Why Won’t My Dog Eat?

english springer spaniel lying next to food bowl not interested in eatingYour dog may eat just about anything you put in front of them or they could be a picky eater. Either way, there may be times where your dog isn’t eating. Sometimes loss of appetite in dogs is a cause for concern and sometimes they’re just having an off day. Being able to answer “why won’t my dog eat?” can help you figure out which it could be and what to do next.

What Causes Loss of Appetite in Dogs?

When your dog does not eat the food you put in front of them, it could be more than them being picky eaters. Your dog could be sick, nervous, or in new surroundings that may cause them to be reluctant to eat.

Luckily, loss of appetite can be treated relatively easily with a trip to the vet, training, or simply giving your dog some time. Unless your dog is losing weight, vomiting, or unable to control their bowels, which are a few of the symptoms you should never ignore in your dog, they may just need time and your understanding.

Here are a few possible causes of loss of appetite in dogs:

1. They May Just Be Picky or Not Like a New Food

Sometimes, dogs are just picky and don’t feel like eating what is put in front of them. If that is the case, you may want to try mixing dog food in with other goodies they like such as veggies, meat, or gravy.

But, it is not uncommon for a dog to eat around the dog food. If this is the case, you may want to consider experimenting with different brands and flavors of dog food. This will help you find the perfect food for them.

2. Your Dog Could Be Distracted by Something Better

If you’ve ever shared some of your food with your dog, they could be forgoing their own food in favor of begging and waiting to see if they get a morsel of yours. Although this is not a sign of a complete loss of appetite, it could keep them from eating their own food, at least temporarily. Once the distraction is gone, they should return their focus to their own food and chow down.

3. They May Have Had Too Many Treats Recently

If you regularly provide safe bones for your dog to chew on or regularly give them treats, it’s possible that they may not be hungry when their mealtime comes around. If they had some treats too close to mealtime, they may be a little full already and not ready to eat more.

This is usually more common in cases where dogs have food available at all times and graze lightly throughout the day. If your dog normally eats whatever is put in front of them regardless and they don’t want to eat, it may be more than just too many treats or treats too close to feeding times.

4. Your Dog Could Be Sick

Loss of appetite could be a sign that your dog is getting sick or generally not feeling well. If it lasts more than a day or two, it could be a sign of a more serious health condition, especially when other symptoms are present.

If they are getting sick, have eaten something off, or are showing signs of a condition, they may be displaying other symptoms such as vomiting, excessive bowel movements, apathy, or tiredness or lethargy. If these symptoms are showing, you will want to seek medical attention for your dog.

Your vet will be able to help you figure out what’s going on and recommend a treatment for your dog. It could be that your dog just needs some bed rest, a short round of medication, or perhaps even a diet change. Regardless, your vet will be able to help. Plus, your vet can let you know what the right dosage is for any over-the-counter medications they recommend to help your dog be more comfortable as they get better.

5. They May Be Getting Used to New Surroundings

If you have recently moved to a new location, your dog may not feel comfortable yet and may be nervous to eat or participate in regular activities. If this is the case, be patient with them. You may want to schedule earlier and more frequent feeding times with smaller meals. This will let them know that food is not scarce in this new place and they do not have to worry about it disappearing.

You can also spend more time with your dog, which may make them feel more at home. As you unpack your bedroom, unpack their toys and dog bed as well. This will show your furry friend that you’re not going anywhere and it is safe for them to settle down and relax. Plus, they’ll have familiar items with familiar smells to help them settle in.

The same is true if a dog is getting used to a new person in the house or a new owner. If you’ve recently bought a puppy or you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, they may be wondering where their old house is or what happened to their family.

This can be an incredibly scary moment for a dog and you must be supportive. This is another good time to just spend sitting near or next to your new friend to reassure them that you’re here for them and to slowly build trust with them. Providing smaller meals more frequently can also encourage the dog to eat.

