Although we don’t know why you’re searching for this phrase, and we hope things get better, the lack of information on this subject concerns us enough to provide some useful guidance to help those looking for the answer.
First things first is to make clear the distinction between will a dog starve itself and will a dog starve itself to death. What we’ve usually found online is people will answer the latter with a description for the former but that really isn’t the case. So let’s break it down.
Will a dog starve itself?
Yes, a dog can purposefully avoid eating for a number of reasons with the most common being a digestive problem such as gastroenteritis, a bug or an underlying injury which has taken their appetite away. You can give them the very best wet dog food but they just won’t have it. However, they aren’t starving themselves – their body is simply telling them to not allow any more in until the issue is resolved.
However, they are not starving themselves purposefully they are just not eating. There is no conscious decision, it’s a physiological one.
Will a dog starve itself to death?
A dog can starve to death just like any living organism, but the question around whether they will starve themselves to death is a whole different matter. There are two big questions that need answering for us to get to a conclusion and they are whether or not a dog understands the concept of death and whether or not a dog understands that starvation will lead them there.
Do dogs understand death
According to Science Daily a dog has the equivalent of the mind of a 2 year old – 2 year olds do not understand the concept of life or death or what it means to be and not be. According to Psychology Today a dog can feel depressed and disconnect from its surrounding but still retains strong canine survival instincts.
This can be seen in the disturbing stories of abandoned dogs who are so desperate to stay alive that they will resort to eating inedible materials.
Death is difficult, and for some complex, subject so it seems unreasonable to imagine a dog understanding that their life could end at some point as the reality is that they probably don’t understand how life began, either. In reality, when dogs observe death they simply see it as ‘one day they were there and now they are not’. It can lead to depression but not suicidal thoughts. This can also explain why some dogs are obsessed with waiting at their owner’s grave – they believe they will just come back – they can’t accept something they don’t understand.
There is an urban legend of a dog suicide bridge in the world, however, the scientific best guess is in fact something as simple as the scent of prey and the fact that the bridge does not look like a drop when observed.
Do dogs understand that starvation will kill them?
It is a bit of a stretch that a dog would understand that starvation will lead to a concept they don’t understand – death. All they know is that hunger is satiated by food but not that it will kill them.
A dog may be starving for a number of reasons, a dog may appear to be purposefully starving themselves because of injury or illness which causes the hunger chemical ghrelin to not be present. A loss of an appetite is the absence of ghrelin.
Have you ever had a serious illness such as the flu, norovirus or even a serious injury that was left untreated? These conditions make people just not want to eat – but no one would say they are starving themselves and certainly not to death.
What about anorexia?
Dogs CAN get anorexia, which is a series of illnesses caused by an extreme lack of nutrition. However, dogs don’t get anorexia because they are trying to starve themselves but because they are starving due to an underlying condition whether mental or physical. The key point here is the intent – humans can develop anorexia due to body dysmorphia or an extreme desire to become thin and not because they are attempting to kill themselves.
We can guarantee that a dog who appears to be starving themselves has an underlying condition making them not have an appetite or be able to swallow their wet food. Dogs have a very strong survival instinct which will drive them to do anything they can to survive, this along with their inability to understand suicide and death means it’s unfounded that a dog will purposefully starve themselves.
If you believe your dog may be doing so, take them to see a veterinarian immediately.
Ronnie is the JugDog site editor and a dog expert who has lived and worked with dogs his entire life. Living in St. Helens, UK with his wife son and Jug Dog Jeff Ronnie spends most of time researching the answers to the burning questions of the dog community as well as reviewing the latest and greatest dog products.