When a dog won’t eat, it’s normal for a caring dog parent like yourself to get worried. So if you’re finding yourself wondering, “Why won’t my dog eat?”, we’ve got you covered.

Knowing the reasons for a dog not eating in advance can help you to address the issue. Because not acting promptly can be life-threatening for your dog, here are the 6 most common reasons why a dog won’t eat, plus what you can do about it. Once your dog is eating normally again, check out our guide for feeding vegetables to dogs.

Why won’t my dog eat?

  1. Stress & anxiety
  2. Injury & pain
  3. Medical treatment 
  4. Illness
  5. Aging
  6. Diet

Temporary appetite loss in dogs is not serious. Just like us, dogs occasionally may lose their appetite due to lack of exercise or a change in the weather. However, if your dog won’t eat for more than two days, it’s best to contact your vet immediately¹.

When your dog won’t drink water, or even when they drink too much water, there is likely a serious problem. There are also several dangerous reasons for a loss of appetite in dogs:

1. Stress & anxiety

Dogs are creatures of habit and routine. And just like humans, they can become stressed due to changes in their surroundings. (Which might result in your dog not eating.) A new environment, adding a new human or four-legged family member to the household, or other changes can make your dog nervous and stressed. So their appetite may decrease until they feel relaxed again. Separation anxiety and fear are other similar reasons why a dog may not eat.

What you can do: If possible, find out what is causing your dog to get stressed or fearful and keep them away from those triggers. If that is not possible, calm your dog by playing, cuddling, and talking to them. Keep things in your dog’s surroundings as normal and consistent as possible – and consider that even changing the food bowl might be a source of stress or confusion for senior dogs.

💡 In more serious cases, you could also get in touch with your vet for calming or anti-anxiety supplements.

Learn to recognize the signs of fear in dogs.

2. Injury & pain

Your dog not eating can mean your dog is in pain. Injuries and pain often affect a dog’s appetite. Especially dental pain. Dogs may not want to eat because something in their mouth is hurting. Check your dog for mouth sores, broken or chipped teeth, oral tumors or any other bodily injuries.

Your dog may be suffering from any of the illnesses, injuries, or painful conditions below:

  • problems with teeth, tongue, gums
  • parasites
  • broken bones
  • poisoning
  • allergies
  • depression
  • tumors
  • infection
  • organ issues
  • autoimmune or neurological diseases

Many of these conditions don’t show up immediately. So be extra vigilant and monitor your dog for signs of illness, injury, or pain. If your dog seems more lethargic or tired than usual, it might be a sign that something is wrong.

What you can do: Consider investing in Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring, which can help you get a picture of your dog’s sleep and activity levels – so you can catch on to a change before it worsens. With this data at hand, you can take action and get your dog to a vet right on time.

dog sleeping in the background smartphone with tractive gps app sleep monitoring in the foreground

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3. Medical treatment

If your dog has just had surgery and has been under anesthesia, this can often cause a loss of appetite. This is a normal reaction. But if your dog isn’t eating after a couple days, you’ll need to take your dog to the vet. Vaccination can also cause a temporary loss of appetite in dogs.

What you can do: Monitor your dog’s behavior and eating habits while on medication or in recovery. If your dog does not resume their normal eating habits within a few days, take your dog to the vet.

4. Illness

dog won't eat: reasons and solutions for a dog not eating

When a dog won’t eat, it is often a sign of sickness. Bacterial or viral infections, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, cancer and other illnesses or diseases can make your dog pick at their food or lose their appetite altogether. Although the loss of appetite in dogs doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious disease, quick veterinary attention is important.

What you can do: Seek veterinary support immediately if your dog is not acting like themselves and you suspect they might be ill. One of the first signs is if they seem less active than usual. Often, dogs might mask any signs of discomfort or pain – or might even seem normal – while still struggling with an illness or infection.

Is My Dog Sick? Signs Of Illness In Dogs

If you’ve invested in Tractive’s Sleep and Activity tracking, you can catch on to a dip in your dog’s activity levels in advance. Which can help you pre-empt a health condition – even if your dog seems happy and healthy otherwise.

packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

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See how they’re doing at a glance with Wellness Score. Set goals. Compare with dogs like yours. Monitor sleep. Detect issues and keep them healthy.

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Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive

“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”

– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter

5. Aging

If your dog is getting older, you may see a change in their eating habits. A senior dog may get less exercise and burn off less energy. As a result, they may need to eat less than they did as a younger dog. Your dog may also get more picky about their food.

What you can do: Choosing dog food appropriate for their age and the changes they are going through can help with appetite issues. Know the signs of dog dementia, which can cause a loss of appetite in older dogs.

6. Diet

Did you recently change dog food brand? Or have you been feeding your dog the same food for years – and maybe they’ve just become bored with it? Or do you (or your family members) feed your dog too many snacks or table scraps? Any of these factors could be the reason why your dog won’t eat.