6. Your Dog May Be Resting After Vaccinations or Surgery

After surgery or vaccinations, your dog may not have the same appetite you’re used to seeing. If this is the case, let your veterinarian know as soon as possible and see if this could lead to any permanent or detrimental side effects.

If your dog will be safe according to their veterinarian, then patience is the best response. If your dog is scared after a surgery or injection or they are just tired from the experience, don’t be afraid to sit and watch a movie next to your dog. It will comfort them to know you are there for them. Also, make sure they stay well hydrated. This will help keep fluids moving and they will feel better.

7. They Could Be Feeling Depressed

Dogs can feel bouts of depression just like humans can. Depression in dogs is real and can be caused by a variety of things. They could have depression due to chemical imbalance in the brain or they could be situationally depressed.

They could be feeling depressed because they’ve lost a human or animal friend, experienced a big change in their environment or schedule, or they could just be having an “off” day. Loss of appetite in situational cases is usually temporary. If loss of appetite is due to depression and persists, you will need to visit the vet to get some help.

8. Your Dog Could Have Dental Issues

If your dog has trouble eating, favors one side of their mouth while eating, or has stopped eating despite an interest in food, check their mouth. Many dogs with dental disease or pain in their mouth will experience a loss of appetite. If it hurts to chew and try to eat, they try to avoid it.

Gently check out their mouth, gums, and teeth. Look for things like blood, redness, inflammation, broken or cracked teeth, or loose teeth. If you don’t see anything obvious, but your dog winces or yelps and tries to pull away, there may still be something going on.

If your dog is a couple of years old and you haven’t been practicing good dental care for dogs, they could have gum disease. Many dog owners overlook dental care for their dogs. As a result, gum disease is one of the most common health issues in dogs.

Gum disease in dogs can cause tenderness in the mouth, lead to tooth decay and loss, and also cause a host of other health issues as it progresses. You can try to feed them softer food that is easier to eat and less painful to chew. But, if you suspect there is something going on with your dog’s mouth, it’s time to go to the vet.

9. Their Dog Bowl Could be the Issue

If your dog seems excited about food and then loses interest once it is in their bowl, check out their dog bowl. If it’s a new bowl, the smell may be throwing them off. If it’s a new type of bowl, it may not be the right dog food bowl for them.

If it’s a bowl you’ve had for a while, it could be in need of a deep clean or a replacement. Bacteria can build up in dog bowls over time and, sometimes even with regular cleaning, they can put off a weird smell or add an odd taste that your dog just doesn’t like.

10. Your Dog Could Be Hot

If it’s hot outside or hot in your house, your dog may experience a loss of appetite. Dogs that are hot and dogs that are cooped up too long may not want to eat. Try cooling off your dog and their surroundings when it’s hot outside or giving them some fresh air and exercise when they’re cooped up in the winter to help kickstart their appetite.

What Do You Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Want to Eat?

When your dog doesn’t want to eat, there are a few things you can do for them. The best option will depend on why your dog isn’t eating. Here are a few things to try when your dog won’t eat:

1. Consult the Vet

If your dog is sick and is experiencing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and more, it’s important to consult the vet. They’ll be able to help you determine whether your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t, is just getting over something, or is dealing with something more serious.

Depending on what is going on, they may recommend a prescription diet, certain medication, or another treatment option. At the very least, they’ll give you a better idea of what’s going on with your dog and they can help give you some ideas on what to do next to best help your dog feel better.

2. Cut Back on Treats

If your dog is still eating treats and is avoiding their food at mealtimes, try cutting back on treats. By cutting back on treats or avoiding them completely for a little bit, your dog should be more excited about their food at mealtimes.

3. Stick to Scheduled Feedings

If your dog is already on scheduled feedings, make sure you stick to them. Continue to offer your dog food at their scheduled feeding time. If they eat at some, but not others, you may be feeding them too much or too often.

Consult your vet about the frequency and portions you’ve been using. Depending on your dog, you may just need to adjust how often to feed a puppy or dog or you may need to adjust the portions.

