How Long Can a Dog Go Without Food or Water? (Under 11 Different Circumstances)
As a regular volunteer at our local animal shelter, it breaks my heart every time I see a dog come in that is visibly starving.
Many of these dogs were found wandering the streets as strays who got out and couldn’t find enough to eat, but there have been plenty of times when the dogs were neglected by their owners.
For example, in one situation, the family moved away and just left their dog in the house to starve. Luckily this sweet, mild-manner girl was found, saved, and soon adopted.
Recently, the shelter rescued a pitbull named “Nye” that was the most horrendous case of starvation that I have seen to date.
While they did not catch the owners, they were likely using Nye as a bait dog for fighting and intentionally kept him weak by starving him.
With a lot of love and care, Nye is now happy and healthy and thrilled to be under the care of the shelter staff and volunteers like me. But had he not been found, he wouldn’t have lived much longer.
Sometimes dogs get out and struggle to find food or water. However, if your dog is at home and suddenly stops eating or drinking, it’s probably a sign that something’s not right.
Why Do Dogs Stop Eating?
Dogs stop eating for 3 primary reasons:
1. Health Issues.
Whether your dog is feeling nauseated, its teeth hurt, it just got its vaccinations, or it has a serious health issue (like Parvo), if your dog suddenly stops eating and/or drinking, it’s smart to go ahead and visit your local vet.
It may not be anything serious, but with some health issues – like Pancreatitis or Parvo – it could be a matter of life or death.
2. Picky Eating.
Dogs may not like certain types of foods. It they are used to getting table scraps, that kibble is not so attractive. Or if they are suddenly put on a low-fat diet, well, yuck. Some dogs get tired of the same old dog food every day; others get upset when you change it.
3. Changes in Lifestyle.
A lot of dogs refuse to eat when they first arrive at the shelter because they are depressed, going from a warm, happy home, to a cold, loud jail cell of sorts.
But changes don’t have to be that depressing to impact a dog’s appetite. A new home, a new baby or pet, being left alone too long, changes in routine.
These can all lead to depression and it may take your dog a little while to feel up to eating again.
How long can a dog go without eating?
As already stated, when a dog stops eating, it’s often an early warning sign that it is not feeling good.
There are several serious illnesses that begin with a dog refusing to eat, so it’s smart to go ahead and take your dog to the vet as soon as you observe a change in eating behavior.
When it comes to how long a dog can go without eating, there is no cut and dry answer because every dog is different.
In general, dogs can safely go without eating for anywhere from five days to 3 weeks. It’s all going to depend on the size and health of the specific dog, as well as how much it is moving and how hot it is outside.
How long can a dog go without food when sick?
When dogs don’t feel good, they often stop eating. In some instances, this can actually help them get better faster, but only for a small amount of time.
This is especially true if they dog’s illness is related to its gastrointestinal tract, giving it the opportunity to recover. However, more than a couple of days with no food can make the situation worse.
In 2015, research was presented at the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition meeting based on a study of 490 dogs who were hospitalized for at least a day at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
After examining a variety of parameters, the researchers found that dogs who ate at least enough to meet their resting energy requirements were more likely to be discharged alive. Those dogs who did not eat on their own when they arrived had worse outcomes.
How long can a dog go without food with Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is an organ located on the right side of the torso next to the stomach that produces important enzymes that help digest food. The pancreas also produces hormones, including insulin, to regulate blood sugar.
Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed and forces the enzymes out of the pancreas and into other parts of the body. Those enzymes can cause the fat and protein to break down in the pancreas and other organs.
Pancreatitis is fairly common in dogs. Fatty foods are the leading culprit.
The treatment for mild pancreatitis is to allow the pancreas to rest and recover, which means withholding all food and water for at least 24 hours. This keeps the body from secreting digestive enzymes that can leak out and damage other internal organs. Intravenous fluids are giving to help maintain the correct fluid and electrolyte balance.
If the dog’s health improves after 24 hours, they can and should begin eating bland food – generally prescription that is designed to be easy on the stomach. Food intake should start small and gradually increase to avoid straining the recovering pancreas.
How long can a dog go without food with Parvo?
As I’m writing this, I’ve sitting next to a puppy we’ve been fostering for the past two week. We took him home to protect him from a recent Parvo outbreak that forced the shelter to euthanize several puppies and one older dog.
The third night that we had him, he suddenly stopped eating and drinking. I thought he had eaten too many rawhides and had a blockage. We took him to the vet the first thing the next morning. It was Parvo.
Fortunately, we caught it extremely early and he was back at our house like nothing had happened two days later. Most dogs with Parvo are not so lucky. In fact, an estimated 80% of all puppies with Parvo left untreated will die.
The biggest risk factor with Parvo – a virus that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting – is dehydration. Treatment consists of keeping the dog properly hydrated. Feeding a dog with Parvo should generally be discouraged because it can make the dog more nauseated, and more dehydrated from vomiting/diarrhea.
How long a Parvo dog can go without food is going to depend on a number of things, but especially the size of the dog. Veterinarians agree you should not try to force the Parvo dog to eat. Two days without food is generally safe, and some dogs can go up to a week.