What you can do:

  • Switch to a new food or a better-quality dog food
  • Ensure that the dog food you’re feeding your pup is not spoiled or expired
  • Ensure food is the right temperature for your dog
  • Add variety to your dog’s diet so they’ll be interested
  • Don’t feed your dog table scraps
  • Only give treats as a reward

How to get a dog to eat

We want to make sure that you will never have a dog not eating on your hands – this can be deeply concerning. To ensure your dog eats regularly, we recommend to do the following:

A dog wearing a Tractive GPS tracker at a beach
  • Monitor your dog’s activity. Exercise regularly with them – and keep an eye out for if they seem more reluctant or tired than before. With their activity data at hand, you can more easily spot a drop in their regular movement.
  • Give your dog plenty of attention and affection. Be patient and supportive, rather than angry, towards your dog when they won’t eat. This can help them feel more relaxed and comfortable around you.
  • Feed your dog at regular meal times. A consistent routine can help them feel more secure around you.
  • Feed your dog a consistent, balanced and healthy diet. Opt for balanced, vet-approved options. Dogs can safely eat a number of vegetables, including celery. We’d recommend only giving your dog treats as a reward (especially during training.)
  • Spice up your dog’s meals with food toppers. These can enhance the flavor of your dog’s meals and stimulate their appetite. Popular flavors include sardines, anchovies, eggs, and bone broth. Food toppers can also add some moisture to your dog’s food and keep them hydrated.
  • Stay informed on what foods to avoid. Keep an eye out for if your kids or family members are secretly feeding them table scraps. Here’s a comprehensive list of what can dogs not eat.
  • Keep your dog’s food and water bowls clean. Your dog might be reluctant to eat or drink out of a dirty bowl – so it’s always a good idea to give it an extra rinse or two.

Monitoring your dog’s activity levels can even save their life

If your dog won’t eat or just seems more reluctant around mealtimes, you can help prevent a possible health condition from worsening. Because even a dog who might seem normal otherwise might still be struggling with an injury, pain, or illness. So by tracking their sleep and activity levels, you can take a more active role in your dog’s health – and get them to a vet when necessary.

Here’s a story where one of our very own pet parents caught on to a change in her dog’s behaviors through their Wellness profile – and narrowly avoided a medical emergency.

Levi, a PTSD-trained service dog, with her Tractive GPS

“Evi, my PTSD dog was the first to try it out. And after three and a half weeks of using, and finally really trusting the data that Tractive gave me, I found out she was sick before I could even really see it.

Her sleep quality suddenly drastically decreased from around 90% to 60% and her active minutes dropped by about 50 a day.”

So even though she still looked happy and healthy, my Tractive device stated otherwise.

So I went to the vet with this information. They took me and Tractive seriously…and it turned out she had the beginning of an infection in her ears!”

“My Tractive GPS is a part of my primary gear now – and I don’t want it any other way.

– Cissy V, Netherlands

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Take an active role in your dog’s health – and get their appetite back on track again

The best way to address why your dog won’t eat depends on what your vet figures out is the cause. And if your dog won’t eat because they’re sick, they might prescribe you a special diet to meet your buddy’s nutritional needs. But no matter if your dog’s decreased appetite is a behavior problem or caused by illness or pain, it’s always best to contact a professional.

But why wait for your dog’s condition to worsen to the point they’re skipping meals? By tracking their activity and sleep, you’ll have their health data at hand. Which can help you catch on to a change more quickly – and take action early on. So you can help address the cause of your dog’s loss of appetite before it worsens any further.

There’s no better feeling than the relief you get from taking an active role in your pet’s wellbeing. So invest in a Tractive GPS & Health Tracker today – and get your buddy’s appetite back on track again.

Here are a couple of other tips and tricks to hack your dog’s hungry hormones in this video by Bio Rep Animal Health:

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Your furry friend’s health and wellbeing means as much as to us as it does to you. So we’ve made it a priority to only share medically-relevant content on our blog.

This post was checked, double-checked, and medically verified by Georgia-based vet, Dr. Dwight Alleyne.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM

Dwight Alleyne was born and raised in Long Island, New York where his love of animals began. His career for animals began working for a well-known no-kill animal shelter on Long Island.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM

He worked his way up the career ladder working as a kennel technician, veterinary assistant, and then becoming a licensed veterinary technician at the shelter.

His passion for veterinary medicine led to him applying to and being accepted at Cornell University Veterinary where he graduated from in 2006. After completing a small animal rotating internship at Purdue University, he eventually made his way to Georgia where he has been practicing ever since.

Dr. Alleyne has practiced at several small animal clinics throughout Georgia. He has a keen interest in soft tissue surgery and has extensive experience in performing ultrasounds including echocardiograms.

When he is not practicing medicine, Dr. Alleyne enjoys writing and editing pet health articles and providing pet advice through telehealth.

Dr. Alleyne also has his own blog called “The Animal Doctor Blog.” Check it out on: www.anmldrblog.com.