All dogs love food, so it may be something to worry about when your dog refuses their mealtime. Refusal to drink water is even more problematic; it's alarming if your pup won't eat or drink.
Table of Contents
- 20 Reasons Why Your Dog Won't Eat or Drink
- 1. Simply Not Hungry and Not Thirsty
- 2. The Dog Has a Tummy Ache
- 3. Too Many Dog Treats
- 4. The Dog Dislikes Their Food
- 5. Feeling Slightly Unwell
- 6. The Dog Is in Pain
- 7. Unfamiliar Surroundings
- 8. Your Dog Is Experiencing Anxiety
- 9. Possible Medication Side Effect(s)
- 10. Recent Vaccinations
- 11. Change in a Dog's Regular Schedule
- 12. Your Dog Has a Toothache
- 13. Intimidation by Another Pet
- 14. Broken Regular Habits
- 15. Your Dog Is Grieving
- 16. Depression
- 17. Impending Change
- 18. Exposure to Toxins
- 19. Intestinal Blockage
- 20. Severe Disease or Illness
Typically, there are many reasons why a dog won’t eat or drink, and even more, solutions to this problem, with and without veterinary help.
If you find yourself asking, “why does my dog not want to eat or drink?” consider the last few days:
- What has your dog been doing for the previous 2-3 days?
- Could they have eaten anything they shouldn’t have?
- Did you bring them into a new environment?
- Did your dog have surgery or any significant lifestyle changes?
While your dog’s occasional refusal to eat is typical, prolonged lack of appetite and especially thirst can be a sign of a severe health problem. Here are some of the potential reasons your dog won’t eat or drink and what to do about it.
20 Reasons Why Your Dog Won't Eat or Drink
1. Simply Not Hungry and Not Thirsty
Even though anyone who has ever cared for a Labrador Retriever will tell you that this is impossible, sometimes, a dog may not be hungry.
In that case, they should begin showing signs of hunger within 24 hours. However, it is not necessarily a sign of any sickness. Thirst is a different matter, and your pup should drink at least between 12-14 hours.
If the period has passed and the dog won't eat or drink anyway, this may be a symptom of something more serious – read below.
2. The Dog Has a Tummy Ache
A dog may have eaten something that doesn't agree with them or have an upset stomach. Causes of tummy aches in dogs are numerous, but you will almost always see symptoms of stomach upset, such as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, or pacing.
Their upset stomach and loss of appetite might be because of eating spoiled food or table scraps that made your dog stop eating.
If your dog isn't eating or drinking because they have a tummy ache (barring any signs of severe illness or compromised immune function), monitor them for a day.
Aside from the stomach relief medicine, you can offer your pup some boiled chicken and rice. Home-cooked food with chicken and rice will firm up a dog's loose stool, settle an upset tummy and tempt a picky eater (try this recipe).
To entice your dog to drink more, instead of plain water, you can try chicken broth. It'll smell better and be more appetizing to your pet.
Note: Older dogs, puppies, or dogs with a compromised immune system must have immediate veterinary care much sooner than adult dogs whenever they lose their appetite and an illness of any kind is suspected.
3. Too Many Dog Treats
Most doggy snacks, even healthy treats, are high in calories. When you feed your dog too many treats, it's not surprising that they get “full.”
If your dog doesn't eat or drink because they have had too many treats, you will remember that this may be the reason. If you did not feed your pet any treats, ask family members if they did.
A dog who refuses food and water because they have eaten too many dog treats will be fine after skipping a meal or eating a smaller portion later than usual. And don't be surprised if your dog has an upset tummy due to eating tons of calorie-dense treats, too.
4. The Dog Dislikes Their Food
Occasionally, your picky dogs won't eat because they dislike the dog food brand you offer.
Most dogs aren't picky eaters, but some are, and they will turn their nose up at new or different dog foods, even if it's of top quality. Sometimes, a dog will even decide that they no longer like the food they eat regularly for a while.
There are also instances that your dog likes human food over dog foods, which you should correct. It might cause them an upset stomach and even go as far as contracting a kidney disease, liver disease, or another severe illness.
Fortunately, even with dogs who refuse to eat because they dislike a specific dog's food brand, you can easily tempt them with a more appealing option. In this case, you'll need to buy a new bag of dog food (try foods for picky eaters).
Alternatively, you can keep the same food and add mixers/toppers to make the meal more appealing (remember to account for additional calories). Another option is to mix some wet dog food into the bowl or add a little bit of dog-friendly human foods that may entice your Fido to eat.
Note: When switching to a new dog food formula, don't throw away the old bag. To save money and not let it go to waste, try inconspicuously adding a little bit of it to each meal of your dog's kibble.
