All dogs love food, so when yours refuses their mealtime, it may be something to worry about. Refusal to drink water is even more worrisome. Typically, there are many reasons why a dog won't eat or drink, and even more solutions to solve this problem, with and without veterinary help.
If you find yourself asking, “why my dog won't 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 just bring them into a new environment?
- Did your dog have surgery, or any major lifestyle changes?
While your dog's occasional refusal to eat is normal, prolonged lack of appetite and especially thirst can be a sign of a serious health problem. Here are some of the potential reasons why your dog wont 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 simply be not hungry. In that case, they should begin showing signs of hunger within 24 hours. This is not necessarily a sign of any sickness. Thirst is a different matter, and your pooch should drink at least within 12-14 hours.
If, after that period of time has passed, the dog won't eat or drink anyway, this may be a symptom of something more serious than just not being hungry or thirsty – read below.
2. The Dog Has a Tummy Ache
A dog may have eaten something that doesn’t agree with them, or they 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, salivating or pacing.
If your dog isn’t eating or drinking because they have a tummy ache (barring any signs of serious illness or compromised immune function), monitor them for a day. Aside from the stomach relief medicine, you can offer your pooch some boiled chicken and rice. A homemade dog food meal 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 more appetizing to your pet.
Note: Older dogs, puppies, or dogs with compromised immune system should be seen by a veterinarian 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 the 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 wont eat or drink because they have had too many treats, you will obviously 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.
Occasionally, your dog won't eat because they simply dislike the dog food brand being offered. 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 that they have been eating for a while.
Fortunately, a dog who refuses to eat because they dislike a specific brand of pet food can easily be tempted by another, more appealing option. In this case, you'll simply 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 into it to make the meal more appealing (remember to account for additional calories). Another option is to mix in 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 new kibble.
5. Feeling Slightly Unwell
Sometimes, our dogs just 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 simply 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. If your pet shows obvious signs of illness, call or visit a veterinarian. If the dog just seems to be feeling “off”, try tempting them with some boiled chicken and rice as mentioned above.
Dogs that seem unwell for more than a day and/or refuse multiple meals and water should be taken to a veterinary clinic regardless.
6. The Dog Is in Pain
Dogs who are experiencing pain will often refuse to eat or drink, but it may be difficult to decipher when your pet is suffering from pain if there are no obvious signs. Moreover, many dogs will try to even hide any signs of weakness.
Some key signs of pain in dogs to watch out for include:
- tucking their tail under their body
- seeming to cower as they walk
- can't get comfortable, always unsettled
- excessive panting
When your dog has a condition like arthritis that causes them pain, it may be time to administer pain relief, or talk to your vet about increasing pain management medications. If a dog doesn't have a condition requiring pain medication, 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. This is a result of them having anxiety and fear because of the new setting, unfamiliar people or animals around, or simply 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 decide to eat when they become very hungry. 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.
Speaking of serious cases of anxiety, there are other reasons that may be the cause of it, and subsequently make the dog not want to eat or drink.
Anxiety causing lack of appetite is especially true for dogs who are prone to experience severe separation anxiety. They'll be in the 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, provision of a safe space and other methods to calm them down. Anxiety can cause a variety of behavioral and physical problems in dogs, and it's important to address it sooner rather than later.
9. Possible Medication Side Effect(s)
If a dog is currently taking any medications, and especially if they started on a new one, this could be the cause of 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 a dog won't eat or drink, new medications are very common to be the cause of this, but generally, this side effect will taper off. In the meantime, try tempting the dog with boiled 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, if you believe that your dog won't eat or drink due to a new vaccine, talk to a vet. It's crucial that your veterinarian is 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 aware 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. When anything interrupts this routine, it's possible a dog wont eat or drink due to the stress and confusion this change of schedule causes.
This is not very common, however. In fact, the reverse is usually observed by pet owners. 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 change in schedule, 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 actually a very common cause of reluctance to eat or drink in dogs. A pet with dental issues may exhibit a number of 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.
If you suspect that a dog won't eat or drink due to dental problems, check inside their mouth. Sometimes “toothache” can be the result of something being stuck between the teeth; in this case, simply remove the item. If you notice signs of redness, pale gums, swelling, infection, or a broken tooth, head in to see your veterinarian.
If you have recently brought another pet into your home, or if you have one pet who is food aggressive or aggressively dominant, 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 simply defer to that animal. This deference applies to many areas of life, including mealtimes.
If you believe that your dog won'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 without the dominant animal present.
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 to eat because their dog food now smells or tastes different than before.
This refusal to eat is the result of training your dog to expect something (in this case, a tasty topper at every meal). Although seen as manipulation in human terms, this is actually 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 (read below).
Knowing how to tackle grief in dogs is tricky and often requires veterinary intervention. For your part, try to keep your pooch 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 simply give your pup extra attention.
Some dogs in particular will struggle with grief to a large degree, 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 appetite too. Dogs may become depressed not only after losing a companion, but also due to lack of activity, prolonged absence of their owner, friend or family member, and even the weather, psychologists say.
If you suspect that your dog won't eat or drink because they are depressed, try to determine the exact cause. Talk to your vet about possible solutions and make the effort to include your pupper in fun activities, enough playtime and bonding time together.
Some dogs simply have a “sense” that something is changing. For example, if you are about to go on a vacation and 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, make the effort to stick to your dog’s normal routine and spend time with them to make your pup feel more secure.
Dogs who experience anorexia as a result of impending change may sometimes refuse to eat completely until that change takes place. If you are concerned about the refusal of multiple meals, talk to your vet.
18. Exposure to Toxins
If your dog has been exposed to toxins, they may have a lack of appetite. Dogs can be exposed 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 and/or has ingested a toxin, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Call the Pet Poison Helpline if you believe that your dog has eaten something that 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 exceptionally dangerous 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 that they should not, or experience a blockage due to items lodged in the intestines, their digestive tract stops. This means that no food can pass through the animal's system.
This may cause lack of appetite because a dog feels uncomfortable and unwell. Other canines may attempt to eat, but find that they vomit their food back almost immediately.
Intestinal blockages are very serious 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 serious illness or disease. There are many that reduce or eliminate a dog’s appetite and thirst, with one of the most serious being cancer.
When a dog won't eat or drink and you notice them looking unwell or acting odd, see a vet. The earlier you are able to catch the disease, the sooner you can begin treating it.
While many dog owners fear this to be the cause of anorexia in dogs, it is actually one of the least common reasons a dog won't eat or drink. Don't panic, and consult your vet, allow them to perform testing, and get to the bottom of your dog’s lack of appetite.
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