I have had clients bring dogs to the hospital because they were worried when it didn’t eat breakfast. I have had other owners bring in dogs that hadn’t eaten in weeks. And then there have been the countless dogs that were somewhere in between missing one meal to many meals. And always the two questions are the same no matter what the situation “What is wrong with my dog” and “How long can it go without eating?”  The assumption for the questions of course, is there must be a single cause for not eating or inappetence and a time period that is dangerous for survival. Unfortunately this symptom is the least informative, only surpassed by ADR or ain’t doing right. Fortunately, going without food is far less serious than going without water.

Causes of Inappetence

Symptoms are only signs that a problem exists, not the problem itself. Not eating can be caused by the following list and more:

  • Primary oral disease ( gingivitis, periodontitis, infection)
  • Secondary oral disease ( kidney disease, oral cancer, foreign body, infection, viral disease)
  • Esophagus (irritation, inflammation, foreign bodies)
  • Stomach problems (reflux, ulcers, outflow problems, tumors, obstruction, and inflammation)
  • Intestinal problems (dietary indiscretion, foreign bodies, obstruction, tumors and inflammation)
  • Pancreas and Liver problems
  • Anemia, infection
  • Behavior (weather conditions, fear, competition with house mates, anxiety, etc.)
  • Other medical problems (cancer, hormonal conditions, neurological)
  • ADR (Ain’t Doin’ Right)

So how do we vets find out why your dog isn’t eating? We have to examine, run test, perform x-rays, ultrasound and possibly even more advanced diagnostic tests and procedures. All of these procedures are to try and find a cause for not eating. The alternative is to give appetite stimulants and see if appetite returns spontaneously. This is clearly the less desirable choice but in some economic situations is the only feasible alternative.

How Long Can My Dog Go Without Eating?

Not drinking water is a problem after only 1 day. Not eating reduces body functions, especially the immune system, and can be harmful after a period of 4-7 days. Although dogs can survive much longer periods of time without food, the consequences can be significant. Muscle is lost and contributes to significant weight loss. This can also contribute to further inappetence. So what are rational guidelines?

Missing one meal or not eating for 1 day does not necessitate a veterinary visit. Two to three days of consistent inappetence requires veterinary intervention because something is wrong. It may not be serious or it may be very serious. The good news is that most causes of not eating are typically easy to resolve, eventually.

Why Does My Dog Quit Eating?