5. Feeling Slightly Unwell
Sometimes, our dogs feel “off.” It can be a simple cold, or flu, or general tiredness. On days like this, it's possible that a dog won't eat or drink for a while and choose to rest.
If you suspect that your dog isn’t eating because they feel slightly unwell, check their temperature and observe them for the day.
When your pet shows obvious signs of illness, call or visit a veterinarian. If the dog seems to be feeling “off,” try tempting them with some home-cooked meals, like boiled chicken and rice, as mentioned above.
Dogs that seem unwell for more than a day or refuse multiple meals and water should be taken to a veterinary clinic regardless.
6. The Dog Is in Pain
Dogs experiencing pain will refuse food and water, but it may be difficult to decipher when their pet suffers if there are no apparent signs. Moreover, many dogs will try even to hide any signs of weakness and still be acting normal.
Some of your dog's symptoms of pain to watch out for include:
- tucking their tail under their body
- seeming to quiver as they walk
- can't get comfortable, always unsettled
- excessive panting
If a dog doesn't have a condition requiring pain medications, head to your vet as soon as possible to find out what the reasons for not eating or drinking may be.
7. Unfamiliar Surroundings
A dog in unfamiliar surroundings will often refuse to eat or drink due to stress. It results in them having anxiety and fear because of the new setting, unknown people or animals, or being distracted by a unique situation.
You'll need to calm the dog down and make them feel comfortable and welcome.
A pet that won't eat or drink due to unfamiliar surroundings will eventually eat when they become starving. If you are concerned, create a safe space with comforting materials: use a crate with a familiar scented blanket or familiar toys around where your dog can eat and drink.
8. Your Dog Is Experiencing Anxiety
Severe cases of anxiety may also make the dog not want to eat or drink. It is especially true for dogs who are prone to experience extreme separation anxiety.
They'll be in a state of hyper-awareness. Their focus is on fight or flight rather than their need to eat and drink.
The only way to get this type of dog to eat and drink is to ease their anxiety via anxiety aids, behavioral modification, anxiety vests, a safe space, and other methods to calm them down. Stress can cause various behavioral and physical problems in dogs, and it's essential to address it sooner rather than later.
9. Possible Medication Side Effect(s)
If a dog is currently taking any medications, especially if they started on a new one, this could cause their loss of appetite and thirst.
Take a look at the medication insert for your pet's medication and read through the potential side effects. Call a vet if you're unable to figure this out by yourself.
When your dog stopped eating or drinking, new medications are prevalent to cause this, but generally, this side effect will taper off.
In the meantime, try tempting the dog with chicken and rice, food toppers, or chicken broth. If your dog has been on medication for a while and continues to experience anorexia, talk to your vet about alternative medications.
10. Recent Vaccinations
For some dogs, vaccinations can cause a lingering feeling of sickness.
These dogs generally exhibit signs of malaise, anorexia, lethargy, and even depression. It may last for a few days to a week following vaccination.
Although vaccination reactions are uncommon, talk to a vet if you believe your dog won't eat or drink due to a new vaccine. Your veterinarian must be aware of your dog's reaction to recent vaccination to make necessary changes to the dog's health care schedule.
Over-vaccination is a real problem, so be mindful of any negative signs.
11. Change in a Dog's Regular Schedule
Dogs are creatures of habit. While they cannot tell the time, dogs set their body clock by their daily routine.
Thus, when anything interrupts this routine, they might not eat or drink due to the stress and confusion this change of schedule causes.
Although it is uncommon; however, pet owners usually observe the reverse. For example, when we turn the clocks back, our dogs are ready to eat before dinnertime.
When your dog is not eating or drinking due to a schedule change, they should have no trouble eating a little later in the day when their body clock tells them that it's dinnertime.
12. Your Dog Has a Toothache
Toothache is a prevalent cause of reluctance to eat or drink in dogs.
A pet with potential dental disease or issues may exhibit several symptoms, including signs of pain when attempting to eat, pawing at the mouth, rubbing the mouth against the ground, fever, mouth odor, and visible signs of infection or broken teeth in the mouth.
Check inside their mouth if you suspect that a dog won't eat or drink due to dental problems.
Sometimes “toothache” can result from something stuck between their teeth. In this case, remove the item immediately.
Quickly head to see your veterinarian if you notice signs of redness, pale gums, swelling, infection, or a broken tooth.
13. Intimidation by Another Pet
If you have recently brought another pet into your home or have one food aggressive or aggressively dominant pet, this could be causing your dog's anorexia.
Dogs understand the concept of hierarchy and may become submissive; when threatened by a more dominant animal, the dog will defer to that animal. This deference applies to many areas of life, including mealtimes.
