Our dogs never let me forget breakfast or dinner. No need for an alarm clock! My dogs have an internal clock set for 7:30 am and 5 pm… without fail.
All three of my dogs love to eat. What about your dog? Is she a picky eater? Or does he go days without eating?
What happens when your dog won’t eat? Do you leave the bowl down and hope they’ll eat tomorrow? When do you become worried?
Let’s dive into what is normal and when you should be calling your vet. I reached out to a few veterinarians and dog experts to help me answer all of your questions….
How many days is it okay for a dog not to eat?
The collective answer from all the responding veterinarians is that a dog can go 3-5 days without eating, and possibly live up to 3 weeks without food.
The vets also agree that drinking water is even more critical. So even if your dog doesn’t want to eat, make sure they stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
According to Dr. Linda, “How long a dog can go without eating depends on several factors including their age, size, and general health.
A healthy, adult toy dog may go without a meal or two every few days and this is just normal for them. In fact, I know a few Maltese dogs and Shih Tzus who happily skip one to two days of food every month or so.
Conversely, a puppy or a geriatric dog should eat at every meal and a skipped meal is usually cause for concern.
After just 12-24 hours of not eating or drinking, a young puppy can start to develop low blood sugar and dehydration. The same would be true for an older dog who has kidney disease and struggles to maintain their hydration.”
What happens if a dog doesn’t eat for 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days?
According to Spirit Dogs’ veterinary spokesperson and registered veterinarian, Dr. Corinne Wigfall,
“If your dog has not eaten in one day this is not overly concerning, there are many reasons for temporary loss of appetite, just like people a dog’s appetite can be affected by the weather, how your dog is feeling (for example a sudden change in environment or people can cause temporary anxiety) and mild illness such as a tummy upset that resolves by itself over the course of the day.
You can try offering different food or bland food such as boiled chicken and rice to see if this sparks their interest.
If your dog has not eaten for 2 days this is concerning and a vet visit is needed for a health check to find out why your dog is not eating.
If your dog hasn’t eaten for 3 days this is concerning and a vet visit is needed for a health check.
If your dog is older (8+) or shows other signs of illness such as dehydration, weight loss, or a painful belly your veterinarian will most likely want to perform diagnostic tests such as bloodwork and radiographs to find out why your dog is not eating.
A dog who has not eaten for 3 days is very unlikely to start eating without assistance so it’s not recommended to try home remedies or wait to see if things will improve on their own.”
At what point should an owner be concerned and call their vet?
Dr. Linda says, “An owner should be concerned when the lack of appetite is accompanied by other signs such as lethargy, vomiting, or dry gums. Similarly, if it is very abnormal for the dog to miss a meal, this should be noted and we should keep a close eye on them.”
Is it normal for a newly adopted dog not to eat?
It is very normal for a newly adopted dog to not want to eat for the first day or two. It’s not unheard of for a new rescue to go 4 or 5 days without eating.
Giving your new dog a place to decompress, such as a small room or crate will help them feel safe enough to eat.
Make sure to read about the 3-3-3 rule and the phases your dog goes through when being adopted.
Hopefully, you were sent home with the food your dog was eating in the shelter. Keeping with the same food is ideal for the first week or so until you can slowly transition to your food of choice.
In our Rescue Dogs 101 Facebook Community, many shared that they struggled to get their dog to eat every day. Read some of their stories on this post.
Looking back to all of the dogs we’ve adopted and fostered, it’s a 50/50 mix of dogs that couldn’t wait to eat versus dogs that didn’t eat until the next day or so.
If your dog is not eating or drinking for more than 2 days, looks lethargic, is vomiting, or has diarrhea contact your vet to rule out any serious medical issues.
Is it normal for a dog to skip days without eating on a regular basis?
As you will read below, the vets feel it is NOT normal for a dog to skip days on a regular basis. And I agree that you should rule out any medical issues.
But I also suggest you consider your dogs activity level. Are you feeding your dog too much food, are they getting treats all day long? If your dog is eating too much, they may not be hungry at every meal time.
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg (DVM), states that “Some dogs will eat better on some days than others. This is a common observation of many of my small-breed dog owners.
However, in general, it is not normal for a dog to not eat. There are myriad things that can cause inappetence, ranging from mild to life-threatening.”
Dr. Corinne Wigfall agrees, “It is not normal for dogs to skip eating regularly. This may be a sign of an underlying medical issue so visit your vet.
Skipping meals can also be a sign of a behavioral issue such as stress or anxiety.
Most dogs love to eat and eating at least once a day is recommended for their gut health.
Whilst their ancestors could survive in the wild not eating for a few days, the dogs we have in our homes today are far removed from this and should eat daily to maintain an appropriate weight and body condition.”
Why is my dog not eating?
There are many reasons why your dog may not feel like eating its food.
A dog may not eat because of health concerns such as:
- Dental problems
- Endocrine diseases
- Food aversion
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Intestinal obstruction
- Intestinal parasites
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Recent surgery
Some dogs won’t eat because of anxiety or stress-induced issues such as:
- Recently adopted
- Moving to a home
- Changes in schedule
- New environments, i.e. traveling
- Life events such as a new pet or baby
- New or sudden food switch
- Spoiled food
- Separation anxiety
- Females that are pregnant or in heat
- Picky eater
- Too hot outside/inside
Megan Marrs with K9 of Mine, tells us a story about her dog Remy…
“My dog, Remy, stopped eating for a couple of days, and I noticed she was having trouble chewing her food.
Upon taking her to the vet, we discovered that she had developed dental issues and needed to have a few teeth removed. After her surgery and treatment, she resumed her normal eating habits.
It was important for us to address the issue and ensure she was getting proper nourishment. Without seeking medical attention, her lack of appetite could have led to further health problems.
It is important to not ignore any changes in your dog’s eating habits and always consult with your veterinarian for guidance.”
How to get your dog to eat
It’s okay if your dog doesn’t want to eat today, but if it’s been a couple of days and you have ruled out a health condition then use some of these tips to encourage your dog to eat his food:
- Add bone broth to their kibble
- Try soft canned dog food
- Add a food topper
- Add fresh foods, such as plain chicken
- Add water and pumpkin powder to the kibble
- Add probiotics to the food
- Try baby food mixed in kibble
Is your dog willing to eat treats or “people food“? Is it possible they are filling up on treats and just aren’t hungry for dinner? Try refraining from treats until they eat their meal.
Thank you to our expert contributors
Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Dr. Corinne Wigfall, BVMBVS (Hons) BVMedSci (Hons) is a registered veterinarian and the veterinary spokesperson for SpiritDog Training. She graduated from the University of Nottingham, U.K, in 2014 and lives in New Zealand.
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is a veterinarian expert at Senior Tail Waggers. She graduated from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2006. She is the director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, a full-service animal hospital providing comprehensive pet healthcare services in Lubbock, TX.
Megan Marrs is the founder of K9 of Mine, helping owners develop better, richer relationships with their pets through compassion and understanding.