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How Long Can A Dog Go Without Eating?

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A correct feeding regime is one of the most important aspects of maintaining optimal health for every dog, and that’s why dog owners need to know how long can a dog go without eating.

A pivotal part of any feeding regime is the time interval at which meals are given.

In this article, we will explore the feeding behavior of canine species before their domestication and explore if it is appropriate to manage the feeding of domestic dogs in a similar fashion.

How Long Can A Dog Go Without Eating?

Also, this article will explore several health and behavioral conditions that can be managed with an optimal feeding program.

This article will also examine some of the many types of dog food available for your pet.

After this article, you will be able to choose the best feeding interval and method for your beloved family dog and know how long can a dog go without eating.

Dogs Before Domestication

Our adorable canine friends descended from the wolf and are in fact, still closely related to wild wolves and other canine species.

We still see many similar behaviors between our domestic pets and wild wolf species, including burying that tasty bone treat to save the food for later.

Both wolves and domesticated dogs can be seen eating grass on occasion to help settle an upset or uneasy stomach.  

Eating Habits Of Wolves

The primary food source of wolves in the wild are large mammals such as deer, moose, and caribou.

Smaller animals such as sheep, goats, hare, and even fish are also eaten.

Overall, the prey of wolves varies by the geographic location that they live in.

Wolves generally hunt in packs and will choose specifically more vulnerable individuals first such as the young, old, injured, or sick.

Wolves require over three and a half pounds of meat each day and if a growing or actively breeding individual they may need to eat double that amount.

Depending on the time of year, the actual number of kills a pack can make will vary.

Other sources of food that wolves will turn to include domestic livestock and even domestic pets if they are left in a vulnerable situation.

Wolves also forage for vegetables, fruits, and berries to ensure their vitamin and mineral requirements are met.

In very tough times wolves may even turn to scavenging from domestic garbage cans and eating animal carcasses to ensure their survival.

Because of the irregular nature of their kills, wolves may need to eat a large amount of food at any one time.

An adult wolf can eat up to 20 pounds of meat in a single meal, as they cannot rely on eating every single day.

Young Wolves

For the first four weeks of a young wolf’s life, it is fed exclusively milk from its mother and by eight to ten weeks of age, the pup will be fully weaned.

During the weaning process, the pup will begin to eat meat regurgitated by an adult.

Various members of the pack will bring food for wolf pups, not just the mother of the litter.

By ten weeks of age, most wolf pups are ready to begin eating meals with the rest of the pack.

Domesticated Canines

Our domesticated canine pets though similar in DNA have evolved to be vastly different in appearance to their wild wolf cousins.

Living in the home environment with their human owners has all but removed the need for dogs to hunt for their food in packs.

Our dogs no longer rely on roaming large distances in search of food for their survival.

Though domestic dogs generally have a similar lifespan to that of wolves, there are many things we can do to ensure that their lives are much more comfortable and to keep our dogs in the best of health.

There are hundreds of different dog breeds that have all descended from wolves but are now vastly different in appearance and temperament.

Some breeds have been genetically selected for particular physical features that have been continually refined over generations of breeding.

Feeding Puppies

A litter of puppies, like their wolf cousins, will depend on their mother’s milk for the first four weeks after birth.

Once they reach four weeks of age puppies must begin the transition to solid foods to meet their nutritional requirements as they grow.

It is recommended that puppies be given a premium quality kibble designed specifically for puppies.

Kibble can be softened with water or a rehydratable option selected if puppies initially have trouble with the transition to dry food.

To ensure that puppies have enough energy throughout the day and to avoid upsetting small stomachs, it is recommended that puppies are fed up to four times a day until the age of four months.

From the age of four months, puppies should be fed three times a day until six months of age.

The transition from a puppy specific to adult dog variety food can occur from 12 to 15 months of age, depending on the dog’s size and breed.

Due to the amount of growth required at an early age in very large breeds, it is recommended to make the transition to adult food slightly later.

Adult Dogs

One of the simplest methods to safely feed adult dogs is to feed a measured amount twice per day, at an 8 to 12-hour interval.

Feeding two meals a day ensures that dogs that tend to gobble their food cannot eat too much food too quickly and that an active dog will have a steady source of energy throughout the day.

Another approach that can work for active dogs that do not gorge on their food can be to leave a measured amount of dry food out for free-choice feeding.

