The Only Locally-Owned Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Minnesota

Help! My Pet Won’t Eat, Drink, or Lie Down!

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If your pet hasn’t eaten or drunk water in more than 24 hours and/or is unable to lie down due to severe pain or discomfort, these are considered “ORANGE” – or urgent cases – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within the next 12 hours. Call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you, and if your pet’s symptoms become more emergent (ie: respiratory distress, unable to move or walk, or seizures) call the team back to inform them of the status change.


For pet owners, when a dog or cat stops eating or drinking, it can be the first “red flag” that something is wrong. Some owners may notice their pet acting restless, panting, pacing, or refusing to “settle down” or sleep. Many may wonder if this is a true emergency or if it’s okay to wait and monitor your pet closely before rushing into the ER. When unsure, here are some helpful parameters.

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If your pet is not eating/drinking:  

  • Assess attitude and activity. Are they acting depressed, lethargic, and quiet?  
  • Has it been more than 24 hours since your pet ate or more than two meals skipped?  
  • Is your pet usually a ravenous eater? Hint: If your Labrador suddenly won’t take a treat, that’s usually worth paying attention to!
  • Are they refusing to eat “higher value” food such as plain chicken or tuna?  

If the answer to one or more of these questions is YES, it’s time to call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital for further instruction! If you answer NO to all of these, it is usually safe to continue to wait and monitor at home. If you’re uncertain or feel uncomfortable waiting, seek veterinary advice. 

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If your pet is refusing to lie down or go to sleep:

This can often be due to pain or anxiety, which may or may not indicate an emergency.  Use these questions to help you determine if veterinary care is needed:  

  • Is your pet limping, refusing to walk or move normally, or hunching their back?  
  • Does your pet continuously need to go outside and have frequent diarrhea/bouts of urination?  
  • Is your pet breathing abnormally, such as rapid or shallow breathing, or any other abnormal signs?  
  • Is your pet ALSO refusing to eat/drink or acting lethargic?  

 If the answer to one or more of these questions is YES, it’s time to call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital for further instruction! Remember that changes in the household, stressful events, or loud noises like nearby construction or fireworks can also cause these signs.  

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Remember, always trust your gut and instincts! After all, you know your pet best! When in doubt, it is never wrong to reach out to your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital for further guidance.  

Anna Malone, DVM, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, emergency veterinarian

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