7 min read

5 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Not Eating

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By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 12/22/2021, edited: 12/22/2021

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Overview

From time to time, dogs may refuse to eat the food they are given. There could be several potential causes for a loss of appetite, which are similar to the reasons people sometimes don’t eat. The cause may be minor and only last a short time, and at other times it could be something that needs attention. 

If your dog periodically stops eating for a short time, they may resume eating again without any cause for concern. It’s important to stay calm while you determine if it's on ongoing problem, as reacting negatively may make your pupper think you are angry at them and could worsen the situation. However, if your fur baby stops eating for a few days, experiences vomiting and diarrhea, or already has respiratory diseasediabetes, or an infection, it’s essential that you call your vet to determine the cause. 

Wondering why your pooch isn’t eating and what you might do to get them back on track? Let’s look at some causes and tips that may help.


Illness

An illness like a viral or bacterial infection can make a doggo feel lousy, and the last thing they may want to do is eat. They can sometimes be tempted with a treat or a morsel of human food, but what’s in their bowl doesn’t interest them at all. It’s as if they’re too worn out to eat and they just want to nap. This doesn’t need to set off shrieking alarms if it’s just for a couple of days. Theoretically, most dogs can go for up to a week without eating and still survive. As nerve-wracking as this may be for their pet parent, there may be no reason for concern. 

The safe period for preventing dehydration is much shorter than starvation, however, so it's important to be sure your doggo has plenty of water available, and that they’re drinking. If your fur baby continues to not eat or drink past those couple days, it’s time to call the vet. 

During a trip to the vet, the following measures may be taken:

  • Antibiotics
  • Intravenous fluids if the pup isn’t drinking water
  • Dental surgery may be necessary to remove a growth
  • Appetite-stimulating medication
  • Hand fed with a syringe or tube at the clinic to get them back on the road to eating 


Stress

Just as human appetites sometimes suffer after a breakup or other traumatic event, dogs may respond to changes in their lives by not eating. The loss of a pet parent or fur buddy, or a move to a new home can lead to a loss of appetite. Anything perceived by the pup as an upheaval, like the arrival of a new member of the family, may upset them and be perceived as a threat. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including avoidance of food. 

Anticipating a major change to your dog’s life and minimizing it can help them keep to their normal routine, including eating. Acting out in other ways, such as soiling the floor, can be signs that some increased stress is in play.  There are a few things you can do to reduce your doggo's stress so they'll feel like eating again.

  • Take your pup for a long walk. The fresh air, exercise, and distractions may help lower their stress level.
  • Set aside some time for play with their furvorite or a new toy, or pick up a brain puzzle to try.
  • Plan some cuddle time where your attention is on them only. Stroking and petting will be relaxing and calming for both of you.
  • Do some simple training exercises to bond more and give your pup something new to focus on. 
  • Give them time to get used to a new family member by introducing them slowly and calmly. It may help to provide them with their own closed-door or gated space during this time. The same method can be used for visits from family or friends.
  • Be liberal with treats to increase their self-confidence and feeling of safety.
  • If a move is in the works, have a sock, blanket, or worn tee shirt with the pup's or your smell on it that they can carry around or sleep with to feel secure.


Medications

Certain medications like antibiotics can upset a dog’s stomach, causing them to not want to eat anything. Sometimes diarrhea and even vomiting might occur with medication as well. 

Appetite often suffers when a dog is on chemotherapy for cancer, or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which can upset the stomach and even cause pain that your fur baby may associate with eating. 

A call to the vet at these times is appropriate. There may be other, less troublesome meds that can be given instead, or dosages that can be adjusted. If vomiting accompanies the administration of medication, antiemetics are available that may help curb your dog's feelings of nausea.


Food preferences

When a dog stops eating their normal food, but will accept treats and human food, chances are that their appetite hasn’t decreased. They may simply not want their regular food anymore. Sometimes pet food companies change their formulas, or a bag of kibble may have been sitting too long and gotten rancid. Dogs who are accustomed to a certain flavor sometimes reject food, even if they’re actually hungry.

