Few things are as worrying as when your dog stops eating or refuses food. There are many reasons why your dog won't eat, but it’s important to find out what those reasons of anorexia are so that they can be remedied. Sometimes, your dog may need veterinary help before he'll regain appetite.
It's no secret that most dogs love to eat, which is why it's so worrisome when their dinner goes untouched. Most of the reasons why a dog won't eat won't raise a lot of concern, and they'll likely work themselves out on their own. But in some cases, the complaint “why my dog won't eat?” could be a sign of a very serious health condition.
It's time to determine if immediate veterinary care is necessary. In order to do this, you'll need to think about any possible causes for this new behavior. What has your dog been doing for the last 2-3 days? Has he eaten anything he shouldn't have? Was he in a new environment? Did he have a surgery, or any major changes in his lifestyle?
If your dog won't eat, it's especially important to take note of any other symptoms that he may be exhibiting as well. Examples of symptoms that may cause the dog to stop eating and lose appetite, and that you should be looking for include:
- excessive drinking
- excessive drooling
Regardless of the reason for your dog’s reluctance to eat, it is crucial to get to the bottom of the problem. Don’t hesitate to pay your veterinarian a visit, because prolonged lack of appetite can be a sign of something much more serious. In the meantime, here are 20 potential reasons why your dog won't eat and what to do about it.
- VIDEO GUIDE: How to Get A Dog With No Appetite to Eat
20 Reasons Why Your Dog Won't Eat
1. He's simply not hungry
On occasion, like humans, dogs simply aren’t hungry. Although, anyone who has ever owned a Labrador Retriever will tell you that it doesn’t happen often.
When your dog refuses to eat because they’re just not hungry, they will begin showing signs of hunger that same day. In this situation, your dog will show no signs of sickness.
2. The dog has a tummy ache
Sometimes our dogs eat something that doesn’t agree with them or they have an upset stomach that needs medicine. Causes of tummy ache are numerous, but you will almost always see signs of stomach upset including vomiting, diarrhea, salivating or pacing.
If your dog isn’t eating because they have a tummy ache (barring any signs of serious illness or compromised immune function), monitor them for a day and aside from the supplements or medicine, you can offer them boiled chicken and rice. A meal of chicken and rice like this recipe will firm up your dog's loose stool, settle an upset tummy and tempt a picky eater.
Remember, older dogs, puppies, or dogs with compromised immune function should be seen by a vet whenever illness of any kind is suspected.
3. Too many dog treats
Most doggy snacks, even the healthy dog treats, are surprisingly high in calories. When you feed your dog too many treats, they become “full”. Think of it like a child who eats candy before dinner.
If your dog is refusing to eat because they have had too many treats, you will likely be aware of feeding them those dog treats during the day. If you did not feed your dog treats, ask family members if they did.
A dog who refuses food because they have eaten too many doggy treats will be fine after skipping a meal or eating a smaller meal later than usual. Don’t be surprised, however, if your dog has an upset tummy due to eating calorie dense pet treats!
4. Your dog dislikes the food
Occasionally, dogs will refuse to eat because they simply dislike the food that they are being offered. Dogs tend not to be very picky, but some dogs can be and these dogs will turn their nose up at new or different dog foods. Sometimes, they will even decide that they no longer like the food that they have been eating for a while.
A dog who refuses to eat because they dislike a food can easily be tempted by another, more appealing dog food brand. In this instance, you will need to begin looking at purchasing a new dog food or using a dog food mixer/topper to make your current food more appealing!
5. Is he feeling unwell?
Just like us, sometimes our dogs feel “off”. It can be a simple cold or just feeling out of sorts, but on days like this, it's likely that your dog won't eat.
If you suspect that your dog isn’t eating because they feel unwell, check their temperature and observe them for the day. If your dog shows signs of illness, drop into your vet. If your dog just seems to be feeling “off”, try tempting them with some boiled chicken and rice.
If your dog seems unwell for more than a day or refuses multiple meals, head right to your veterinarian's clinic.
6. The dog is in pain
Dogs who are experiencing pain may also refuse to eat and will need pain relief solutions as soon as possible. But knowing when a dog is in pain can be difficult, since many dogs will try to hide any sign 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; unsettled
- excessive panting
If your dog has a condition like arthritis that causes them pain, it may be time to administer pain medication or talk to your vet about increasing pain management medications. If your dog does not have a condition requiring pain medication, it’s important to head to your vet as soon as possible.
7. Is he in unfamiliar surroundings?
A dog in unfamiliar surroundings will often refuse to eat. This can be the result of him having anxiety, fear, unfamiliar people being present, unfamiliar animals being present or simply being distracted by a new situation. It's time to calm him down.
A dog who refuses to eat due to unfamiliar surroundings will eventually decide to eat when they become hungry. If you are concerned, you can try to create a safe space with comforting materials – perhaps a crate with a familiar scented blanket – where your dog can eat. When dog anxiety gets out of hand, you can try anxiety relief aids or visit a vet.
8. Your dog is experiencing anxiety
Speaking of anxiety, there are other reasons that may cause it than just unfamiliar surroundings, and subsequently cause the dog to not eat.
So if your dog won't eat, canine anxiety in general may be the cause. This is particularly the case for dogs who experience separation anxiety or severe anxiety disorders. Dogs with anxiety are in a state of hyperawareness. Their focus is on fight or flight rather than their need to eat.
