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Health & Wellness

What does it mean when a dog won’t eat?

Because some pups are bigger foodies than others.

Most dogs would probably do nothing but eat all day if it were up to them (or they had opposable thumbs to help them open their treats), which is why changes in eating patterns or habits can be cause for concern for pet parents. Here’s what their temporary fasting could mean.

How long can a dog go without eating?

According to Dr. Brie Dichter, a veterinarian from Sagamore Animal Hospital in Rye, New Hampshire, skipping meals might actually be totally fine for some dogs — the threshold that triggers cause for concern is a couple of days. “Generally, if a dog has not eaten within 2 days, I become concerned,” she cautions. “Some dogs who are suffering from gastrointestinal upset may go 24 hours or so and not eat, and a few skipped meals may also be a normal occurrence for some pets.” Any longer than that, though, is a different story. “I always recommend the pet seek care from their local veterinarian to assure nothing more serious is occurring.” 

How often should a dog eat?

Some dogs might be OK without a meal or two, while others get hangry without a regimented snack time — the idea of a universally healthy schedule for feeding pets is not as cut-and-dry as it may seem. Different factors, like breed and age, determine what’s healthiest for each pup. (Your vet will always know what’s best for your dog.)

“Each dog is different on how feedings should be scheduled,” Dr. Dichter says. “Most dogs typically eat twice daily. Some pets who are at a proper weight may enjoy grazing throughout the day.” 

Then there are puppies, which bring up a whole set of regimens all their own, in order to ensure the utmost nutrition during their most formative months. “For puppies who are under 6 months of age, I recommend three meals a day,” she adds. “This helps provide more calories and nutrients during the day for their growing bodies.” 

On the opposite end of the lifespan, for senior dogs who may be slowing down and eating differently, Dr. Dichter says she generally does not recommend any large changes to long-established feeding schedules. 

RELATED: Why is my dog throwing up yellow?

When to call your veterinarian

Whether it’s an innocent oversight, something your food-loving friend is doing themselves by passing on meals or something more serious, there are some key symptoms to look for that signal a lack of proper food, and when to seek medical care. “A dog who has gone too long without eating may show signs of weakness and lethargy,” Dr. Dichter notes. “Once a dog is showing these symptoms, though, they are in a critical state and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.” 

In general, if you are ever concerned about your pet’s eating habits, it’s always a good idea to contact your vet for advice.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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