My dog won’t eat! 6 common causes and recommendations

11 December 2020

It can be scary when your dog won't eat, or when your good boy or good girl's just not acting like themselves. Discover the common reasons for a dog not eating below plus tips to get them eating again.

dog won't eat - dog paw pushing plate with food away

When a dog won’t eat, it’s normal for a caring dog parent like yourself to get worried. 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.

The most common reasons why a dog won’t eat:

  1. Stress
  2. Injury and 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

Just like humans, dogs can become stressed due to changes in their surroundings and this might result in the 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. 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 old dogs.

Learn to recognize the signs of fear in dogs.

2. Injury and 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

What you can do: Contact your vet immediately if you suspect that your dog is ill, injured or in pain.

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.

5. Aging

If your dog is getting older, you may see a change in their eating habits. An older 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

Best practices 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:

  • Exercise regularly with your dog and monitor your dog’s activity levels
  • Give your dog plenty of attention and affection
  • Invest in training for your dog
  • Be patient and supportive, rather than angry, towards your dog when they won’t eat
  • Feed your dog at regular meal times
  • Feed a consistent, balanced and healthy diet
  • Only give your dog treats as a reward
  • Keep the food and water bowls clean
  • Put your dog on the optimal diet for them, as recommended by your vet

Conclusion

The recommendations for a dog not eating depend on what your veterinarian determines to be the cause of the problem. If your dog won’t eat as a result of illness, the vet may prescribe a special diet to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Understanding why your dog is not eating will help to determine the most suitable treatment plan. No matter if your dog’s decreased appetite is a behavior problem or caused by illness or pain, it is always best to contact a professional.


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