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How Long Can Dogs Go Without Food? Asked & Answered - PawSafe
Dog Healthcare

How Long Can Dogs Go Without Food? Asked & Answered

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how long can dogs go without food

Dogs are known for their love of food, and it’s not uncommon for pet owners to wonder how long their dog can go without eating. While there are a few situations where a dog may need to go without food for a short period, it’s important to know when a lack of nutrients can become life-threatening. 

Gut health is crucial for a dog’s survival, as it makes up a significant portion of their immune system. To ensure optimal gut health, it’s recommended that dogs eat regular meals, preferably twice a day, and are supplemented with Probiotic Soft Chews. However, there are times when a dog may need to go without food for a period, such as when they are fighting diseases like Parvo or for a short period when they have diarrhea. This article will provide information on how long a dog can safely go without food, and when it’s essential to provide nutrients and calories to keep them alive.

Knowing how long a dog can go without food is crucial for pet owners, as it can mean the difference between life and death for their furry friend. By understanding the signs of malnutrition and the importance of gut health, pet owners can ensure that their dogs are getting the nutrients and calories they need to survive. In the following sections, we will look at expert veterinary sources to provide information on how long a dog can go without food, and what to do if your pet is not eating.

So, How Long Can A Dog Go Without Food?

Dogs can survive without food for a relatively long time, but it depends on their age, size, and overall health. In general, healthy adult dogs can go without food for about 5-7 days, while puppies and small breed dogs may not be able to survive as long. Newborn puppies can start to fade as quickly as 3-to-4 hours without food and some tiny teacup breeds may need food every few hours to avoid dangerous hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Here is a table comparing the estimated time that different types of dogs can go without food:

Type & Age of DogTime Without Food Before Death
Newborn Puppies4 to 6 hours
Young Puppies1-2 days
Puppies over 3 to 4 months2-5 days
Adult Dogs5-7 days
Small Breed Dogs3-5 days
Medium Breed Dogs5-7 days
Large Breed Dogs7-10 days

It is important to note that while dogs can survive without food for a certain amount of time, it is not recommended to intentionally withhold food from them. Dogs need proper nutrition to maintain their health and well-being. If a dog goes without food for an extended period of time, they may experience dehydration, weakness, and other health complications.

If a dog is refusing to eat, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and develop a proper treatment plan. In some cases, a lack of appetite may be a sign of a more serious health issue that requires immediate attention.

Understanding Canine Starvation, Anorexia & Malnutrition

a thin dog standing in field that has gone a long time without regular meals

Dogs, just like humans, need food to survive. However, unlike humans, dogs can go for longer periods without food, but it doesn’t mean they should. Starvation occurs when dogs can’t get access to food. It can be due to several reasons, such as neglect, abandonment, or being lost in the wild.

Anorexia refers to when dogs don’t want to eat. It can be due to several reasons, such as stress, anxiety, illness, or dental problems. It’s important to note that anorexia can lead to starvation if left untreated. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify the underlying cause of anorexia and address it accordingly.

Malnutrition is when dogs are getting food and calories, but are not getting enough actual nutrients to keep their body healthy. It can occur due to several reasons, such as feeding a poor quality diet or not providing enough variety in their diet. Malnutrition can lead to several health problems, such as weakened immune system, stunted growth, and organ failure.

It’s essential to understand the differences between starvation, anorexia, and malnutrition to ensure that dogs are getting the proper care and nutrition they need. If you suspect that your dog is experiencing any of these conditions, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care immediately.

Effects of Starvation in Dogs

Starvation can have serious consequences for dogs, both physically and mentally. When a dog is deprived of food for an extended period, their body begins to break down fat reserves for energy. However, if these reserves are depleted, the body will start to break down muscle tissue, which can lead to a variety of health problems.

One of the most noticeable effects of starvation in dogs is weight loss. As the body uses up its fat and muscle reserves, the dog will become thinner and weaker. In severe cases, the dog may become emaciated, with visible bones and a sunken appearance.

Starvation can also lead to a weakened immune system, making the dog more susceptible to infections and illnesses. The lack of nutrients can cause the dog’s body to produce fewer white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off infections.

In addition to physical effects, starvation can also have a significant impact on a dog’s mental health. Dogs that are starved may become lethargic, depressed, and withdrawn. They may also become more aggressive or anxious, as their body goes into survival mode and they become more protective of their remaining resources.

