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How Long Can a Dog Survive Without Food or Water?

Written by Kelvin LowMay 6, 2021

When your dog stops eating or drinking it can be a worrying sign, especially if your dog is normally eager for its meals.

There are many reasons a dog may refuse food or water, but the most common is an illness. It can be difficult to encourage sick dogs to eat when they have no desire to, but it is important that they eat and drink often, as they will begin to suffer after just a few days without.

How Long Can a Dog Go Without Food or Water?

Food and water are essential for dogs to be healthy. A dog is usually able to go 3 to 5 days without food, depending on their age, size and overall health. Some dogs may be able to go 7 days without food.

Water intake is a bigger issue. Dogs cannot go more than 3 days without water. Dogs fed a wet food diet will get most of their moisture from their food and may not drink from a water bowl often. A dog may not go more than 3 days without both food and water.

What Causes a Dog To Not Want To Eat or Drink?

There are a whole host of reason your dog may stop eating and drinking. It could be a sudden occurrence, or their appetite may reduce over time. Here are some of the most common reasons your dog may refuse food:

  • Nausea (many causes such as illness, eating garbage, toxic food or poisonous plants)
  • Pain, particularly in the mouth or throat
  • Digestive complaint
  • Food allergies
  • Parasites
  • Change in diet
  • Infection
  • Blockage (from eating a foreign object like a toy or sock)
  • Side effects of medication
  • Age
  • Stress

On the opposite end, there are not many reasons a dog may refuse water. If you have changed from a dry kibble to canned food, your dog will naturally drink less water as their new diet has a much higher moisture content. If your dog is not drinking, try offering him an ice cube to lick.

These are just the most common causes. There may be other reasons your dog is refusing to eat or drink. At the first sign of change to your dog’s appetite, you should seek veterinary advice.

What happens when a dog stops eating?

Canine anorexia, or loss of appetite, can cause a variety of medical conditions from mild to severe. Prolonged anorexia can lead to long-term health problems. Anorexia can cause:

  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lethargy
  • General weakness
  • Fever
  • Changes to the eyes
  • Obvious fat and muscle loss
  • Change in organ size

Mild changes can be treated successfully by getting your dog back on a regular feeding schedule. Your veterinarian may prescribe a high-calorie diet if your dog has lost considerable weight. Prognosis is usually good, but recovery can take a long time, particularly in severe cases.

Will a Dog Starve Itself To Death?

Thankfully, there are many treatments a veterinarian can utilize in order to treat the dog’s ongoing symptoms and also to try and stimulate their appetite.

Loss of appetite due to dehydration can often be rectified by providing the dog with intravenous fluids. Once they are properly hydrated and feeling better, their appetite usually returns.

Dogs suffering nausea need to be treated for this before they will feel comfortable eating again. To stimulate a dog’s appetite, vets will prescribe a medication such as cyproheptadine or capromorelin. In severe cases of anorexia, a dog may be tube fed until their underlying illness is treated and they can eat on their own again.

The most common recommendation is to feed your dog small portions of boiled chicken and rice, especially if they have an upset stomach or gastrointestinal issue. Most dog seem to enjoy it but you can add chicken or vegetable broth to enhance the odour and flavour.

A dog may starve to death if their anorexia is not diagnosed and treated quickly, but this is quite rare as most dog owners get their dogs examined as soon as they notice their loss of appetite.

How Can I Get My Dog's Appetite Back?

In order to get your dog eating again, your best option is to get them interested in their food. If they eat dry kibble, try adding a small amount of warm water to their food. The heat will enhance the odour of the food, which should tempt your dog to eat. You can also try adding a few pieces of boiled chicken or chicken stock to your dog’s meals.

If vomiting is what triggered your dog to stop eating, try offering them smaller portions throughout the day rather than two big meals. The stomach can better handle small amounts of food and your dog is likely to vomit after eating.

If your dog is refusing food due to dental issues or pain in the mouth and throat, offer him soft food. Soaking his kibble for 5 minutes will make the food much softer and easier to swallow. You could also try feeding him canned food instead of dry biscuits.

Take note of where you feed your dog. Is it in a busy or loud area of the house? Try moving his food bowl to a quiet area. He may feel more comfortable there and so more likely to start eating again.

Will a Dog Eventually Eat?

Once the cause of his appetite loss is diagnosed and treated successfully, a dog’s appetite should return quickly and he will be eager to eat. A sick dog may continue to refuse food if he does not receive proper treatment.

Final Thoughts

Canine anorexia is a very serious condition and can have many different causes. Whatever the reason, you should have your dog checked by a veterinarian as soon as you notice his appetite has changed. In the majority of cases, the dog will make a good recovery. Long term conditions caused by canine anorexia are usually easy to manage and do not impact on a dog’s quality of life.

About The Author

Kelvin Low

Kelvin Low has more than three years of experience in taking care of pets at home - ranging from dogs, hamsters, to cats and hedgehog. His passion and care towards animals has motivated him to create educational content online to more more pets owners in need.

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