How long can a dog go without food?

Learn about dogs

All animals and humans alike need plenty of water and healthy food to survive. Your dog’s food gives them the energy they need to move and stay alive, as well as all the nutrients they need to grow and stay healthy.

Even though most dogs love their dinners, there can be times when Fido seems fussy or decides to skip their meal.

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Although it can be worrying when your woofer stops eating, it’s actually pretty normal for some dogs to skip meals from time to time.

Sometimes your dog is just being a bit picky, or maybe they just aren’t feeling hungry (maybe they had a lot of treats!) However, some dogs might miss meals if they’re feeling stressed or unwell.

We’ve created this guide to help you understand why dogs might miss meals and how long dogs can go without food. So read on to find out if Fido is being fussy, or if you should be worried that they aren’t eating their dinner.

How long can a dog go without food? 

Just like humans, dogs are more at risk of dehydration than starvation, and they can show signs of illness within hours without water. Luckily, they can go a little longer without food before it starts to become a serious problem.

In general, a dog can go up to 3 to 5 days without food, as long as they are still drinking water. 

However, this is not a strict guideline because every dog is very different, with unique dietary needs and metabolism. 

How long an individual dog can go without food “safely” will vary. Some dogs can go without food for as long as a week, but you should definitely call your vet before they ever go that long without food. Meanwhile, puppies, small breeds, lean dogs, and highly active dogs all have higher energy demands and faster metabolisms. That means that they need to eat more regularly and can’t go as long without food before it starts causing problems like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Most of the time your dog won’t go without food for long, and they’ll soon recover their appetite and wolf down their dinner as normal. Because dogs can go several days without food, there’s no need to panic too much about them missing a meal or two every now and again.

Why is my dog not eating?

There are loads of different reasons why your dog might not want their dinner. Some of the reasons your pooch might be put off their food include:

  • They’re not hungry.

  • They’re picky eaters.

  • They don’t like something in their food.

  • They have an allergy or intolerance to an ingredient in the food.

  • They’re bored of what they’re eating.

  • They’re stressed.

  • They have a toothache.

  • They have a stomach ache or some gastrointestinal upset.

  • They’re sick.

You find out more in our guide, which explains all the different reasons why your dog might not be eating. You can then try following these tips, or just keep reading to find out how to encourage your dog to start eating again.

How to encourage a dog to eat

There are a few different methods to try and encourage your dog to start eating again after they’ve gone without food. It’s often worth trying these methods to see if they are just being picky.

Ways to encourage your dog to eat:
  • Reduce the amount of food in their bowl.

  • Make sure their eating area is safe and free from distractions.

  • Leave them alone with their food for 15 minutes.

  • Stay in the room with them but ignore them. (You don’t want to put them off!)

  • Take their food away after 15 minutes, then try feeding them again at their next regular mealtime.

  • Avoid feeding treats between meals as this might ruin their appetite.

  • Try enticing them with some of their favourite foods like fresh chicken.

  • Use water in their food to change the texture or temperature.

  • Put their food in a puzzle toy or a Kong to see if working for their dinner improves their appetite.

  • Try hand-feeding your dog but don’t continue this long term as they’ll expect this every time.

Should I worry about my dog not eating?

Although refusing food can be worrying, and it can be a sign that your dog isn’t feeling themselves, it isn’t always a cause for alarm.

If your dog is otherwise healthy and shows no signs of illness, skipping a meal or two on occasion is considered pretty normal. Follow these tips to try and get them to eat again at their next mealtime and see if their appetite improves.

Whether or not you should worry about your pooch missing a meal depends on their temperament and condition.

Some dogs are known to be picky, or occasionally refuse food, so to them missing a meal isn’t too abnormal.

However, if your dog is a greedy guts and normally falls into their bowl to gobble their dinner as soon as you put it down, suddenly refusing to eat their dinner would be really out of the ordinary. If your dog won’t eat and it’s unusual for them, you should consider keeping a close eye on them to see if there are other signs of unrest or illness, or call your vet for advice.

Similarly, if you have a very active pooch, a puppy, or a small or lean dog, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on them if they won’t eat. Try feeding them again a few hours later, and always ask for help if you’re worried about your pet.

If your dog is a fussy eater, switching to a tasty, natural food like Pure Pet Food could help increase their appetite and keep them happy and healthy. We’ve helped dozens of fussy dogs recover their appetite and find happiness in mealtimes, even when owners thought their pooch would always be super picky!

When should I contact my vet?

If you’re ever worried about your dog, or they’re behaving in a new or unusual way, you should always contact your vet for advice. 

If it’s the first time your dog has refused food, or it’s really unusual behaviour for them, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet to rule out the possibility of illness and get advice on how to help your pooch recover their appetite.