It is essential to provide dogs with adequate nutrition to prevent these negative effects. Dogs should be fed a balanced diet that includes all of the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. If a dog is not eating, it is important to seek veterinary care to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.

Factors Influencing a Dog’s Ability to Survive Without Food

A emaciated dog that does not get enough food with mange

There is no simple answer to exactly how long a dog can live without food, but there are several factors that can influence it.

Breed

Different dog breeds have different body compositions and metabolic rates, which can affect their ability to survive without food. Smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers, have faster metabolic rates and require more frequent meals to maintain their energy levels. On the other hand, larger breeds, such as Great Danes and Mastiffs, have slower metabolic rates and can go longer without food. Additionally, some breeds, such as Greyhounds and Whippets, have a higher percentage of body fat, which can provide them with energy reserves during periods of food deprivation.

Age

Age is another factor that can influence a dog’s ability to survive without food. Puppies and senior dogs have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs, and may not be able to tolerate long periods without food. Puppies require more frequent meals to support their growth and development, while senior dogs may have health issues that require a specific diet. Adult dogs, however, can typically go longer without food, especially if they are healthy and have a balanced diet.

Health Status

A dog’s health status is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to their ability to survive without food. Dogs with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease, may not be able to tolerate periods of food deprivation. Additionally, dogs that are overweight or underweight may not have the necessary energy reserves to sustain them during periods without food. It is important to consult with a veterinarian before withholding food from a dog, especially if they have any underlying health conditions.

In summary, a dog’s breed, age, and health status can all influence their ability to survive without food. While some dogs may be able to go longer without food than others, it is important to ensure that they receive proper nutrition and consult with a veterinarian before making any significant changes to their diet.

Signs of Malnutrition in Dogs

A thin dog that has gone several days without food showing the dull brittle red coat and other signs of malnutrition in dogs

Dogs that do not receive adequate nutrition can develop a range of health problems. Here are some signs of malnutrition in dogs:

Weight Loss

Weight loss is one of the most common signs of malnutrition in dogs. If a dog is not eating enough, it will start to lose weight. In severe cases, the dog may become emaciated.

Dull Coat

A healthy dog should have a shiny, lustrous coat. A dull coat can be a sign of malnutrition. This is because the dog’s body is not getting the nutrients it needs to maintain healthy skin and fur.

Lethargy

Dogs that are malnourished may become lethargic. They may not have the energy to play or go for walks. This is because their bodies are not getting enough fuel to function properly.

Weakness

Malnourished dogs may also become weak. They may have difficulty standing or walking. This is because their muscles are not getting the nutrients they need to function properly.

Dental Problems

Dogs that are not getting enough nutrition may develop dental problems. This is because their bodies are not able to produce enough saliva to keep their teeth clean. Over time, this can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Digestive Issues

Malnourished dogs may also experience digestive issues. They may have diarrhea or constipation. This is because their bodies are not getting enough fiber to keep their digestive system functioning properly.

It is important to note that some of these symptoms can also be caused by other health problems. If a dog is showing signs of malnutrition, it is important to take them to a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Common Reasons Dogs Refuse To Eat

Dogs are known for their voracious appetite, but sometimes they may refuse to eat. This can be worrying for pet owners, especially if their dog goes without food for an extended period. Here are some common reasons why dogs may refuse to eat:

Nausea

Nausea is a common cause of loss of appetite in dogs. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, and stress. Dogs may also experience nausea as a side effect of medication or due to motion sickness.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can cause dogs to lose their appetite. This can be due to a variety of factors, including changes in routine, new environments, or separation from their owner. Dogs may also experience stress and anxiety due to loud noises, such as fireworks or thunderstorms.

Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases, such as parvovirus or distemper, can cause dogs to lose their appetite. These diseases can also cause other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. If you think your dog may be sick, see our article on how to check for a fever without a thermometer.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal problems, such as pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease, can cause dogs to lose their appetite. These conditions can also cause other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, tummy gurgling, burping, and abdominal pain.

Old Dogs and Heart or Organ Failure

Older dogs may lose their appetite due to age-related changes, such as decreased sense of smell or taste. Dogs with heart or organ failure may also lose their appetite due to the strain on their body.

Pain

Dogs in pain may lose their appetite. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as dental problems, arthritis, or injury.