Dry food left outside through the day can attract pests and possibly spoil if uneaten food is not disposed of at the end of the day.

This method can be greatly beneficial for nursing or very active working dogs.

A combination of the first two feeding methods is to leave a set portion of food out for your dog for a specified time window, perhaps 30 to 60 minutes.

This combination feeding method can encourage fussy eaters to anticipate mealtimes and therefore eat more consistently and reliably.

Multiple factors determine the most appropriate method to feed your dog, including medical factors that will be explored below.

Bloat

Bloat, also referred to as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex is a condition that can occur in dogs and presents as a time-critical emergency.

When bloat occurs, a dog’s stomach becomes filled with air which can block blood from the back legs and abdomen from returning to the heart.

With reduced blood flow back to the heart the dog’s body can be sent into shock.

A very alarming aspect of the condition is that the dog’s stomach can flip, further cutting off blood flow and also causing the spleen and pancreas to invert.

During this process, the pancreas becomes deprived of oxygen and this causes hormones capable of stopping the dog’s heart to be released.

If your dog is suffering from bloat you may only have a matter of an hour or two to get your dog to the vet in time for life-saving treatment.

If your dog appears to have an enlarged abdomen, stomach pain and is restless, salivating, and potentially trying to vomit you must take your dog to the vet immediately.

Dogs that are fed only once per day are reportedly twice as likely to suffer from the condition.

Consuming food at a rapid pace can be up to five times as likely to suffer from bloat as those dogs that eat their meals slowly.

Taking action to slow down the rate a dog eats is extremely important to reduce the risk.

There are specially designed feeding bowls that reduce the speed that dogs can consume meals, with ridges or vertical fingers that make it slightly more difficult to access large gulps of food.

Certain breeds are also more susceptible to bloat, in general, those being large-bodied breeds with deep chests.

Examples of the breeds at risk are Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Standard Poodles.

It is important to note that not just the breeds listed above are deemed more at risk.

Diabetes

Dogs with diabetes are another group that must have their feeding intervals carefully managed to prevent further complications associated with this serious health condition.

Diabetic dogs should eat at least twice a day, preferably three, to prevent potentially dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels that can occur when there are extended time intervals between meals.

Dogs that present with an increased appetite and a noticeable increase in water consumption along with weight loss and increased urination are signs that your dog should be checked for diabetes.

Untreated or managed poorly, diabetes can have permanent and extremely debilitating outcomes for dogs including blindness, seizures, and kidney failure.

Behavioral Problems

Dogs that are fed at irregular intervals can also begin to develop behavioral problems associated with a lack of security and certainty around food.

They may become hyperactive and even aggressive around mealtimes.

Food aggression in dogs can be an extremely dangerous behavior in dogs, particularly in homes with children that may approach the family dog while it is eating.

A dog that feels secure that it will have access to regular meals is much less likely to display food aggressive behavior, and therefore is a much safer pet to have in the family home.

By ensuring you feed your dog at intervals of no longer than 12 hours can help to assure your pet that there will never be a shortage of food.

It is much easier to prevent food-related aggression in dogs than it is to address the problem once it is an ingrained behavior.

Addressing food aggression can take months, if not longer to address and there is no guarantee of a lasting, complete resolution to this extremely dangerous behavior.

Choosing The Right Food For Your Dog

Another factor that has a large influence on the optimum feeding regime for your dog is what breed or a mix of breeds it is.

Different breeds of dogs can be more likely to suffer from particular health conditions.

Some examples are Labradors are prone to gaining weight easily and the Dalmatian breed appears to suffer from urinary stones at higher rates than other breeds.

Breed Specific Food

Complete dog foods specially formulated for specific breeds of dogs are widely available and many premium brands market to dog owners in this way.

Dog food formulated for a specific breed is designed to address the common or major nutritional and health issues each particular breed is likely to encounter.

While the development of breed targeted formulas can make it easier to choose a food, it is more important to address the specific health concerns affecting your dog.

A dog can be fed a formula designed for a different breed as long as this formula is compatible with its specific nutritional needs.

Size Specific Food

To simplify the process of choosing the most beneficial food, some formulations have been developed to meet the nutritional needs of multiple breeds grouped by their size.

Size groups commonly used are Toy, Small, Medium, Large, and Giant.

Different brands may divide size ranges at varying weight points; therefore, it is extremely important to carefully read the packaging and consult your veterinarian when selecting the food that is best for your dog.

