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What is Refusing to Eat?

There are many circumstances that can prompt a dog to refuse its food suddenly, and although not all of them are a cause for worry, there are some situations which require veterinary intervention. Circumstances and conditions that can cause your canine to lose its appetite can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dental problems or mouth pain
  • Fullness
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Medical treatments
  • Pickiness
  • Vaccination

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Why Refusing to Eat Occurs in Dogs

Dogs can choose not to eat for several reasons, from simple pickiness to serious dental or gastrointestinal troubles. Some of the more common circumstances that will cause a loss of appetite in your dog can include:


Even dogs that are usually quite calm can become anxious in certain circumstances and may refuse to eat. This is frequently the case with dogs who are traveling or who are being asked to eat in the presence of unfamiliar or unfriendly people or animals. Depending on the individual dog’s temperament, any change in the environment can induce anxiety. 

Dental Problems or Mouth Pain

When dogs experience dental trouble, such as a cavity, broken tooth, or infected gum line, this can become very painful. If your dog attempts to take a bite, but then stops, is showing signs of pain during chewing, or if there is a foul odor coming from the mouth, this may indicate that the problem is originating in the oral cavity.


In some cases, your canine may simply be full. This can be the case if your animal is being fed overly large portions, if they have been scavenging other food, or if they have been getting a large number of extra treats. This is also something to take into account if you have just introduced a new food to your dog as different foods often have different caloric amounts and some foods may fill your dog up faster than others. 

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Trouble in the digestive system is a common reason for the refusal to eat. In most cases, these type of disorders are short-lived, often due to eating something that they weren’t supposed to or to a passing illness, and may include vomiting or diarrhea. If your dog is vomiting excessively, if there is blood involved, or if either vomiting or diarrhea is occurring for more than twenty-four hours, you should take your dog to the veterinarian.  

Medical Treatments

Some general anesthetics include a temporary loss of appetite as a side-effect, and some medications may cause mild nausea. It is important to ask your veterinarian for information about all possible side effects from your pet’s medical procedures and recommended medications.


Some dogs simply don’t want to eat the food that they are offered, either because they don’t like the taste, or because they like something else better. This is frequently seen when the patient’s diet is changed and usually isn’t a large concern unless the dog has gone for more than two days without food or unless additional symptoms are being exhibited. 


Although they are an important part of your dog’s health regimen, they can come with some temporary side effects, such as a loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhea. If the patient has not regained their energy and appetite within 24-36 hours of the vaccination, veterinary advice should be sought.

What to do if your Dog is Refusing to Eat

The best way to deal with this behavior depends on the length of time that the inappetence continues and what, if any, additional symptoms are being observed. Most of the time it is not an issue for a dog to miss a meal or even two, and in many cases the dog will eventually just get hungry enough to eat, however, if your dog is diabetic, or if your animal is not eating just due to anxiety or a change in environment, there are a few things you can do to help encourage your dog to eat.

Some anxious dogs are more likely to eat with a human in the room, while others prefer to be alone, but most will benefit from a quiet area with familiar things around them. Mixing a small amount of wet food in with the dog’s normal dry kibble may also inspire the dog to eat the entire meal. Even if no other symptoms are being observed and there are no underlying conditions such as diabetes, you will want to contact your veterinarian for a full physical examination to ensure that a serious illness is not responsible for the lack of appetite.  If your canine is also showing symptoms such as excessive vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or indications of pain, you will want to contact a veterinary professional for further instructions. If your veterinarian has you bring your companion to the clinic in order to further evaluate them, they may run a number of diagnostic tests, depending on the symptoms that are occurring. A standard physical evaluation will typically be the first course of action and may include a thorough examination of the teeth and oral membranes as well. Standard diagnostic tests such as a urinalysis, complete blood count, and biochemical profile will help detect infections, parasites, or imbalances in the blood that may be responsible and in some cases, x-ray or ultrasound technology may be employed to get a better image of the abdominal area.

Prevention of Refusing to Eat

Almost all dogs will experience a temporary loss of appetite at some point in their life and refuse to eat. One of the most common errors that dog owners make when their dog loses its appetite is to switch the daily diet too early or without seeking veterinary care. It is not typically a concern if a dog misses a meal or two, however, pet owners may attempt to fix the problem by immediately changing foods.

This technique has a tendency to backfire somewhat as many dogs experience nausea and other digestive upsets when their food is changed too rapidly and these symptoms may either mimic or mask gastrointestinal disorders. It is also important to be sure that your canine companion is not given an opportunity to scavenge; not only can this behavior destroy the appetite, but it puts the dog at risk of consuming things that are indigestible or toxic.

Cost of Refusing to Eat

The cost for dogs who are refusing to eat can be somewhat variable, depending on the underlying condition. While some situations can be managed simply by managing the amount and quality of the food and treats that the dog gets other circumstances may be more costly. For example, treating chronic and severe anxiety issues average around $300 to treat effectively, while broken teeth average around $850 to correct.