It can be very distressing for both owner and dog when food is left uneaten. If you’ve been wondering, “Why won’t my dog eat?“, the answer could be any number of reasons. Failure to eat in dogs is called anorexia, for ‘a complete lack of appetite’ in dogs (it is similar, but not the same, as the anorexia nervosa found in humans).
It is very important to discover the exact reason for your dog’s loss of appetite so that you can remedy the situation and get your pooch back on form. Some of the possible reasons for a dog not eating are underlying illness, stomach upset, anxiety, environment, tooth problems, kidney or bowel issues, and sometimes just plain pickiness.
Finding the answer to your question will take a lot of observation and may warrant a trip to your veterinarian’s office. Sometimes there is an underlying health issue, which could become more serious if not treated. Other times it is a matter of stress or a simple environment change that is cause your dog not to eat his dinner.
Why Won’t My Dog Eat?
Here’s Why Dogs May Refuse Food
If there are no other symptoms that would lead you to believe that your dog has an underlying health issue, monitor his behavior closely for 48 hours. If you notice any other symptoms you should get him to the vet immediately. If not, you should be able to figure out the issue with a little time and patience.
Gastrointestinal problems are a common cause of appetite loss in dogs. It’s possible your dog may have eaten something he shouldn’t have because dogs are notorious for scavenging behind their owner’s back, and they can be wily when they want to be!
Your pooch may have taken something like bread, cheese or candy from the counter or outside. Candy and bread are very bad for a dog’s stomach because of all the sugar, and dairy products can upset a dog’s tummy as canines are lactose intolerant.
There is a chance that your dog may have ingested something poisonous or toxic. If you think this is the case, watch him very closely. If he vomits or has diarrhea he could become dehydrated quickly. Ensure he has plenty of water available and contact your vet immediately. Keep him cool and calm while you wait.
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Environment: Unfamiliar Surroundings and Traveling
If you’ve been asking, “Why won’t my dog eat?,” the answer could be as simple as unusual or strange surroundings. If there is another dog around, or a dog which seems threatening, this could cause your dog to lose his appetite.
Also if your dog is being fed when a new dog or new people are in the house, he may well walk away from his food bowl. If this is the case, it would be advisable to feed your dog away from others in a nice safe quiet room away from all the bustle.
If you take your dog on vacation or on a trip to unfamiliar places, he may go off his food due to motion sickness in the car and the stress of the traveling itself – traveling is stressful enough for people, and we understand what’s happening! Dogs love routine so it may help if you try and keep some regular things going on during a vacation, for example, keeping mealtimes consistent.
Dogs can also be upset when you change your routine. If you used to be gone from 9 till 5 and now you’ve started a new night shift, your dog will really miss you. Extreme changes in your routine can’t be helped sometimes, but it’s a good idea to set the new routine as quickly as possible so your dog can get used to it.
Vaccinations is a big thing for dogs, and sometimes they may be very dangerous.
Loss of appetite sometimes follows vaccinations, as having injections can be unpleasant and the trip to the vets can be stressful. It would be advisable to bring your dog in person and stay with them during the procedure, giving comfort and reassurance.
With a keener sense of smell than us, dogs can sense when food isn’t fresh. Ensure his dog food is fresh and isn’t moldy. Dried food is only good for about a month. Try to keep kibble sealed and airtight as much as possible and consider buying smaller bags if you’re having issues with it going bad.
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Sometimes dogs can be just plain picky about their food. If your dog is really not eating well, try adding some fresh meat or chicken to his food, or cooked eggs, yogurt or gravy. You can try and encourage your dog to eat by making the meals more appetizing by warming them up slightly, which makes the smells stronger, or by adding a little chicken, cooked unseasoned eggs, plain yogurt or a dash of low-sodium broth.
If you feed your dog extra treats during the day this is likely to suppress his appetite, so avoid giving treats until his appetite fully returns. Family members may also be giving your dog scraps of food off the table without your knowledge.
It is advisable to have only one member of the household feed your dog to enable monitoring of food, and to avoid your dog becoming obese. Try offering some tasty food after an enjoyable walk or run; your dog may well build up an appetite and dive into a meal. Make sure you give him lots of praise if he tries to eat.
If your pet goes days without food and you’re worried about his health, speak with your veterinarian. Your vet may prescribe an appetite stimulant as long as there is no underlying illness.
Be cautious that you are not inadvertently conditioning your dog to be picky. Dogs can sense their owner’s emotional state, so if you are worried and stressed about your dog not eating, you may be stressing him out too, creating a vicious circle. Don’t hover over your dog while he attempts to eat, instead start feeding your dog in a quiet space for meals and leave your pup to it.
Tooth or Mouth Pain
Often tooth or mouth problems can cause lack of interest in food. Your dog may have an abscess, a loose tooth or ulcerated tongue. Check for mouth sores, bad teeth, growths or anything that may be stuck in his teeth. These conditions must be treated by a veterinarian.
Ear infections can cause severe pain and discomfort which naturally puts your dog off his food too. Puppies may be reluctant to eat due to teething pain, so try mixing in softer food or adding a little warm water to kibble to make it easier for them to eat.
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Conditions such as kidney disease can cause nausea and gastric ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease and liver disorders can reduce your dog’s sense of smell and taste. These illnesses can be very serious and need immediate treatment. When lack of appetite is coupled with lethargy, panting, fever or diarrhea, a trip to the vet is required.
Obstructions in the abdomen, a tumor or an enlarged heart can all cause loss of appetite. Addison’s disease can cause loss of interest in food as can tick-borne diseases. If you dog still won’t eat there may be an underlying illness which needs to be determined.
If he goes off his dog food for a few days and then is back to normal eating that is nothing to worry about. However, prolonged loss of appetite could have a number of causes and must be taken seriously. You should make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible if this is the case.
Similarly, dogs suffering any kind of sickness or undergoing chemotherapy for cancer often refuse to eat because they feel tired and ill.
Seasonal Effects: In Heat and Hot Weather
Hot weather can make dogs lethargic and make them lose their appetite, just like people.
Make sure your dog has plenty of drinking water and a cool place in the house or shade outside so he can cool down when outside temperatures rise. Consider feeding your dog in these cooler areas, and don’t worry about his appetite. As long as he is staying hydrated, he’ll be okay for a day or two.
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Like people, dogs have less of an appetite as they age. If your dog is older, it’s quite normal for him not to wolf down as much food as he used to. As long as he eats a little bit during the day, his weight is stable and he seems happy otherwise then it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
To encourage an older dog to eat, you can try the tricks from above and add a little chicken, eggs, or low sodium broth to his kibble, or warm the food slightly in a microwave because older dogs may not be able to smell their food as well as they used to. You can also try feeding smaller amounts more often over the course of the day.
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