Health Condition Specific Food

If your dog develops a specific health problem or concern throughout its life many different food choices are formulated to provide targeted nutritional care to support medical care administered by your veterinarian.

Vet only or prescription foods may even make claims to help treat or support the treatment of diagnosed health conditions.

Where such claims are made, they must be supported by scientific evidence that is accepted by regulatory authorities.

Some of the conditions that have specific formulas developed to aid management include, kidney conditions, urinary tract support, weight management, mobility support, dental management, and support to cardiac conditions.

The best thing to do if your dog is diagnosed with a specific health issue is to speak with the treating veterinarian and follow any food recommendations to maximize the treatment benefits your dog can gain during a management program.

Many online companies offer prescription foods for purchase, which is a massive leap inconvenience for busy dog owners.

These online stores will have a verification system to ensure that owners are purchasing food safe for their dogs and you should only shop for prescription food after a specific diagnosis and recommendation from your veterinarian.

Raw Dog Food Diets

There has also been a recent trend in the marketing of a raw or so-called, natural diet for dogs.

Many companies have developed their feeding programs and offer home delivery of pre-packed meals as the basis of their program.

These raw or natural feed programs market themselves as being more biologically compatible with a dog’s nutritional needs than other commercially prepared products.

One large part of this assertion is that a dog’s digestive system is not designed to digest large amounts of cereal grain products that can be found in some commercial formulations.

Critics of these raw food feeding programs often assert that it is impossible to achieve a correct and reliable balance of vitamins and minerals on many raw feeding programs because the nutritional content of many source ingredients can be variable.

A raw diet cannot be specifically formulated to provide targeted support to diagnosed health conditions in the measured and scientifically proven way that prescription formula commercial dog foods can.

For a healthy adult dog, the raw feeding method does offer owners the ability to choose exactly what source ingredients are fed if meals are prepared in the home.

When a commercially prepared raw food product is purchased for your dog owners are relying on the food production company to formulate meal contents in the same way that other commercial foods are manufactured.

As with choosing any specific type of food for your dog, you must consult your dog’s veterinarian to ensure that all of their nutritional and health requirements are being met.

Kibble Or Wet Food

Among the premium brand commercial foods available to best meet your dog’s nutritional needs generally, both kibble and wet food forms are offered in each formulation.

Wet food, generally packed in cans or sachets, has higher moisture content and in cases of fussy eaters, it may be more palatable.

Dry food can be stored much more easily and for longer periods in airtight containers that do not require refrigeration.

Choosing a dry kibble for your dog can also offer daily dental maintenance to complement regular checkups, teeth brushing along with bones, and chew toys to prevent tartar build-up.

As a primary food choice, kibble can offer much greater flexibility in the methods or food dispensers that you choose for your dog that are examined below.

Feeding Your Dog When You’re Not Home

There are many options to ensure that your dog receives regular meals if you work long or irregular hours or perhaps if you take a weekend away.

In households with multiple members, it may be as simple as drawing up a feeding roster for each day of the week.

In situations that a feeding roster becomes a contentious issue, it’s best to allocate primary responsibility for feeding the family dog to one individual.

For a single person working long hours, it can be difficult to manage a regular feeding schedule alone.

Trusted friends may be happy to feed your dog on occasion.

Professional pet sitters can visit your home and feed your dog when you aren’t home, which can also be an extremely helpful solution for short trips away when your pooch cannot come with you.

Modern technology can also play an extremely helpful role in managing your dog’s feeding schedule by using an automatic feeding machine.

There is a multitude of options available, including machines that connect to your home WI-FI that can be managed through an app on your phone.

Final Thoughts

Though domestic dogs descended from, and are still closely related to wild wolves, it is clear that our pets should not be managed as though they are wild.

The potential health and behavioral problems that can arise from only feeding your dog a large mean every couple of days outweigh any possible convenience from feeding less often.

Unless specifically advised by your veterinarian, an adult domestic dog should be fed high-quality food at least once per day, preferably twice.

Younger dogs, and puppies after weaning should be fed at even more regular intervals.

The longest time interval a healthy adult dog can go without eating is 12 hours, and that’s how long can a dog go without eating.

If you then have specific health concerns for your dog, ensure that you consult your veterinarian for a dietary program recommendation.

Happy mealtime to you and your dogs!

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