Why is my dog not eating and what can I do?
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Dogs love to eat. Whether they’re making puppy-dog eyes at you from beneath the dinner table, or lunging for that pizza crust on the sidewalk, it often seems as though their main mission in life is getting food. So if your pup has suddenly lost their appetite, it’s bound to be a bit concerning.
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There are many reasons why a dog might not want to eat. Firstly, it’s worth saying that loss of appetite is one of the most common signs of illness, so if your dog hasn’t eaten for 24 hours, then it’s best to call your vet, especially if there are any other troubling signs, like diarrhea or lethargy. Remember, you can contact Small Door vets 24/7 via the app.
Dental issues can often cause appetite loss. Just like toothache in humans, your pup may not feel much like eating if there’s something amiss with their teeth, so it’s a good idea to check your dog’s mouth for anything stuck in their teeth or gums.
Signs of a larger dental problem include a foul smell, any loose teeth or lots of tartar build- up; if you spot any of these, make sure to see the vet right away.
And of course, prevention is the best cure! Remember to brush your dog’s teeth regularly and take them for a dental check-up at the vet at least once a year.
Changes in environment or routine can upset some dogs and put them off their food for a while. If your pup has experienced a stressful event recently, this may be the cause.
Normally, once the initial anxiety has passed, dogs will return to their normal eating habits. Try some of the tips below to help encourage them to eat, and make sure to give your vet a call if they’re still not eating after a couple of days.
The same is also true for vaccinations or new medications — from time to time, they can cause dogs to lose their appetite temporarily, but this should fade within a day or so. As long as your pup isn’t on a hypoallergenic diet, a little chicken and rice can sometimes help with appetite loss due to medication.
Sometimes, there may not be a medical or behavioral problem causing your dog to refuse their dinner. They might just not be hungry!
Giving dogs too many treats or overfeeding in general is surprisingly easy to do. Remember that the suggested amounts on food packaging typically overestimate the amount a normal dog needs.
Try keeping a list of the number of treats your dog gets in a day (and make sure no-one else in the house is sneaking them food!) And as always, speak to your vet if you’re unsure how much you should be feeding your dog.
If your dog’s not turning their nose up at everything, but only refusing certain foods, that’s a good sign there’s nothing seriously wrong. You may just have a picky eater on your hands. This problem tends to occur more often in dogs who’ve been fed a wide variety of foods, who often get table scraps or who are fed at inconsistent times.
Puppies are notoriously fussy eaters. If you notice your new puppy refusing to eat, this doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is sick. New puppies take in a lot at once – they may need time to adjust to their new lives, and you may need to experiment with their food.
If dogs have become accustomed to getting human-food treats on a regular basis (such as high-fat, tasty morsels of cheese or salami), they may turn their nose up at their blander kibble, in the hope that something better might come along later.
If you think your dog is just being picky, check out our tips below for how to get your dog eating again.
And if your dog suddenly stops eating a brand of food they’ve liked for years, firstly, double check the food hasn’t gone off.
Open a new pack if you can to see if your dog will eat that — sometimes dry kibble can get mold that we can’t see, but dogs can smell. The ingredients could also have changed, so it may be worth trying a different flavor too.
Some dogs won’t touch their food while you’re out but will start eating as soon as you walk back in the door. Dogs are pack animals by nature and may feel more comfortable eating when you are home. If this is the case, try to make sure you feed your dog at least 10 to 15 minutes before you have to leave so they have time to finish eating their meal before you part ways for the day.
If dogs have become accustomed to getting human-food treats on a regular basis, they may turn their nose up at their kibble.
If you and your vet are certain there’s no medical problem to blame for your doggie’s lack of appetite, then try out the tips below to tempt them to eat.
1. Try rotating through several alternative dog foods
Try a few different flavors, mix dry and wet food together, or switch between dry and wet to see if another food appeals more to your dog. Ensure you make any changes gradually, to not upset their stomach.
2. Add a tasty topper or mix to their food
Mix in a little human food to see if that does the trick. Good options are plain chicken, fish or a little low-sodium beef/chicken broth, steamed or boiled butternut squash, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Just make sure you don’t give them any ingredients harmful to dogs, like onion or garlic.
3. Warm up the food
Even us humans tend to prefer a nice, warm meal. Add a little warm water, just a tablespoon or so, or pop the food in the microwave briefly. Double check it’s not too hot so your pup doesn’t burn their tongue.
4. Go for a walk before meals
Make sure your dog is well-exercised before you feed them, to help them build up an appetite.
5. Feed at consistent times
Divide the food into two or three meals and serve them at consistent times each day.
Don’t leave food out for your dog to graze on — take it back within 10 minutes if it hasn’t been eaten to help cement the idea of mealtimes.
Use your dog’s kibble as treats, and only offer meals for short periods of time. This leaves your dog no choice but to eat their food and hopefully get used to it.
If your dog goes off their food for a day or two but then resumes eating without displaying any other concerning signs, you shouldn’t be overly worried.
Signs to watch out for include any significant change in your dog’s eating habits that persists more than a couple of days, repeated vomiting or diarrhea, lethargy, sudden weight loss, excessive thirst, not pooping or unusual stool. In these cases, it’s best to see your veterinarian for advice.
There are a myriad of reasons why your dog might stop eating, many of which are relatively common and shouldn’t be anything to worry about if your dog resumes eating after a few days. If your dog stops eating for more than a couple of days or experiences any other concerning signs, you should contact your vet right away. We hope these tips are useful. As a Small Door member, you can get in touch with us via the app 24/7 if you have any questions or concerns about your dog. We are here to help!