4 min read

Dog Sitting 101: How to Get a Dog to Eat Their Food



Most dogs eagerly await the sound of their food bag rustling at dinner time. So when your four-legged client starts refusing their meals, it's completely understandable to be concerned. Appetite loss happens for many reasons, and often it's something as simple as the dog missing their parents or being in a new place. Read on to discover common causes of appetite loss in dogs and how Pet Caregivers can encourage pups to eat when they don't want to.

golden dog eating from silver bowl

How to get a dog to eat

There are a few different things you can do to make mealtimes more enjoyable for your furry friend, but ensuring your canine client is eating well starts before your sitting appointment even begins.

If you're working with a new dog, it's a good idea to get some background information about their eating habits and dietary needs before your appointment. Reach out to the Pet Parent to get a general sense of the dog's appetite and eating schedule. This is also a good time to inquire about food sensitivities, allergies, and dietary restrictions. 

Once you have some background information on your pup, you can start troubleshooting their appetite loss with the techniques below.

Feed Fido in a place where they feel comfortable

If you suspect the dog is avoiding meals because they’re nervous, try feeding them in a secluded place, like a quiet bedroom or sunroom. Dogs who enjoy time in their crate may eat better when you place their food in their kennel.

If you're boarding multiple dogs at once, try separating the dogs into different rooms during meals. Past experiences with food-aggressive dogs can cause some canines to fear eating around others.

Try hand-feeding them

Some dogs will only eat when hand-fed, especially small or older dogs. If your woofer disregards their bowl, try holding a few pieces of kibble under their nose and see if they will take it.

Make mealtimes fun

Some dogs are simply too busy to bother with eating — after all, meals cut into prime playtime! If your woofer seems more interested in running around than eating, try turning mealtime into a game. Make dinner more enticing by playing hide-and-seek with kibble or placing treats in a snuffle mat or food puzzle. For more ways to make eating fun, check out these ideas for turning your pup's food into toys!

Add some extra flavor to their food

Sometimes all it takes to spark a dog's appetite is adding some extra flavor to their regular food. If your pooch is turning their nose up to their bowl, try adding one of these to their kibble:

  • Gravy
  • Low-sodium meat broth
  • Plain yogurt*
  • Peanut butter*  
  • Melted cheese
  • Canned salmon or tuna
  • Dog food seasoning blends (sometimes called food toppers) 

*Make sure to avoid yogurt and peanut butter products that contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.

Be sure to check with the Pet Parents about possible allergies or food sensitivities before adding anything to their pet's kibble.

Keep Fluffy active

Walking, playing, and fetching are all calorie-burning activities that will help ensure your furry friend has a healthy appetite. Make sure Fido gets plenty of exercise before mealtime rolls around, and you might find they eat better.

black and white dog lying next to a pair of food and water bowls

Why won't my dog eat?

There are many reasons why a dog might not want to eat — here are some of the most common.


Like humans, dogs may not feel up to eating when under the weather. Dog's don't have to have a serious condition to decline meals, either — sometimes a sour stomach or a slight head cold can cause dogs to lose their appetite. If the dog is also sleeping a lot and is disinterested in playing, chances are they're feeling poorly.

Natural fluctuations in appetite

It's normal for a dog's appetite to fluctuate, so don't be surprised if your dog eats like a bird one day and a pig the next.

Separation anxiety or depression

Separation anxiety and depression are two of the most common reasons dogs refuse food when their humans are away. Think about it — when you're feeling down or anxious, you probably don't have the biggest appetite either. The best thing you can do in these situations is to be present and give Fido plenty of affection and gentle encouragement until their parents return.

Dental problems

Dental problems can also contribute to an apparent lack of appetite in dogs. Tooth and gum pain can make eating difficult and painful. Often, dogs with dental problems would rather skip meals than go through that pain. If you suspect the dog you're caring for has a sore mouth, ask their parents if there are any soft foods you could offer them instead of hard kibble.

They're getting up in years

Older dogs don't eat as much as younger, more active dogs since they don't need as many calories. Seniors are also more likely to have mouth pain or tooth loss, which can make them reluctant to eat.

They're having tummy problems

Tummy troubles are another common culprit for poor appetite in pets. Dogs who refuse to eat may be constipated, nauseous, or have an upset stomach — especially if they're experiencing abnormal or difficult bowel movements, vomiting, or dry heaving

They're nervous

Being around unfamiliar people or pets can be anxiety-inducing and make dogs more likely to skip meals — especially if they’ve been housed with territorial or possessive dogs in the past.  

Caring for a dog that doesn't want to eat can be a stressful ordeal, but we hope these ideas will help your canine client get their appetite back. Any time you experience a problem with a canine client's appetite, you should discuss it with the Pet Parents. Check out our guide for tips for communicating with Pet Parents.

Comments (1)

Susan C Raven


My grandson is staying with us for a week. When my dog sees he's gone for a while. Now she won't eat but she will eat my cat food.

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