Food is necessary for life. It provides us with the energy we need to get through the day and keeps working at night to keep our organs functioning properly. This process is accurate for every organism, including our beloved dogs. With no food to sustain them, they won’t make it very long. Exactly how long can a dog last without food before they succumb to starvation?
There is a lot of science behind it, so let’s dive in and explore. You’ll also learn what to do when your dog isn’t eating, things to try, and when to call the vet.
Understanding a Dog’s Metabolism
In layman’s terms, metabolism is the process of breaking down the food we eat. Many confuse metabolism with the process of digestion alone, but it is more than that. The food swallowed is broken down into smaller molecules of nutrients. The protein, carbohydrates, and fats we ingest are turned into amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids. Metabolism is both anabolic and catabolic, as these nutrients are then used to build new tissue in the body.
Amino acids from protein are integral for tissue growth. Energy is derived from the glucose produced in the breakdown of carbohydrates, and fatty acids are essential for the integrity of every cell in our body. This same process is how it works for our canine companions. Without food, neither our nor our dog’s organs can function properly and will eventually begin to shut down. Once this occurs, death is all but inevitable.
Breaking Down Metabolic Rates
To understand how long a dog can go without eating, we must first address metabolic rates. It is agreed in the scientific community that there are two: resting and basal.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is relatively self-explanatory. To put it simply, RMR refers to the amount of energy, or calories, that the animal needs while at rest. When we, or our dogs, are resting, the body’s physiological processes are still expending calories to function.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is a tad trickier. Many people believe that BMR and RMR are one and the same, but they aren’t. The BMR is what energy is needed for the body’s most basic (basal) processes, which means what is required for the brain synapses to fire, the heart to pump, the lungs to breathe, and the liver and kidneys to continue working. It takes nothing else into account save for these vital organs, so it can be hard to determine. First, the patient must fast for 12 hours, get eight hours of sleep, and be in a dark room in a reclined state. This way, the body is not digesting food, and all other non-vital organs are at rest. As you can imagine, the basal metabolic rate will always be lower than the resting, and any movement will further increase the RMR.
How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating?
If the dog is healthy and all conditions are ideal, he should survive for five days without having food at the minimum. However, if there is a disease or an otherwise unhealthy state present, this timeline reduces significantly. Changes in weather and activity levels both play factors in this estimate since any increase in RMR will increase caloric need.
Water intake is likewise a deciding factor. A healthy dog may survive without water for up to four days, but if the temperature is high or the animal is active, this number is also reduced. For this reason, it is always wise to contact your veterinarian if you notice your dog has not been eating. Waiting even a few days can significantly reduce the chances your precious pup will survive, especially if water intake has been drastically reduced as well.
Why Does My Dog Have a Loss of Appetite?
Humans often lose their appetite when they are not feeling well, and the same goes for our pets as well. If your dog has missed a meal, it is not necessarily a cause for immediate concern. Dogs may lose their appetite for any of the following common reasons:
- Mourning a death
- Recovering from a surgery
However, if your pup refuses to eat and has missed more than one meal, it is essential to look for any other symptoms. If she is exhibiting any of the following, it will be necessary to get her into a vet for testing and to rule out anything serious:
- Gagging, wheezing, or coughing
- Weight loss
How Can I Get My Sick Dog to Eat?
There are numerous ways you can try to get your dog to eat. These are often hit or miss and are highly dependent on you and your dog. If one does not work, try another.
Wait it Out
If your dog is still drinking enough water, you can try to give him a bit of time to start eating on his own again. It is usual for a dog to skip a meal now and then. Just as you are not hungry at times, neither is Spot. If you usually feed him at certain times of the day, try leaving the food out so he can graze when he is ready.
If your puppy is eating grass but refusing food, don’t stop him – unless, of course, there is a concern of ingesting any chemical treatments recently applied to your lawn. Your dog’s instincts may be leading him to the grass so he will be able to vomit. If something in his tummy is causing it to be upset, this is a good thing and should not be deterred. Just be sure to keep him well-hydrated. Nonetheless, if he is not drinking, has vomited more than twice, or is exhibiting any other symptoms like lethargy or diarrhea, it is time to call a vet.
Offer a Something New
Dogs love being offered foods they don’t normally get, so if your pup is not eating, you may want to provide something easy on the stomach, like baby food or plain chicken. Mixing it in with their regular food will encourage them to eat their normal diet.
Switch Up Food Brands
If your dog is snubbing her regular food, try switching it up. You can get sample packs of food at your local pet store to see if you can find the best dog food for your pet.
Try Wet Food
Just like you can try switching dry brands, if you usually feed dry, you can try changing to wet dog food or mix the wet food in with their dry kibble. A bonus is that this will help keep her hydrated.