Waiting for Something Better

Finally, some dogs may refuse to eat because they are waiting for something better. This can be due to picky eating habits or because they are used to being offered table scraps or treats.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

If a dog has gone without food for several days, it is important to seek veterinary help. The following signs may indicate a serious problem that requires medical attention:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Refusal to drink water
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of appetite for more than two days
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Pale gums or tongue
  • Signs of dehydration (e.g. dry mouth, sunken eyes)

If a dog has not eaten for more than five days, it is considered an emergency situation and immediate veterinary attention is required. Dehydration and organ damage can occur rapidly in dogs who are not eating, so it is important to act quickly.

It is also important to note that some medical conditions can cause a dog to refuse food or lose their appetite. These may include dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, liver or kidney disease, and cancer. A veterinarian can perform a thorough examination and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Preventing Food Deprivation in Dogs

Food deprivation in dogs can lead to serious health problems, so it’s important to take steps to prevent it. Here are some tips to ensure that your dog gets the nutrition they need:

Establish a Feeding Schedule

Dogs thrive on routine, so it’s important to establish a regular feeding schedule. Most adult dogs should be fed twice a day, but some may require three smaller meals. Puppies, on the other hand, may need to be fed up to four times a day. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate feeding schedule for your dog.

Portion Control

It’s important to feed your dog the appropriate amount of food for their size, age, and activity level. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which can cause a variety of health problems. Underfeeding, on the other hand, can lead to malnutrition and other health issues. Use a measuring cup to ensure that you are feeding your dog the correct amount of food.

Provide Fresh Water

Dogs need access to fresh water at all times. Make sure that your dog’s water bowl is always full and clean. In addition, if your dog is eating dry kibble, make sure they have access to water while they are eating to prevent choking.

Choose High-Quality Food

Your dog’s food should be high-quality and provide them with the nutrients they need. Look for a food that has a named protein source as the first ingredient, such as chicken or beef. Avoid foods that contain fillers, such as corn or wheat, as these provide little nutritional value.

Monitor Your Dog’s Health

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help detect any health problems early on. In addition, monitor your dog’s weight and overall health to ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need. If you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite or behavior, consult with your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a dog go without eating?

Dogs can go without food for several days, but it depends on various factors such as age, breed, and overall health. Generally, a healthy adult dog can go without food for up to five days without any significant health risks. However, it’s essential to monitor their behavior and contact a veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness.

What happens if a dog doesn’t eat for a few days?

If a dog doesn’t eat for a few days, they may experience weakness, lethargy, and loss of appetite. They may also become dehydrated, which can lead to further health problems. It’s crucial to monitor their behavior and contact a veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness.

How can I encourage my dog to eat when they’re sick?

If your dog is sick and not eating, you can try to encourage them by offering them small amounts of food at regular intervals throughout the day. You can also try to make their food more appealing by warming it up or adding some low-sodium chicken broth. However, if your dog continues to refuse food, it’s essential to contact a veterinarian.

Can a dog survive without food for an extended period of time?

Dogs can survive without food for an extended period, but it’s not recommended. Prolonged periods without food can lead to malnutrition, weakness, and other health problems. It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s behavior and contact a veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness.

What are some common foods that dogs should avoid?

Some common foods that dogs should avoid include chocolate, caffeine, grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, avocado, and alcohol. These foods can be toxic to dogs and can lead to severe health problems.

How long can a small dog go without water?

Dogs can survive without water for up to three days, but it’s not recommended. Water is essential for regulating body temperature, aiding digestion, and removing waste from the body. It’s crucial to ensure that your dog has access to clean drinking water at all times.

Final Thoughts

In summary, dogs can go without food for a few days to a few weeks, depending on their size, health, and other factors. However, it is not recommended to let them starve for long periods, as it can lead to serious health problems and even death.

If you suspect that your dog is not eating enough or showing signs of malnutrition, you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. They can perform a physical examination, blood tests, and other diagnostic procedures to determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.

In general, it is important to provide your dog with a balanced and nutritious diet, regular exercise, and plenty of fresh water. You should also monitor their appetite, weight, and behavior on a regular basis to detect any changes or issues early on.

Remember, dogs are loyal and loving companions who rely on us to take care of their basic needs. By providing them with proper nutrition and care, we can ensure that they live long and healthy lives.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.