Like all mammals, dogs cannot function without eating or drinking regularly. Although dogs can survive without food longer than they can without water, prolonged periods without ample nourishment is detrimental to their health.
How long can a dog go without food?
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Healthy dogs can typically survive up to five days without eating, but only if they have access to drinking water. In extreme situations, dogs have been known to survive without sustenance for much longer, but not without any severe health consequences.
Why do dogs refuse to eat?
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Dogs experience loss of appetite for several reasons. Although not all are life threatening, it pays to determine the root cause to get them eating sooner. Here are some of the most common reasons your dog might refuse to eat:
Your dog is sick.
A lack of appetite is one of the most common signs that your dog isn’t feeling well. Although their illness can sometimes resolve on their own through fasting, sick dogs that display other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, or lethargy should get immediate veterinary care.
Your dog has dental problems.
Poor oral health can cause a dog to avoid eating. They might refuse to eat because chewing causes them pain. Puppies might also stop eating because of the discomfort they experience from teething or having loose teeth. Adult dogs, however, might suffer from periodontal diseases that should be addressed immediately.
Your dog is picky.
Sometimes, dogs stop eating because they don’t like their food or have gotten sick of it. If they’re picky enough, they might tolerate hunger just to avoid the unwanted food. Often, you’ll know this is the case if they avoid their kibble but welcome treats and other food. In that case, you’ll know it’s time to try another brand.
Your dog is depressed.
Just like people, dogs can get depressed. Triggers can be a wide variety of things, like the loss of a sibling or being away from a family member. A depressive dog will also exhibit changes in their sleeping habits and show lack of enthusiasm for play and physical activity.
Your dog is anxious.
Dogs can also stop eating because of stress. Several things can cause that, including changes in their environment or being separated from a loved one. When this is the case, they’ll often show signs of skittishness, fear, and aggression.
What should you do if your dog is not eating?
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If your dog has healthy eating habits and is suddenly refusing to eat for no apparent reason, here are some things you should do:
Let them fast.
It’s hard for us to remember that dogs probably know their body more intimately than we do. Sometimes, fasting is their instinctive response to digestive distress or other health conditions, so it’s often best to let them be.
Get them checked.
If your dog refuses to eat for the second day in a row, they won’t have the energy required to support proper organ function. At this point, it’s best to get them checked and possibly treated for any medical conditions that might be causing their loss of appetite.
Address the causes.
If your vet’s assessment shows that there’s nothing physically wrong with them, and you have reason to believe they might be depressed or anxious, try to address what’s causing those feelings. Whether all they need is just a little bit of comforting, spending some time with their friends, or making some changes to their environment, addressing the causes will often bring their appetite back.
Encourage them to eat.
Research shows that sick dogs recover faster and better when they eat sooner. So, try your best to encourage your dog to eat. Something other than their regular kibble might whet their appetite. Try some bland food like boiled chicken breasts or vegetables like pureed squash to aid their digestion.
Dogs refuse to eat for a variety of reasons, and it’s not always about underlying medical conditions. Often, if your dog skips a meal or two, it’s no cause for panic for as long as they’re hydrated. But if they’ve gone for days without food, it’s critical that you take your dog to the vet right away. Your vet will determine any health issues your dog might have and advise you on how best to care for your pup.