Dog won’t eat

Key takeaway

If your dog won’t eat, there could be underlying health problems at play. A lack of appetite may indicate a number of issues, including allergies, chronic or acute illnesses, and dental maladies. Potential treatment options include dietary changes and medication.

There’s no denying that dogs love food. Sitting by the dining room table with their glistening puppy dog eyes, you know they’re waiting for you to share your dinner. They may even whine, nudge, or drool as a way to say “let me have some!” For some people, preventing their dog from eating everything in sight is a full time job! So what do you do when your dog won’t eat?

There are various reasons a dog may refuse to eat. They might feel sick. They might be suffering from anxiety. They might just not like the particular food you gave them. So if you notice your dog’s appetite suddenly drops, it’s important to determine the cause behind their refusal to eat.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing the potential reasons your dog won’t eat, when to see a veterinarian, what to do if your dog won’t eat his or her food, and more. Continue reading, or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice:

Reasons Your Dog Won’t Eat

There are many factors that could be hindering your pup’s normally ferocious appetite. We’ll take a look at the most common reasons below:

Illness

In our experience, illness is the most common reason your dog may be refusing to eat. If you start to notice changes in the relationship your dog has with food, that’s likely an indication that they’re not feeling well.

While a decrease in appetite doesn’t always indicate the presence of a new or underlying disease, it’s important to consult with a vet to determine the appropriate diagnosis, so that your pet can return to feeling healthy and participating in your life. A reduction in appetite should always be an indicator that your dog needs to be seen by a veterinarian, especially if the loss of appetite is accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, or both.

There are various illnesses that can cause poor appetite in a dog, such as:

  • Fever
  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stomach upset due to (eating table scraps, garbage, or something else they shouldn’t have, or ingesting a new food item which might not agree with them a sudden change in food or treats)

Graphic shows illnesses that can decrease a dog’s appetite

Medications

If your vet recently started your pup on a new medication, and their appetite suddenly changed, you should contact them to speak about potential side effects. When we think about medicating our pets, or even taking medication prescribed by our own doctor, the conversation typically revolves around what is most important. Certain drugs can cause changes in a pet's appetite, especially new drugs that they haven’t been exposed to before. Sometimes this can be alleviated by changing the medication, adding an adjunctive medication, or changing the dosage. Speak with your veterinarian for more information.

If your dog recently had surgery, they were likely given anesthetic medication, which commonly leads to nausea and decreased appetite. Pain medications, some classes of antibiotics, chemotherapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are possible culprits of sudden appetite loss as well. Be sure to touch base with your veterinarian should your dog fail to eat following a medical procedure.

Anxiety

Anxiety may physically manifest as appetite changes in some dogs, particularly in situational anxiety. If your dog suffers from anxiety, whether situational, generalized, or other, helping to relieve their anxiousness may encourage the return of their appetite.

Separation Anxiety

Do you keep coming home to scratched doorways and window sills after leaving your dog home alone for even just a couple of hours? Does your dog frantically pant and pace around every time you’re about to leave the house?

Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. This can be quite debilitating for your pup and can lead to behavioral depression, such as decreased appetite and an increased risk for infection, illness, and development of chronic diseases.

Various circumstances can trigger separation anxiety in dogs, like being left alone when they’re used to constant human contact. Although you may not recognize the symptoms in dogs, your pet could very well be suffering inside, and as a result, stop eating.

If you let your dog’s separation anxiety go on for too long without proper treatment, it can go from a nuisance for you and your neighbors, to a serious illness or major household destructionThe longer these diseases are left untreated, the more complex and difficult they become to treat.3

Learn how to treat dog separation anxiety and you may find your pooch’s appetite will eventually return.

Situational-related anxiety

Situation-related anxiety can trigger a change in eating habits. For example, if you bring home a new dog who starts to claim the food bowl, your other dog could feel intimidated, and as a result, have less interest in eating

The smallest changes can cause anxiety in a dog and lead to their lack of appetite, which is why it's so important to keep a close eye on your dog's behaviors surrounding any changes in their routine. Contact Dutch or a veterinary behaviorist for an assessment on your dog’s anxiety.

