be time to take them to the vet.

What Should You Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Eat or Drink?

You can encourage your dog to eat by giving them bland foods like plain white rice and unseasoned chicken. You can also try bone-broth, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and meat-based baby food.

If you don’t see a change in their appetite after a couple of days, it may be time to bring them to the vet.

How to Feed a Sick Dog

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It’s best to try the foods mentioned above to get your dog to eat again. Although it may be tempting, it is best not to try to force a sick dog to eat on your own. Your vet may actually recommend force-feeding but only under their supervision and instruction.

How to Hydrate a Sick Dog

Don’t force your dog to drink. Forcing your dog to drink can cause aspiration pneumonia.

These quick tips and tricks can help you get some water into your dog’s system:

  • Giving them water to lick off your fingers
  • Offering them an ice cube to lick or adding ice to their water bowl
  • Letting them drink Pedialyte if the vet has approved it

I Just Want My Dog to Eat Again

No doubt, a dog refusing to eat can cause their owner a great deal of distress.

It is tough when you can’t determine why they aren’t eating, and of course, they can’t tell you!

Luckily, in a lot of cases, your dog will eat again if you wait it out.

If you see any other symptoms or sense there is something greater at play, a trip to the vet will help you get to the bottom of it.

Hopefully, you will be saying bonappétite to your pup again in no time!


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Aviram K.

Aviram K.

Dog Behaviorist & Trainer

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