However, smaller dogs are more at risk of hypoglycemia. If your dog is still not eating after two or three days, it’s best to check back with your vet.
How long can a dog go without food after surgery?
Nausea and lack of appetite are common in dogs after they’ve had surgery. Not only is surgery stressful and sometimes painful, the anesthesia can cause your dog to feel nauseated.
Proper nutrition after surgery is important, however, in order to help provide the nutrients needed to healing.
Your dog should not eat until after the effects of anesthesia have worn off. This will vary by the size of the dog and the type of surgery. Follow your doctor’s orders. If your dog still is not eating or drinking within 24 hours, it’s best to go ahead and reach out to your vet.
How long can a dog go without water?
While it is going to vary by the dog, 3 days is generally the maximum a dog can safely go without water – and even that is pushing it.
If the dog is eating wet food, that may help extend the length of time a little. If the weather is hot, the amount of time will be less.
How long can a dog go without water before dehydrating?
Again, there is no cut and dry answer to how long a dog can go without water. It depends on the dog’s size, health, how much it is exercising, and the temperature outside. Even a few hours without water can be serious if it’s hot outside.
A dog may be able to last up to four days without drinking anything, but will be in pretty poor shape by this point and likely need immediate medical intervention to prevent long-term damage.
Here are some signs to watch for that indicate a dog is dehydrated.
- Loss of Appetite
- Dry nose and gums
- Excessive Panting
- Sunken Eyes
- Low skin elasticity (i.e., holds its shape for a several seconds when you tug on it).
If the dog is severely dehydrated, you may not be able to rehydrate it at home – particularly if it refuses to drink. The vet will probably administer a prescription medicine called Lactated Ringer’s Solution.
If you dog is dehydrated but willing to drink, you can give it water or diluted Pedialyte (50:50 with water). Chicken or beef broth is another option to help rehydrate and provide needed electrolytes.
You can give with a syringe if the dog won’t drink on its own. Make sure not to give any kind of drink with artificial sweeteners.
How long can a dog go without water when sick?
If your dog is sick, it may not feel like eating or drinking anything. This is ok for a little while, but can be problematic if your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea.
How long the dog can go with water is going to depend on several factors, including what is causing the illness to start with. If you start to see any of the symptoms of dehydration mentioned above, it’s time to call the vet.
A sick dog that is vomiting may not feel like eating or drinking anything. The situation is worse if the dog is also having diarrhea, which is dehydrating the dog even more.
If there is also diarrhea, it can probably needs some sort of liquids within 16 to 20 hours. If they are just not drinking, the dog can probably go about 20 hours before you need to take the dog to the emergency vet.
Again, it’s going to depend on the size and health of the dog, as well as whatever is causing the vomiting.
If your dog is vomiting, keep it indoors to prevent it from eating grass or leaves for at least 6 to 8 hours. Offer 1 or 2 tablespoons of water every hour for a few hours.
You may be able to give famotidine or omeprazole to help calm its stomach, but you should check with your vet first. If vomiting continues, contact your veterinarian.
How long can a dog go without water after surgery?
Your dog may not feel like eating after surgery because it feels nauseated. That should improve with time. Just keep offering water, but don’t force it. If your dog does not drink within 24 hours, contact your vet.
How long can a dog safely go without water?
In general, dogs should drink at least 1 ounce of water for every pound they weigh. So, for example, a 50-pound dog needs to drink at least 50 ounces of water per day.
While a dog may be able to go up to 3 days without water, the dog will probably be in bad shape. On hot days if the dog is outside, even one day without water is too much.
My dog refuses to eat or drink. What should I do?
If your dog suddenly refuses to eat or drink, your safest bet is to call the vet. If your dog has been sick and refuses to eat or drink, it may have an upset stomach.
Start small. Offer a small bowl of water or even try to spoon feed. If your dog won’t take water, try chicken or beef broth. Just keep trying every couple of hours.
If it’s been 24 hours without fluids, call the vet. They may need to give your dog fluids intravenously. You can also give the water using a syringe – 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time.
If you dog doesn’t feel like eating dog food, the best option is to offer small amounts of rice cooked in chicken broth. You can also offer boiled chicken. Again, start slowly. If your dog doesn’t eat within a day or two, contact your vet.
What should you do when you leave your dog alone at home?
As a general rule of thumb, your dog needs two times as much water as food every day. If you are going to leave your dog home alone, make sure to provide plenty of water.
If your dog is staying outside on a warm day, make sure to provide extra water and add ice, then try to find a shady spot. An automatic water bowl is best because it will automatically refill, and it’s harder to spill. Make sure whatever bowl you use can not easily tip over.
Depending on how long you will be gone, you may want to leave food as well, or you may just feed when you get home. Ideally, you can have someone stop by and check on your dog if it’s an especially hot day.
If you are going to be gone more than 24 hours, you need to have someone come feed and water your dog or board your dog so it gets the proper care. Letting your dog go without food or water for 24 hours can cause serious health issues and should be avoided.
This article was written by Allison Hester.