Dental Problem

Various dental issues like a tooth infection, jaw pain, gingivitis, or oral tumors can be painful and subsequently cause poor appetite in dogs.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the conditions which may reduce your dog’s appetite. Your dog may have an eyesight problem where they eat only from one side of the bowl, or a neurologic problem that is making it painful, confusing, or difficult to eat.

Dental maladies that may affect a dog’s appetite

If you suspect your dog is experiencing a loss of appetite, consult a veterinarian, before it turns into something more serious.

Ingredient Preference

There are certain foods you do and don’t like. Maybe you love avocados, but you hate cheese. So, you avoid cheese at all costs. Food preferences are the same for dogs - they just have a harder time communicating them to us.

If your dog won’t eat, it could be because they don’t like a particular ingredient that’s in the food you’re giving them, or the food they are eating could be expired or stale without you realizing it. Ensure you keep all pet food in air-tight, sealed containers for no more than six months (at absolute maximum, but we recommend no more than 3 months).

Generally, dog food should only be stored for 3 months

This may mean you need to start buying smaller bags of dog food more often. Also be sure to check for recalls on your pet’s food, as accidental manufacturing errors and food contamination happen.

If you have a picky eater,you can try a small selection (no more than three at a time) of different types of food to see what your dog likes best. It can be good to have multiple food options you know your dog enjoys, in case you run out or your dog suddenly decides they don't like that particular flavor anymore.

When To See A Vet

In some of the above scenarios, your dog’s appetite may return without intervention. For example, anxiety in dogs can sometimes quickly improve after the stressful trigger has been removed. In some cases, a loss of appetite can be a sign of a serious medical condition, and it’s important to consult with your veterinarian. Particularly if your pup has any accompanying symptoms in addition to the loss of appetite, such as vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, or accidents in the house, seek counsel from your vet within 8-12 hours. Do not be fooled by a transient resolution: if you are concerned about your pet’s appetiete, you should consult with a veterinarian to ensure that there is not an underlying condition.

When it comes to your furry best friend, you can never play it too safe. So if you notice your dog’s appetite suddenly drops, it’s never a bad idea to get them checked by a vet.

My Dog Won’t Eat: Questions to Consider

In order to help your veterinarian evaluate exactly what is going on with your pet, it is a great idea to monitor them for the length of time they’ve been experiencing this, changes in the home, and even take photos and videos to show your vet! In addition to these tips, here are a few key signs to pay attention to and discuss with your veterinarian:

Is your dog drinking water?

Drinking water is crucial for both humans and dogs. So if you notice your dog isn’t even able to stomach water, that’s likely a sign of something more serious.

On the other hand, if your dog will drink water but won’t eat, it can be due to numerous factors, such as nausea or stress. If your dog vomits after drinking water you should bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible. This could be a sign of severe nausea or an intestinal obstruction, which may be considered an emergency.

Does your dog eat treats but not meals?

Of course, every dog loves treats. But that shouldn’t be the only thing they’re interested in eating. If your dog is eating their treats, but not their meals, it could be a sign that you’re overfeeding them. They may be filling up on treats so that by meal time, they’re no longer hungry. Make sure you create a balance of feeding your dogs treats and feeding them meals.

Dog standing next to empty food bowl

However, if your dog will eat treats, but is avoiding their meal, and is also showing other symptoms of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, then they may actually be sick or experiencing anxiety. Your dog might not have enough energy to eat real food, but since high value treats are more palatable, and often associated with praise, they’re more able to stomach them. If this is the case, you should contact a veterinarian’s office to schedule an appointment.

Will your dog eat wet food, dry food, or neither?