If your dog is used to having food available all the time and just grazes, try switching to measured portions and scheduled feedings. This could encourage your dog to eat more regularly. Plus, it helps keep dog food from getting stale if it sits out too long.

4. Take Them for a Walk Before Meals

If your dog isn’t sick or recovering from surgery, try taking them for a walk before mealtimes. Getting some energy out and being active before it’s time to eat could encourage them to eat once their food is in front of them.

This can also be a good idea for dogs that are prone to bloat. One of the ways to help prevent bloat in dogs is to avoid exercise directly after eating. By taking them for a walk before they eat, you can give them enough time to rest and digest after they eat before they need to go out again.

5. Switch up Where or How They Eat

Try changing where and how your dog eats to see if a new situation helps them. A bowl or plate at a different height, a new location, feeding them alone instead of with other dogs, or keeping them company while they eat instead of leaving them alone can sometimes make a difference. Sometimes, this can help your dog reset and get excited about eating their food again.

6. Try Giving Them a Different Food

If you’ve recently changed your dog’s food and they haven’t been interested in it, try giving them something else. You can switch back to the food they used to eat if that’s possible. Or, you can try another new brand.

If they’re used to eating dry food, you can try feeding them canned food while you figure out how to get them eating dry food again. You can also try mixing the dry and canned food together to try and entice them to eat.

7. Change the Temperature of the Food

If your dog normally eats cold food and has stopped, try warming it up and giving it to them. If it’s hot and your dog normally has kibble, try refrigerating it for a little bit before giving it to them. Sometimes, an adjustment to the temperature of the food can make it more appetizing.

What to Feed a Dog Who Won’t Eat?

Working with your vet to determine why your dog isn’t eating can help you figure out the best foods to give your dog while they are recovering. Just make sure you have plenty of clean water available so they can stay hydrated. Here are a few things to feed a dog who won’t eat:

1. Mix Something New Into Their Normal Food

If your dog isn’t eating because they are picky, try mixing something new into their normal food. You can try mixing in a little bit of canned food, a treat or two, peanut butter, or some safe superfoods for dogs. Pumpkin, certain types of fish, scrambled eggs, carrots, and more can all be added to your dog’s food to add some extra nutrients while also trying to entice them to eat.

2. Try Sprinkling in Some Cat Food

Although you don’t want to feed your dog cat food long-term, sprinkling some dry cat food into their dog food can sometimes encourage them to eat if they are being picky. You can also try some types of canned cat food. Just avoid some of the higher-mercury fish like tuna and stick to something like salmon.

3. Make Them Something Plain With Chicken

Just as when you’re not feeling well, it can be a big help to stick to bland foods that still provide a lot of nutrients. Boiling some plain chicken and rice can appeal to a dog that’s not feeling well and entice them to eat something.

You can also make a dog version of chicken soup that features chicken, some broth, and some cooked carrots. Just make sure you leave out things like onion, garlic, and more as these are toxic foods for dogs.

If they’re really not up for solid food, you can offer them some warm chicken or bone broth to get some nutrients in their system. Plus, broth tends to sit easily in the stomach, which can help a sick dog feel better about eating solid food again.

4. Offer Some Warm Baby Food

If your dog isn’t feeling well, is dealing with pain in their mouth, or is just not eating for some reason, you can try to offer them some warm baby food. Turkey or beef flavors are a good option, but you can try some of the fruit or vegetable flavors as well in case your dog likes those.

Pumpkin, apple, or peach tend to be good options. If you’re unsure about whether your dog can have a certain flavor of baby food or how much they should have, make sure you talk to your vet and get their recommendations.

It can be scary and frustrating when your dog won’t eat. Knowing some potential causes of loss of appetite in dogs can help you figure out the answer to “why won’t my dog eat?” and make the best decisions to meet your dog’s needs. Oftentimes, the best initial step is to visit the vet.