Aly Walansky•August 06, 2020•9 min read
Our shih tzu Lily loves salmon. She also loves any kind of meat or cheese. When she smells it cooking, she’ll run to the kitchen and try to jump in the oven (we do tell her that’s not advised). So, on those rare occasions she is not interested in eating her favorites - or anything else! - it is worrisome.
Sometimes dogs aren’t hungry, or in the mood to eat. When your pup is known for their hearty appetite, it’s easy to notice when your dog is refusing food. It’s easy to see loss of appetite and assume your pet is sick, but they could be perfectly fine. Loss of appetite can be something as minor as an upset stomach or something as serious as cancer. (Let’s not jump there that quickly though!)
When your dog has lost their appetite, there are some important things to note to pinpoint the cause (and seriousness) of what your dog is dealing with:
If you’re concerned about your dog not eating or if it’s accompanied with more serious symptoms, you should speak with a vet immediately. There are many reasons your dog could be refusing to eat, but you do want to rule out some of the more serious causes.
Most dogs aren’t picky about their food, they are fine about eating the same meal over and over again, and if they enjoy it, they will be excited every single time. My Lily would eat tuna every single day if it was offered to her!
However, if the food is old, they may be more hesitant to eat and go on a hunger strike for a fresher diet. “It is always important to check the expiration date on your dog’s food and to store them properly,” says Sakura Davis, Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Consultant at Catpet.club.
If it’s dry food, keep it in a tight seal container. For wet food, store them in the refrigerator after opening for up to three days (or follow the instructions on the label) and use fresh ingredients for home cooked meals.
Some dogs are highly sensitive to change, much like people can be, and this has the potential to cause them to stop eating, or eat less. “If you have recently moved to a new house, brought home another pet or even a baby, these things can trigger stress and anxiety in dogs leading to inappetance,” says Davis.
Even after adopting a new dog, they may be weary of eating the first couple of days. “If you sense that your dog is undergoing stress due to a change in environment, be patient,” says Davis.
Do not scold your dog for not eating but rather spend some time and give them the attention they have been lacking. “Giving them plenty of exercise may also help entice their appetite. If push comes to shove, you can also sit down with them on the floor next to their bowl and hand feed (but do not continue this long term, as they will expect you to feed them this way all the time),” says Davis. It’s also important to only offer treats as snacks and not as meals and decrease the amount of snacks.
Some dogs don’t eat when there was a big change in the routine or when their family members left for vacation. “Anxiety should be looked into with the help of a professional,” says Anna Bartosik, companion animal trainer at Woofs & Purrs. If there were no big changes, the very first thing to do is to try feeding something else to test if it’s not the type of food that dog is refusing rather than eating all together. The second thing is to talk to your vet. He can do a basic check to eliminate any medical issues and guide you through them if necessary.
If there are no medical issues, what’s worth trying is to make feeding time more interesting. “Dogs like looking for food and even working for food,” says Bartosik. Taking their food and using it in training can be an amazing way to not only make sure your dog eats his daily portion but also bonds with you even more. “The rest of the food you can use in a puzzle feeder or a chew toy like kong. You can also organize a scavenging game in the garden by throwing all of your dogs’ food on the grass. It’s fun for them to look for it,” says Bartosik. Make feeding time more interesting, so it’s not just nutritiously dense, it’s also a source of fun.
If you have a toothache, you are reluctant to eat. Dogs! There just like us! “A cracked, decaying or impacted tooth, and even swollen gums can keep a dog from eating,” says Davis.
If your dog allows, check inside their mouth for any of these signs and check for an abscess under their eye, which is usually caused by an infected tooth. “A visit to the veterinary clinic will then be recommended for some medication and possibly a dental procedure/cleaning,” says Davis.
Once their teeth are taken care of, their appetite should return back to normal. “To avoid dental issues however, it is highly recommended that you brush your dog’s teeth regularly and provide them with something they can chew on (ex: coconut husk) to keep the plaques off,” says Davis.
Sometimes, there may not be a medical or behavioral problem causing your dog to refuse their dinner. They might just not be hungry! “Giving dogs too many treats or overfeeding in general is surprisingly easy to do,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary. Try reducing the amount of treats, and check in with your vet if you’re unsure how much you should be feeding them.
If your dog is only refusing certain foods, that’s a good sign there’s nothing seriously wrong. “Picky eating tends to occur more often in dogs who’ve been fed a wide variety of foods, who often get table scraps or who are fed at inconsistent times,” says Dr. Richardson. Puppies in particular are notoriously fussy eaters. If you notice your new puppy refusing to eat, this doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is sick. New puppies take in a lot at once – they may need time to adjust to their new lives, and you may need to experiment with their food.
If your dog suddenly stops eating a brand of food they’ve liked for years, firstly, double check the food hasn’t gone off. “Open a new pack if you can to see if your dog will eat that — sometimes dry kibble can get mold that we can’t see, but dogs can smell,” says Dr. Richardson. The ingredients could also have changed, so it may be worth trying a different flavor too.
Puppies love to get into things and often end up with objects in their intestines/stomachs that they cannot pass, we call this a foreign body. “Symptoms of a foreign body include loss of appetite or not being able to keep anything down (excessive vomiting), and lethargy,” says Davis. “A foreign body can be fatal and may require surgery or treatment to pass the object, so it is imperative you go to the vet clinic once you notice a pair of socks is missing and your dog looks quite guilty and miserable!” says Davis.
A dog can go for three to five days without eating, however, after about two days of not eating, a visit to the vet clinic may be needed. “Inappetance/anorexia can be due to pancreatitis, kidney failure, heart failure, tumor, the list unfortunately goes on,” says Davis.
With the help of a veterinarian, treatment for the prognosis and the inappetance can be made. “Some of these methods for enticing the appetite includes: medication, syringe feeding, tube feeding, hand feeding, acupuncture, and IV fluids,” says Davis. The better their health is, the better their appetite will be.
Overall, these are the main reasons why a dog would stop eating. It’s always important to keep an eye out on our beloved pets so we can ensure they are getting their daily nutrients and it may enable you to catch an early sign of a serious illness.
If you and your vet are certain there’s no medical problem to blame, here are some helpful tips to get your dog to start eating again.
“Try a few different flavors, mix dry and wet food together, or switch between dry and wet to see if another food appeals more to your dog,” says Richardson. Ensure you make any changes gradually, to not upset their stomach.
Mix in a little human food to see if that does the trick. “Good options are plain chicken, fish or a little low-sodium beef/chicken broth, steamed or boiled butternut squash, sweet potatoes or pumpkin,” says Richardson. Just make sure you don’t give them any ingredients harmful to dogs, like onion or garlic.
“Add a little warm water, just a tablespoon or so, or pop the food in the microwave briefly,” says Richardson. Double check it’s not too hot so your pup doesn’t burn their tongue.
Richardson says it could be helpful to take sure your dog is well-exercised before you feed them, to help them build up an appetite.
“Divide the food into two or three meals and serve them at consistent times each day,” says Richardson. Don’t leave food out for your dog to graze on — take it back within 10 minutes if it hasn’t been eaten to help cement the idea of mealtimes.
For picky dogs, use their kibble as treats, and only offer meals for short periods of time. “This leaves your dog no choice but to eat their food and hopefully get used to it,” says Richardson.