It’s common for your dog to prefer one type of food. They sprint to the food bowl the second you put it down - maybe it’s only for wet food. If this is something your dog does, it can mean a couple of different things.

Commonly, your pet will have preferences for certain types of food. You can try mixing wet with dry food as a way to slowly integrate more dry food into your dog’s diet. If your dog genuinely prefers wet dog food and you can’t get them to eat anything else, you should discuss with your vet if a canned dog food diet is plausible for them.

Dental bone infections, abscessed teeth, and difficulty swallowing can all lead to changes in a dog’s dietary preferences over time. However, if your dog suddenly switches to avoiding hard foods, that could also be a sign of an acute or severe dental problem (such as a cracked tooth), since wet food is easier to chew. Ensuring that your pet receives yearly dental cleanings by a veterinarian is imperative to their overall health and comfort.

Wet food also tends to have a stronger smell, which can be more enticing to dogs. For inappetent dogs with a known cause, wet food can be used to stimulate appetite. Heating food up just a small amount (especially wet food, some baby foods, or canned tuna) can be very helpful in stimulating a sick dog to eat.

Is your dog older?

With age, our food preferences change. Maybe when you were a teeneager you hated olives, and now as an adult they’re your favorite food. Just like humans, aging in dogs can also cause a change in appetite.

Decreased appetite is common with an older dog. This could be due to dental decay that makes chewing hard food uncomfortable. If you have an older dog who isn’t eating, try soaking their dry food in water to soften it or mixing it with other soft ingredients, and make sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian for your pet’s yearly dental cleaning and oral health examination. During this examination and procedure, your dog’s teeth will not only be cleaned, but their mouth will be evaluated for problems such as oral tumors, gingivitis, and cancer. X-rays should typically also be taken to examine the jaw, all teeth, and whether there appears to be an infection present in any teeth. Dental pain is extremely difficult to ignore, since the body prioritizes pain of the head for protection reasons in the wild. This means that pain of the head can be more significant for your pet, causing them harm and distress if not addressed early.

Is your dog a puppy?

A puppy should have a big appetite. Depending on their age and breed, puppies generally shouldn’t go more than a few hours without eating. Since puppies are so small, they do not have a large store of glucose or fat. Their bodies, therefore, do not have any reserve if they do not constantly take in nutrients and glucose. Low ‘blood sugar’ or blood glucose in a puppy is caused by not eating, and is a life-threatening condition in young puppies. If your new pup isn’t eating, you should bring them to a veterinary hospital immediately.

Puppies need higher amounts of nutrients in order to grow, so if they’re not eating enough, it can be detrimental to their long-term health. Consult a veterinary nutritionist if you have questions about how to wean a litter of puppies onto dry food.

Have you changed food recently?

If you quickly change your dog’s food, it could upset their stomach, potentially leading to a reduced interest in food. Try to avoid changing your dog’s food overnight. Instead, strive to transition dog food gradually over the course of 7-10 days, by steadily adding in about 10% more of the new food each day. This gives your dog the chance to adapt to their new food and reduces the risk of an upset stomach.

Is your dog diabetic?

If your dog is known to be or suspected to be diabetic and isn’t eating, they should be seen by the vet immediately. Additionally, a veterinarian should be consulted before giving an inappetent dog insulin, as this can lead to hypoglycemia (aka low blood sugar or blood glucose).

In general, if your diabtic dog is skipping meals, you should consult your veterinarian as it could be a sign of hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis, and some cases of hypoglycemia, is considered to be a medical emergency and attention should be sought for your pet immediately. Additionally, we advise calling the emergency clinic beforehand or on your way over, to receive any life-saving suggestions they may make for you to complete on the way.

Dog eating kibble

Is your dog pregnant or in heat?

A dog in heat may have a temporarily decreased appetite. A pregnant dog may appear to have a decreased appetite, especially in early pregnancy, due to the fact that there is less space in her abdomen for her stomach to expand with food. A pregnant dog should be fed multiple smaller increments throughout the day, to ensure she is getting the required daily caloric intake.