The only way to get this type of dog to eat is to ease their anxiety via solutions like dog anxiety vests or medication, behavioral modification, and provision of a safe space. Anxiety can cause a variety of behavioral and physical problems for any dog, so it is important to address it immediately with a trainer and behaviorist.
9. Possible medication side effect(s)
If your dog is currently taking any new medications, this could be the cause of their loss of appetite. Take a look at the medication insert for your dog’s medication and read through the potential side effects.
If your dog has recently started a medication, it is likely that this side effect will taper off. In the meantime, you can try tempting your dog with boiled chicken and rice or a food topper on their kibble. If your dog has been on medication for a while and continues to experience anorexia, talk to your vet about alternative medications.
10. Any 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, for a few days to a week following vaccination.
Although vaccination reactions are uncommon, if you believe that your dog won't eat due to vaccination, talk to your vet. It is important that your vet is aware of your dog’s vaccination reaction so that you can make necessary changes to your dog’s health care schedule. Over-vaccination is a real problem, so be aware of any negative signs.
11. A change in his 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, a dog may refuse to eat.
Refusal to eat food due to a change in schedule is not seen often; 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.
If your dog is refusing to eat 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
A toothache is a common cause of reluctance to eat in dogs. A dog with a toothache 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 your dog has a toothache, try to look inside their mouth if they will safely allow you. Sometimes “toothache” can be the result of something being stuck between the teeth; in this case simply remove the item. If, however, you notice signs of redness, swelling, infection, or a broken tooth, it’s time to head in to see your vet.
Just like us, our dogs need healthy teeth to eat comfortably. A toothache can often be avoided by keeping up with dental care and avoiding hard chew toys.
13. Intimidation by another pet in the home
If you have recently added another pet to the home or if you have one pet who is food aggressive or aggressively dominant, this could be causing your dog’s anorexia.
If you believe that your dog won't eat due to intimidation, make sure to 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 to practice bad habits. For example, if you have a habit of adding a topper to your dog’s food, but one day run out of topper, your dog may refuse to eat because his dog food now smells or tastes different than before.
This refusal to eat is the result of training your dog to expect the tasty topper on top of their food at every meal. Although seen as manipulation in human terms, this is actually the result of your dog seeing their meal as not being “ready” to eat.
You can avoid this happening by incorporating variation into your dog’s meals. Try feeding a topper every other meal. Conversely, you can also make sure that you never run out of that tasty bacon-flavored dog food topper for that spoiled pup.
15. Your dog is in grief
Grief can be devastating for humans and animals alike. Whether your dog has lost a canine companion or human companion, a dog won't eat if he's dealing with grief.
Knowing how to tackle grief is tricky and often requires veterinary intervention. For your part, however, you can try to keep your dog busy, tempt them by adding toppers to their food, bringing home a new companion for them, or simply giving them extra attention.
Some dogs particularly struggle with grief and require medications to help them to reorient themselves to life without their companion. If you suspect that this is the case, talk to your vet about your options.
16. Is he experiencing depression?
Just like grief, depression can affect your dog’s appetite too. Depression can result from a lost companion, a lack of activity, the temporary absence of a friend or family member, or even the weather.
If you suspect that your dog won't eat because they are depressed, try to determine the cause of their depression. Talk to your vet about possible solutions and make the effort to include your dog in fun activities, play and quality time together.
17. Impending change
Some dogs simply have a “sense” that something is changing. For example, if you are about to go on vacation and put them in the kennel or if you are about to move to a new house. These dogs are generally anxious dogs.
If you think that your dog won't eat due to impending change, try to tempt them with toppers or additions to their food. Also, make the effort to stick to your dog’s normal routine and spend time with them to make them 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, but you will almost always be able to see signs of toxin exposure in your dog. In addition to the lack of appetite, you will likely already see other signs like:
- pawing at the face
- trouble breathing
- inability to get comfortable
If you suspect that your dog has ingested a toxin, it’s crucial to seek veterinary assistance immediately. It will also be beneficial to call the Pet Poison Helpline if you believe that your dog has eaten something that he shouldn't have.
If you have any idea what your dog has ingested, take the packaging with you to the vet. If you do not have the packaging, let the vet know what it is that you think your dog has ingested. 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. When dogs consume items that they should not or experience a blockage as the result of items becoming lodged in the intestines, their digestive tract becomes stopped up. This means that no food can pass through the dog’s system.
This causes some dogs to have no appetite because they feel uncomfortable and unwell. Other dogs may attempt to eat, but find that they vomit their food back almost immediately.
Intestinal blockages are serious and require immediate veterinary attention. If you suspect a blockage, take your dog to the vet immediately for testing. If you know what your dog could have eaten, let the vet know.
Leaving an intestinal blockage without veterinary intervention 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. Disease or illness
Perhaps the most feared reason for a dog not eating is severe illness or disease. There are many illnesses and diseases that reduce or eliminate a dog’s appetite, with one of the most serious being of course canine cancer.
If you have noticed signs that your dog is unwell or acting out of the ordinary, pay a visit to your vet. The earlier you are able to catch disease and illness, the sooner you can begin treating it.
While many dog owners fear this as a cause of anorexia, it is frequently not the cause, so try not to panic. Instead, consult your vet, allow them to perform testing, and try to get to the bottom of your dog’s lack of appetite.
READ NEXT: 4 Good Reasons to Feed Human Food to Dogs