Think of your dog’s favorite meal. Maybe it’s chicken, or salmon, or a kibble that they can’t resist. When your dog gets a mere whiff of the food, they likely come rushing towards you to get a bite. Therefore, on the rare occasions that your dog is not interested in eating their favorite meal, you have reason to be concerned that something is wrong.
As a responsible pet owner, it is your job to ensure that your dog is properly cared for. Sometimes this requires a proactive approach, but oftentimes, such as in this one, it requires a more reactive approach.
In the case that you notice that your dog's food bowl hasn't been touched, there are likely several things that are racing through your head. You might be wondering: is my dog okay? Is there something wrong? Are they sick or ill?
Of course, that’s understandable. As a pet parent, deeply care about your canine’s health and well-being. Nevertheless, before you panic, there are several steps that you can take to ensure that your dog is safe and well.
It is also important to keep this fact in mind: just because your dog is not eating like they usually do, doesn’t necessarily mean they are in grave danger. It’s easy to see the 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.
If you believe that your pet is unwell, it is easy to become distressed. But before you get nervous, you should consider the facts and take note of your dog’s symptoms and anything that has potentially changed in their routine. This is your ultimate guide about what to do if you are wondering why your dog isn't eating, when you should worry, and how to treat canine inappetence.
So you notice that your dog is not eating. Now what? If your dog's eating habits have changed, there are several questions you should attempt to answer to pinpoint both the cause and seriousness of the situation your pet is dealing with.
These questions include:
How long has it been since your dog stopped eating?
How long has your dog been eating this type of food?
Are there other symptoms you've noticed, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy?
If you have other dogs, are they also refusing to eat?
Has your dog stopped drinking water?
Ideally, you will have these questions answered before you go to the vet. Having a robust understanding of the entire situation can help you — and your veterinarian — figure out what exactly has occurred and is leading to food refusal.
The first thing that you should know about your dog’s lack of appetite is that there is the potential it is connected to something more serious than a simple belly upset.
If you're concerned about your dog not eating or if it's accompanied by more serious symptoms, you should speak with a vet immediately. Alternatively, even if there are no other symptoms present, you might find that simply speaking with a vet can help ease any nerves you have surrounding the situation.
In reality, there are many reasons your dog could be refusing to eat, but you do want to rule out some of the more serious causes. Once you do that, you can begin to figure out what exactly is causing your dog’s appetite to decrease without having to worry that it’s something that will require serious medical attention.
Now that you spoke with your vet to ensure there is no serious underlying condition impacting your dog’s appetite, you can begin to get to the bottom of why your dog is not eating.
Of course, there can be several different catalysts combined that have led your dog to not have an appetite. Answering those aforementioned questions can help ensure that you have the clues you need to figure out this mystery.
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.
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.
The easiest way to ensure you don’t run into this problem is to prevent the food from getting old or spoiling. Before you purchase food in a store, you should check the expiration date and ensure that it is not old.
If it's dry food, keep it in a tight seal container. For wet food, store it 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 inappetence,” says Davis.
Even after adopting a new dog, they may be wary 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 number of snacks.
If you follow these steps and still find that your dog is experiencing significant anxiety, it would be wise for you to set up a visit with a trusted veterinarian. They can help you figure out what is causing your pet’s nervousness and solve the problem.
Some dogs don't eat when there is a big change in the routine or when their family members leave 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 the dog is refusing rather than eating altogether. The second thing is to talk to your vet. They can do a basic check to eliminate any medical issues and guide you through them if necessary.
If there are no medical issues, your dog may just be bored. Of course, before you come to this conclusion, you should ensure that the potential cause is not medical. It's worth trying 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 a fantastic 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 are more similar to human beings than you might think; they do exactly the same thing. Therefore, if your dog is not eating, it could be due to some dental problem that needs to be treated.
This can help ensure that your dog’s appetite comes back sooner than later. “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.
You can also use dental chews for dogs. These were created with your dog’s dental hygiene in mind, which makes them an excellent option. There are a variety on the market, so ensure that you find the right one for your pet. And bonus: these can potentially even help your dog live longer.
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 young puppy is 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 new 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; this is called 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.
If you suspect that your dog ate a foreign body or toxic object, your first instinct should be to bring them to a vet. The faster you get your dog medical attention, the better odds they have of making a full, complete recovery.
“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.
Check out some common foods that are toxic to dogs so you can avoid them.
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. “Inappetence/anorexia can be due to pancreatitis, kidney failure, heart failure, tumor, the list, unfortunately, goes on,” says Davis.
In addition, visiting the vet can do wonders for a concerned owner’s peace of mind. Veterinarians can help treat your dog if there are any problems that need professional care and ensure that you’re not concerned for no reason.
With the help of a veterinarian, treatment for the prognosis and the inappetence can be made. “Some of these methods for enticing the appetite include: 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.
Other medical reasons your dog may not be eating include:
As mentioned, it is essential that you first get a vet’s seal of approval that your dog is in the clear and that their lack of appetite isn’t because of a medical condition like food allergies or an infection.
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. Some of these might be more applicable to your pet than others, so you might have to try a few to see what works.
“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 small amount of 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 that your pup doesn’t burn their tongue.
Richardson says it could be helpful to make sure your dog is well-exercised before you feed them to help them build up an appetite. Taking your pet on a walk before you give them their bowl can be helpful when it comes to their appetite. However, do not put these two practices too closely together as there is a correlation between exercise, food, and bloat.
“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.
As a pet owner, there are few things that are quite as distressing as when your dog is not acting like their usual self. It’s completely understandable if you want answers and want them right away. That’s why Pawp is available to answer your questions about your pet at any time. There’s never a wait, it costs less than a traditional appointment, and no appointment is necessary — because Pawp is all online. Get all of your answers regarding your dog’s lack of appetite and beyond when you sign up with Pawp.
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