If you noticed that your dog recently wouldn't eat or drink due to intimidation, separate your pets at mealtimes.
Keep them out of each other's view and ensure that the more submissive dog has time to finish their meal.
14. Broken Regular Habits
Sometimes, we can inadvertently train our dogs into bad habits. For example, if you have a habit of adding a topper to your dog’s food and then run out of it, your pet may refuse food because it tastes different than before.
This refusal to eat results from training your dog to expect something (in this case, a tasty topper at every meal). Although seen as manipulation in human terms, this is the result of your Fido seeing their meal as not being “ready” to eat.
You can avoid that by incorporating variation into your dog’s meals. Try feeding a topper only every other meal.
15. Your Dog Is Grieving
Grief can be devastating for humans and animals alike. Whether your dog has lost an animal companion or a human companion, a dog won't eat or drink if they're dealing with grief, which can also result in depression.
Knowing how to tackle grief in dogs is tricky and often requires veterinary intervention.
For your part, try to keep your pup busy: play with them, walk more, get them tired and hungry. Also, tempt the dog by adding toppers to their food, bringing home a new companion for them, or give your pup extra attention.
Some dogs, in particular, will struggle with grief and will even require medications to reorient themselves back to life without their lost companion. If you suspect that this is the case, talk to your vet about available options.
Just like grief, depression can affect your dog’s loss of appetite too. Psychologists say dogs may become depressed after losing a companion due to lack of activity, prolonged absence of their owner, friend, family member, and even the weather.
If you suspect that your dog's appetite deteriorates because they are depressed, try to determine the exact cause. Talk to your vet about possible solutions and make an effort to include your pupper in fun activities, enough playtime, and bonding time together.
17. Impending Change
Some dogs have a “sense” that something is changing. For example, if you are about to go on a vacation, you'll put them in a kennel, or if you are about to move to a new house.
These intuitive pets are generally anxious dogs.
If you believe your dog won't eat or drink because of impending changes, tempt them with toppers or human food additions in their meal.
Also, please make an effort to stick to your dog's routine and spend time with them to make your pup feel more secure.
Dogs who experience anorexia due to impending change may sometimes refuse to eat entirely until that change occurs. If you are concerned about the refusal of multiple meals, talk to your vet.
18. Exposure to Toxins
If your dog had exposure to toxins, this might cause them to have a lack of appetite. Dogs can expose themselves to toxins in any manner of ways, including general house products, and you will almost always see symptoms of toxin exposure in your pet.
In addition to the lack of appetite, you will also see other signs, like:
- pawing at the face
- trouble breathing
- inability to get comfortable
When you suspect that your dog was exposed to or has ingested a toxin, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Call the Pet Poison Helpline if you believe that your dog has eaten something they shouldn't have.
If you have any idea what your dog has ingested, take the packaging with you to the vet. When there's no packaging, let the veterinarian know what it is that the dog ate.
Exposure to toxins is hazardous and requires treatment in an emergency veterinary environment.
19. Intestinal Blockage
Intestinal blockage in dogs is another common reason that your dog won't eat or drink.
When dogs consume items they should not or experience a blockage due to objects lodged in the intestines, their digestive tract stops. It means that no food can pass through the animal's system.
It may cause a lack of appetite because a sick dog feels uncomfortable and unwell. Other canines may attempt to eat but find that they vomit their food back almost immediately.
Intestinal blockages are severe and require immediate veterinary attention.
Leaving an intestinal blockage without veterinary attention can result in necrosis of the intestines and eventual death. Once an intestinal blockage has been removed or dislodged, your dog’s appetite should return to normal.
20. Severe Disease or Illness
Perhaps the most feared reason for a dog not eating or drinking is a severe illness or disease. One example might be cancer.
See a vet when a dog won't eat or drink, and you notice them looking unwell or acting odd. The earlier you can catch the disease, the sooner you can begin treating it.
While many dog owners think this causes anorexia in dogs, it's one of its least common reasons. Please don't panic, and consult your vet, allow them to perform a thorough physical examination. They'll eventually get to the bottom of your dog's lack of appetite.
Even if there are many possibilities of your dog not eating or drinking water, you have to take the initiative to monitor them. If medical issues still ensue, seek veterinary advice on what you have to do for them to start eating again.
If it's something you can do, force-feed them by hand feeding their regular food so you could monitor their food intake. By doing so, hold your pet's body to an angle that they can swallow their food.
You may also proceed with giving them warm water to hydrate them as much as possible.
As much as possible, especially if their condition is not too severe, feed them patiently and nurse them back to health.
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