Heat the Dog’s Food
A sick dog may have a reduced sense of smell and taste. Heating his dog food will make it more fragrant and enticing to the animal. It will also enhance the taste of the food, so he may continue to eat after taking the first bite as his senses will be more stimulated.
If heating up the food does not work, you can try to add warm broth. As with heating, adding broth will add additional flavor and can intensify the smell and taste.
Try Hand Feeding
For most of us, our pets are part of the family. If you have ever had a sick child, you likely have hand-fed them at some point. You can try this method with your fur baby as well. Try offering single pieces of food with your hand. This action can provide comfort to a sick dog. It may take a while to feed in this manner, but you can try offering the bowl after a couple of bites. Hopefully, she will then eat out of that. If not, continue hand-feeding; just do not force her, or she may get sick.
Force-feeding is a drastic measure and should only be attempted after the above methods have failed. If it has been two days that your dog has refused food, this may be required. Add broth or watered-down wet food to a wide-mouthed syringe, and try to introduce it to your pup slowly. You should consult with your vet before attempting this, as doing it wrong can produce adverse health effects.
Visit the Vet
If your dog has been sick and gone without eating for more than two days, get her into the vet. They can run tests and determine for sure what is wrong and how to rectify the situation. Your dog may need medication to get better, or there could be an underlying illness that needs to be addressed. Since we know that there are many factors involved when answering the question of “how long can a dog go without eating,” it is best to consult a professional?
Likewise, your veterinarian can determine if an appetite stimulant is required. These are medicinal stimulants that can mimic the hormone that causes hunger while reducing nausea. It would be best if you did not try this on your own, as it is necessary to figure out why your dog is not eating before trying a stimulant.
Dog Won’t Eat? Try to Feed Your Dog These:
If you are trying to get a sick dog to eat, certain human foods will be appetizing to her while being easy on her stomach at the same time.
Baby food, as you can imagine, is gentle on the stomach and will be easy for your dog to eat as well as digest. Be sure to choose options that do not include onion or garlic. Any white protein-based food like turkey, lamb, or chicken are good options, as are non-acidic vegetables like carrots, peas, or pumpkin.
Bone broth is full of helpful nutrients and is easy to digest. This broth can be a great way to supplement both food and water intake.
Chicken broth is another excellent option. However, you want to make sure you are using a lower-sodium option. If you make it yourself at home, save the onions, garlic, and salt for the humans.
Chicken and Rice
Many popular dog food brands include chicken and rice in their dog food blends. As long as you use plain white or brown rice and do not season it or the chicken, you have the perfect combination for settling your dog’s upset stomach. Boil the chicken and make sure it is cut up into small pieces. Mix it in with the rice and let cool before serving.
Dogs love chicken, so if the chicken and rice aren’t working, you may want to try the plain shredded chicken. You can boil chicken for your dog and save the seasoning so you don’t upset the pup’s tummy any more than it is. Let it cool, then shred it and offer it to her.
Pumpkin is an excellent high-fiber food for humans and animals alike. It contains multiple vitamins like A and C, plus minerals such as iron and magnesium. You will want to look for canned plain pumpkin, do not feed your dog pumpkin pie filling!
It is imperative that your dog stays adequately hydrated at all times. While you may be focused on food intake, you cannot forget this crucial need. A dog’s tolerance for no water is much less than their tolerance for no food, and they will succumb much quicker when dehydrated.
Nevertheless, just as you do not want to force a sick dog to eat, you do not want to force him to drink, either. This action can cause aspiration pneumonia, which will only make him worse and can be lethal.
Encouraging Water Intake in a Sick Dog
You cannot let your dog go without water. If your dog is not interested in drinking water, you can try a few different things to increase his water intake. First, offer him an ice cube to lick or put some ice in his water bowl. You can try to see if he will lick water drops off of your finger. Lastly, call your vet. If they approve, you can give your dog Pedialyte to keep them hydrated.
Keep in mind; it is vital to seek medical attention if your dog has not eaten or drank in 48 hours. The longer you wait, the lower the chances of his survival.
How Long Can Dogs Go Without Food FAQ
How long can a dog go without food before dying?
Typically, a healthy dog can survive five or more days without food. This time is reduced if the dog is diseased or otherwise unhealthy. Other factors affect this length as well, such as exertion and the climate the animal is in.
Can a dog survive a week without food?
There are numerous factors as to whether a dog can survive a week without food. If they are not overly active, the temperature is not too hot or too cold, and they are healthy and well-hydrated, then yes, a dog can survive a week without food. However, the longer they go without sustenance, the more their chances of survival are diminished.
Will a dog starve itself to death?
A dog will not intentionally starve itself to death. It is normal for instances when a dog refuses to eat, just as humans do. However, even though it can last five to seven days or more without food, it will generally go ahead and eat around the two-day mark, unless the dog is sick or has an injury preventing it from doing so.