How Long Can A Dog Go Without Eating? A Vet Explains

Here’s what to do if your dog isn’t eating 🐶

dog with an empty food bowl

If your dog has ever lost his appetite when he’s sick (or if he’s just a picky eater all the time), you might ask yourself the question: How long can a dog go without eating?

We spoke to Dr. Hilary Jones, cofounder and chief veterinary officer of DodoVet, and Dr. Marianne Bailey, owner of Queenstown Veterinary Hospital, to get the answer and tips for how to get your dog to eat and drink.

How long can a dog go without eating any food?

Dogs can go around three to five days without food as long as they’re drinking water, but that doesn’t mean you should wait that long if your pup isn’t eating.

“If your dog usually eats well and [suddenly] doesn’t eat, that should be a red flag,” Dr. Jones told The Dodo. “If they miss more than two meals, you should give your vet a call.”

How long can a dog go without water?

Dogs can go longer without food than without water since they can get dehydrated very quickly.

“If your pet does not drink anything for a full day, you should call your veterinarian,” Dr. Bailey told The Dodo. “This could lead to severe dehydration. A pet that is not drinking may be critically ill and needs to be seen as soon as possible.”

If your pup isn’t drinking, look out for these signs of dehydration in dogs:

  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry nose
  • Dry, sticky gums
  • Pale gums or bright red gums
  • Thick saliva
  • Loss of skin elasticity

Reasons your dog isn't eating or drinking

There are a lot of possible reasons why your dog isn’t eating his food or drinking water.

Here are some common reasons:

  • Anxiety — “Some pets may not eat if they are stressed, which may occur during a move or while staying somewhere other than their normal home,” Dr. Bailey said.
  • New food — “They also may not eat if you made a recent diet change and they do not like the food you are offering,” Dr. Bailey said.
  • Dental problems — If your dog has a problem with his teeth or mouth, he may not eat or drink because he’s hurting.
  • Illness — “Your pet may not be eating if they have stomach upset or recent diarrhea,” Dr. Bailey said.
  • Vaccinations or medication — The side effects of some vaccinations and medicines include lack of appetite.
  • He’s a picky eater.

How to get your dog to eat

If your dog’s a picky eater and doesn't want to eat his food, here are some tips to try to get him to eat:

  • Try adding some meat to your dog’s food. “Top [his] food with plain baked or boiled boneless chicken breast or boiled lean ground beef,” Dr. Jones said. “But be careful with this one as they may not want to go back to eating without it!”
  • Soak your dog’s regular dry food in low-sodium chicken or beef broth.
  • Heat up your dog’s food (dry or wet) in the microwave.
  • Feed your dog at the same times each day to get him on a schedule.
  • Don’t give your dog too many treats since they can fill him up and make him not want to eat his regular food.
  • Feed your dog out of a puzzle toy to make mealtimes fun and interesting.
  • Try out different food bowls to see if there’s one he prefers.

“All of these tips are intended to be used short term,” Dr. Jones said. “If your dog continues to not want to eat, it’s best to schedule a visit to your veterinarian.”

How to get your dog to drink water

According to Dr. Bailey, “Resist the urge to try flavored waters or to offer electrolyte waters. These things may delay diagnosis and treatment for your pet.”

There are some other things you can do to try to get your dog to drink and to keep him hydrated, such as:

  • Try feeding your dog wet food. The high water content in the food will help prevent him from getting dehydrated too quickly.
  • Add some water to your dog’s dry food.
  • Give your pup ice.
  • Try out a dog water fountain.

If it’s only been a little while that your pup isn’t eating or drinking, try out some of these tricks. But if your dog hasn’t eaten or isn’t drinking for a full day, you should definitely contact your vet to make sure he’s not sick.

Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here.