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It can be stressful when your dog stops eating. How long can a dog go without food? When should you call the vet? Why did your dog stop eating?
A lot of the time, there’s no reason to panic when your dog skips a meal or two. Here is some more information about how long a dog can do without eating.
About a Dog’s Metabolism
To better understand what happens when a dog goes without food, we need to talk about a dog’s metabolism. In simple terms, there are two different parts to a dog’s metabolism.
In the first part of the metabolism process, large molecules of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down. They become the smaller molecules of amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose.
In the second part of the metabolism process, these smaller molecules are used for different crucial processes. Amino acids build tissue. Fatty acids are used for cellular integrity. And glucose is used for energy.
As you can see, without amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose, your dog will fail to thrive, then eventually die. That’s why it’s usually important for them to eat daily.
How Much Food Do Dogs Need to Eat?
So, how much food do dogs need to eat to maintain their metabolism?
The amount of food a dog needs varies greatly depending on several factors, such as:
- Activity level
- A female dog who is pregnant or nursing
As an example, a 50-pound dog could require anywhere from fewer than 1,000 calories per day for an inactive dog up to nearly 2,000 calories per day for a pregnant dog.
For more specific information on how many calories your dog needs, check out this chart.
Different dog foods have different caloric densities, so always follow the feeding recommendations on your dog’s food.
How Long Can a Dog Go Without Food?
There is no hard and fast rule here. Generally, a healthy adult dog can last up to 5 days without food. That’s assuming they are still drinking water since dehydration will kill a dog sooner than that.
Puppies, elderly dogs, or sick dogs probably won’t last as long as 5 days without food. Also, studies show that sick dogs who eat have better outcomes than those who don’t. The sooner a dog starts eating after an illness, the more likely they are to recover.
With that in mind, most vets agree that one or two days without food likely will not harm your dog. When dogs have stomach problems, resting their digestive tract for a day or two can help them recover faster.
You probably don’t eat for a day or two when you have food poisoning. You generally don’t worry if your dog does the same.
When Should I Worry About my Dog Not Eating?
As long as your dog isn’t displaying other symptoms, you can wait a day or two before worrying.
Mild vomiting or diarrhea is OK. However, if your dog is showing any other symptoms or severe vomiting or diarrhea, contact the vet immediately.
Some examples of symptoms that should concern you include:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Abnormal breathing
- Blood in diarrhea or vomit
- Trying to vomit but nothing comes out
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Dry or sticky gums
If your dog goes for more than 48 hours without eating, it’s time for a trip to the vet.
Why Do Dogs Stop Eating?
There are a wide variety of reasons why a dog might stop eating. A few reasons include:
- Something wrong with the food (a bad batch, expired, moldy, etc.)
- Old age
- Stress (big changes in the household like a new baby, for example)
- Pickiness (not liking the food)
- Intestinal obstruction (usually caused by something inedible being swallowed)
- Other health issues (like tooth pain or a vaccination reaction)
You can find a lot more information about the reasons dogs stop eating in 11 Reasons Why Your Dog Won’t Eat (and What To Do About It).
What Should I Do if my Dog is Not Eating?
If your dog is not eating but isn’t showing other severe symptoms, it’s OK to let them avoid their food for a day or two.
You should check to make sure there isn’t a problem with their food. Make sure it isn’t expired, doesn’t look moldy, and doesn’t smell “off.”
If you suspect your dog just doesn’t like the food, see if they will eat treats or healthy people food. You may need to consider switching them to a different brand of food.
Keep a close eye on your dog and monitor their behavior. While not eating is often harmless, it can also be a symptom of a life-threatening problem.
Bloat, for example, can cause a dog to stop eating. Half of all dogs with bloat will die from it. Emergency surgery increases a dog’s chances of living so that 2/3 of dogs with bloat survive. If your dog is showing any signs of bloat, take them to the vet immediately.
To learn more about the dangers of bloat, check out Dog Bloat: A Big Concern for Large Breeds.
When to Call the Vet Because your Dog is Not Eating
There are two main times to call the vet because your dog is not eating: if they have other symptoms or if they go more than 48 hours without eating. These are signs that something may be seriously wrong with your dog.
If you aren’t sure, there’s no reason not to err on the safe side and go ahead and call the vet. It’s better to be cautious than regretful.
Wrapping Up: How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating?
As you can see, you don’t necessarily need to panic the first time your dog refuses to eat their meal. Without other severe symptoms, your dog will be fine going without food for a couple of days. In extreme circumstances, a healthy dog can live up to 5 days without eating (as long as they still drink).
When in doubt, it’s always best to contact your vet for advice.