Why Is My Dog Not Eating? (And How To Fix That)
August 20th, 2020
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Why isn’t my dog eating?
Most days, your dog excitedly awaits mealtimes. Today, he half-heartedly sniffs the bowl and retreats without so much as a curious lick… what’s wrong?
A sudden loss of appetite can make many dog owners concerned or confused.
But first off, don’t panic! The good news is, a short-term loss of appetite in dogs is completely harmless and will usually clear up in a day or two.
In this article, let’s take a look at the variety of reasons why a dog might reject their food.
Why Is My Dog Not Eating? 6 Reasons
If your dog is otherwise healthy and has been eating their meals as usual, a sudden loss of appetite is usually due to one of the following:
- Upset stomach
- Change in routine
- Change in diet
- Bad feeding habits
- Stale dog food
- Picky eating
If nothing else has changed in your dog’s routine, one likely culprit is an upset stomach.
Just like people, it’s natural for a dog to lose their appetite if they’re feeling ill. Accompanying symptoms can include a tucked tail, or general tiredness.
An upset stomach can be caused by anything from a minor viral infection to starting a new medication. Most of the time, with proper care and rest, this will clear up in a couple of days and they’ll be back to their normal, energetic self!
Change In Routine
Changes in routine can cause dogs to turn their nose up at their usual food.
Many people suggest putting your dog on a consistent schedule, especially in the first few weeks of adopting them.
However, an unexpected change in this schedule can mess with their appetite. This can range from big changes like moving to a new apartment, or seemingly small changes like having a friend stay at your house for the weekend.
Most dogs are able to recalibrate themselves and get their appetite back naturally, but it can take some time.
Change In Diet
A sudden change in diet can also make dogs wary of their food. This is especially true with picky eaters that will carefully pick out food items they dislike–more on picky eaters later!
It’s important to realize that just because your dog rejects a new food at first, doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like it.
When changing your dog’s usual food, always make the change gradually. Doing so makes it more likely for your dog to accept the new food, and also prevents them from getting an upset tummy.
Bad Feeding Habits
Another thing to consider is how long your dog’s food has been left out in its bowl. Free feeding (i.e. leaving dry food out for your dog 24/7) is generally not recommended.
Free feeding encourages a lot of undesirable feeding behaviors, not the least of which is picky eating.
If you allow your dog’s food to be constantly available, they’ll start to learn that they can eat whenever they want. A much better approach is to set designated meal times that last no longer than about 15 minutes each.
But free feeding can also cause the food to go stale–let’s talk about that now.
Stale Dog Food
Kibble contains fats and oils that begin to oxidate when exposed to the air. Basically, this means that healthy fat particles begin to break down and become rancid.
Even if you don’t free feed, stale dry food is a common reason your dog doesn’t want to touch their food.
First things first, check the use-by date on any dog food you have. To help prevent your dog’s food from going stale, store it in an airtight food container like this one from IRIS after you’ve opened the bag.
Some sources say that a bag of kibble will start to go bad within a couple weeks of opening. Another reason to use an airtight container, but also consider buying dog food in smaller amounts.
For opened canned dog food, refrigerate if unfinished. It will last another couple of days.
If you notice your dog is constantly leaving some or all of their food over many meals, chances are you should toss the bag and get a new one.
Finally, let’s talk about picky eating. As we mentioned before, this is often the result of free feeding… although you may genuinely have a very picky dog on your hands.
If you follow our method of having designated mealtimes, lasting 15 minutes each, some dogs will catch on after a few meals and begin to eat their meals. After all, your dog probably won’t starve themselves.
(If they do refuse to eat for a few days, see a vet.)
However, that might not do the trick for all dogs. That’s why in our next section, we’ll talk about ways to try and get around your dog’s picky eating.
How To Encourage Your Dog To Eat
Now you should have a better idea of why your dog isn’t eating their food. But what can you do to encourage them to eat? There are several ways you can try to make your pup’s food more enticing:
- Mix in fresh food or treats
- Feed warm food
- Add moisture
Mix In Fresh Food Or Treats
This is by far our favorite method. We feature this in a lot of the recipes on our site, which mix in kibble and freshly cooked food.
Adding yummy foods like these to your dog’s usual food will definitely encourage them to eat if they’re feeling off.
If you’re pressed for time, pouring a bit of chicken broth over your dog’s food may also pique their interest.
Alternatively, if your dog has a favorite store-bought treat, try breaking it up and sprinkling some over their food.
Feed Warm Food
Warming up your dog’s wet food in the microwave for a few seconds will also encourage them to eat.
Just like humans, some canines dislike eating cold food and their appetite suddenly bounces back when they’re served a hot meal.
Wild dogs like wolves and foxes are used to a nice, warm meal after hunting down their prey. Sometimes, they avoid scavenging on cold meat because it’s more likely to be infected or diseased!
So, heating up your puppy’s food also taps into their natural instincts along with getting over their appetite loss.
If your dog’s diet consists only of dry food, consider adding a little warm water to their bowl and mixing the dry food into it. Adding moisture can often make the food more appealing.
Even better, try feeding your dog a serving of good quality wet food or boiled food from our recipes. Perhaps your canine is bored with their usual diet and a little extra moisture is all they need to discover their appetite again.
When To Bring Your Dog To The Vet
As we’ve seen, decreased appetite is generally nothing to worry about in dogs. But sometimes, it can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
These can range from cancer to organ failure, bacterial infections to dental issues. It can be difficult to know whether a trip to the vet is necessary, so here are a few important signs to look out for:
- Related existing health condition
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Existing Health Condition
First and foremost, if your dog was recently diagnosed with any serious health conditions, we recommend bringing your dog to the vet to be safe.
We recommend this regardless of what the health condition actually is. However, it obviously warrants even more attention if the health condition is related to digestion or eating in general.
Loss of appetite is a common supporting symptom of many other health conditions. It could indicate that the condition has worsened.
Additionally, it’s possible that any new medications your dog may have been prescribed have stopped working or is causing your dog to feel sick. Stop the new medication while you give your vet a call and book an appointment.
If your dog is already considered underweight for whatever reason (recently adopted, health issue, etc.), consider bringing them to the vet ASAP.
Underweight dogs can quickly deteriorate and become even more malnourished if they start skipping meals. This will cause them to become very weak and leaves them more vulnerable to infections.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Should you also notice an episode or two of vomiting or diarrhea, this could mean more than simply a case of upset stomach.
Of course, this depends a lot on the quality of the vomit or regurge–they come in many forms. We cover them in another article.
If you notice any blood in the vomit or diarrhea, see a vet immediately.
Even if your canine’s other symptoms seem totally unrelated to appetite loss, it’s still a good idea to at least talk to a vet.
This includes anything that fits under the “ADR” category (which is an actual veterinary term for when a dog just “ain’t doin’ right”).
For example, your dog might be especially barky, or not climbing onto the couch for pets when they usually do. Some dogs can be very subtle when showing signs of being unwell.
Other symptoms may appear innocuous to dog owners, but could be hinting at underlying conditions. If your dog is drinking more water than usual and not eating, for example, it may be a sign of diabetes.
Finally, if your dog seems to be feeling fine, but has a low appetite for more than 2-3 days, give your vet a call. Have them give your dog a general check-up and perhaps a blood test.
We hope you have gained some insight into why your dog isn’t eating, and how you can help.
Remember, this is usually a minor issue and your dog will likely be back to normal in no time at all! Just be on the lookout for those subtle signs or additional symptoms that might mean a more serious health condition.