If you suspect that your best buddy is trying to send a message about the quality of their food, or they have just gotten tired of it, it may help to try a few different brands and formulations to see if that will jump-start their eating. You can also mix some wet food into the kibble to see if that’s enough of a flavor change to entice them.

It’s also a good idea to have a backup food that you know your pup will accept in case of food recalls or if their regular food is taken off the market. The search for food that’s palatable to your pooch can be a long and frustrating process, but patience is key. Many pet food stores offer sample bags of food so you can try out a few before buying a full supply.


Aging

Sometimes, as dogs get older, their sense of taste and interest in food can wane, just like people. At these times, it may be helpful to supplement their normal food with some human food that will not only be irresistible, but will also provide a rich source of nutrients to make up for what they’re missing by eating less dog food. Poached or scrambled eggs may be just the thing to get Fido’s mouth watering, or even mushrooms. Just be sure you don't give your dog anything that is toxic to canines, such as avocado, grapes, onions, garlic, or macadamia nuts. 

Dental problems can cause pain in older dogs and also make them reluctant to eat their regular dog food, especially if it's dry kibble. Your veterinarian will have the best advice on how to make your pup comfortable again. Often, you'll need to switch to soft, easy to chew foods that are easy on their aching mouth. These could include:

  • Pre-made baby food, especially chicken, lamb, and turkey. 
  • Boiled, shredded chicken, or chicken with plain white rice  
  • Wet dog food 

A slowed metabolism often accompanies the aging process in dogs which can reduce their activity level, and in turn, their need for calories. Older dogs can also be in pain from arthritis and find it hard to get to their food bowl. They may even develop cognitive issues and forget where the food bowl is. For these circumstances:

  • Talk to your vet about changing your pooch's diet to more closely align with their changing nutritional needs, like increased protein and fewer calories
  • Ask the veterinarian to prescribe some mild pain medication or an anti-inflammatory to assist your arthritic doggo in getting around
  • Place food bowls in multiple places so food is more readily available 
  • Put food and water bowls next to the pup's bed or their favorite snoozing blanket


Pawsome tips to get your dog eating

Whatever the reason, these furbulous tips may be just the thing to help encourage your pup to eat!

  • Warming their food in the microwave to make it smell more appealing
  • Pouring broth or juice over the food, including low sodium chicken and beef broth, bone broth, clam juice, or the juice from a can of tuna
  • Mixing wet food with dry if the kibble alone seems uninteresting 
  • Hand-feeding pieces of food one at a time. Sometimes the added attention and being fed directly from a parent's hand will make your doggo feel safer and increase the value of the food in their eyes
  • Add plain, canned, or baked fresh pumpkin to their food bowl to spice up their appetite and help with digestion
  • Offering human foods that are high in nutrition and that your pup loves, like eggs, mushrooms, and soft-cooked veggies
  • Working with a stressed or depressed fur baby to reduce their anxiety by snuggling, playing, and exercising them
  • Providing plenty of water to go with their food
  • Offering food in several places, including near the dog's bed
  • Trying another brand or flavor of food


Cost

Costs for caring for a dog who is not eating can vary based on the diagnostic and treatment services performed. Lab work, imaging, a physical exam, support measures and medication can range from $100 to more than $500. If an overnight stay, surgery, or chemotherapy are necessary for an underlying condition, the expenses may rise into the thousands of dollars, to $8,000 or more. 

These figures are estimates, and it’s best to talk with your veterinarian to determine what your expenses might actually be.


If your pooch turns up their nose at mealtime, the cause may be something benign that doesn't require treatment. However, in dogs with pre-existing illnesses or loss of appetite that lasts for more than a few days, or is accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, a call to your veterinary clinic is necessary.

A high-quality diet is essential for keeping your dog happy and healthy. Digestive problems and food allergies can be expensive to treat. Compare pet health insurance plans to save more than $270 a year on vet care.


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