In any of these cases, if your dog goes longer than 24-48 hours without eating, you should bring them to the veterinarian to be evaluated. .

Has your dog been experiencing symptoms of separation anxiety?

The symptoms of separation anxiety are different in each animal, but may include a loss of appetite. Some other symptoms that may indicate your dog is suffering from separation anxiety include excessive drooling, panting, pacing, howling or barking, accidents, and destructive behavior. Consult Dutch, your veterinarian, or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist if you think your pet may suffer from anxiety.

Is your dog newly adopted?

If you recently adopted your dog, it may take some time for them to get adjusted to their new home and new food, and as a result, they may not be eating. This is common, as many dogs experience anxiety when experiencing such a large transition.

When bringing a new dog home, you should give them their own space to eat. This will help to make them feel more comfortable and acclimated to their new space. If your dog won’t eat for more than three meals, or is showing other signs of illness, a veterinarian should be contacted to look for underlying medical conditions.

What To Do If Your Dog Won’t Eat

If you notice your dog isn’t interested in eating, don’t panic. There are various things you can do to entice your dog to eat, such as:

  • Warm up your dog’s food for a few seconds in the microwave, which can make it more appetizing
    • *Note: Make sure to test the temperature with the back of your hand, as you would for a baby, so your dog doesn’t burn their mouth
  • Pour a small amount of chicken broth, beef broth, clam juice, or tuna water over the food to make it more appealing
    • *Note: If you’re preparing broth at home, be sure to keep bouillon cubes out of your pet’s reach as these can cause toxicity in dogs
  • If they can’t chew hard foods, pour a small amount of warm water over dry food to soften it
  • Offer your dog a small amount of dry food if they usually only eat wet food, or vice versa
  • Try hand-feeding your dog, as social eaters sometimes just want attention
  • In serious cases of appetite loss, your vet might prescribe a medication that could increase appetite
  • Seek direction from your vet

Dog Won’t Eat: Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when your dog won’t eat?

So why won’t your dog eat? There are many reasons that might be contributing to a dog’s appetite loss. They could be sick. They could be on a certain medication that’s impacting their appetite. They could be suffering from anxiety. In order to treat your dog’s appetite loss, you need help from a veterinarian, in order to figure out exactly what’s causing it.

When should I worry about my dog not eating?

If your dog isn’t eating, but they’re drinking water and seem healthy otherwise, their appetite will likely go back to normal within a few days. But if their appetite loss is prolonged more than a couple of meals, or accompanied by other symptoms, like vomiting or diarrhea, you should bring them to the veterinarian to be evaluated.

Final Notes

If you notice that your dog’s appetite is dropping, it's never a bad idea to bring them to the vet to ensure they are healthy and happy.

If you don’t have the time in your schedule to immediately bring your dog to the vet, Dutch offers telemedicine for pets, which is a convenient way to get your questions answered, about whether or not it is likely to be an emergency, and steps to take in the case of an emergency, as well as helpful information about the most common causes of a symptom, right from the comfort of your own home.

Dutch is an online telehealth service that connects pet owners with licensed veterinarians. With Dutch, you may even be able to get your pup the medication they need to treat a handful of chronic conditions, like allergies and anxiety, in just a few days. If your pup is dealing with similar symptoms, contact Dutch telehealth for expert advice at your fingertips, and Dutch’s membership packages for allergy and anxiety treatment (where available by state).

References

  1. “Why Won’t My Dog Eat?”; American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-wont-my-dog-eat/
  2. “Behavior News”, Ohio State University of Veterinary Medicine, https://vet.osu.edu/sites/vet.osu.edu/files/legacy/documents/pdf/news/behaviorNewsletter/Behavior%20News%20Issue5.pdf 

  3. Seksel, Kersti. "Separation anxiety in dogs and cats with reference to homeostasis." Science Week 2013 (2013): 22.