Why My Dog Won’t Eat? Possible Reasons and Appetite Solutions

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when your dog stands in front of his breakfast dish just looking at you? And not because he is hoping for a juicy morsel. What if he walks away dejected and pitiful? We all have days where we do not feel much like eating. Food is unappealing to you due to a virus, sour stomach, or overindulgence from the previous night and your dog is no different.

So at what point should you worry if your dog is not eating? What should you do about a dog who refuses to eat?

Why My Dog Won’t Eat

Another term for dogs who stop eating is canine anorexia. The top reasons that your dog goes without eating include behavioral issues, sickness, emotional upset, and medications. And your young puppy will not eat if he has viruses or worms.

7 Steps to Find Out Why My Dog Is Not Eating

1. Observe Your Dog’s Behavior

Your dog’s behavior can give you important clues about why he might not be eating. Does he shy away from his dish? Skittishness may show pain. Other signs of pain are glancing towards his abdomen, hunching his back, or walking with a stiff gait.

More behavioral clues are as follows:

  • Licking lips – nausea
  • Trying to bury the food
  • Mouthing food
  • Hiding in a corner
  • lethargic or depressed dog

2. Check Your Dog’s Body Language

Pain was mentioned before because discomfort may affect your dog’s behavior and the pain alone can cause a dog to lose their appetite. 

Common sources of pain that cause your dog not to have much interest in eating may be subtle from:

  • Back – IVDD or slipped disc; crying, stilted gait, paralysis
  • Abdomen – Pancreatitis, cancer, twisted organs, bladder infections; tensing the abdomen, hunched back, protective posturing
  • Lameness – Severe leg pain such as in fractures, tendon strains, muscle inflammation, arthritis, and bone pain may cause a lack of appetite
  • Mouth – Inflamed gums, tongue cuts or ulcers, infected or fractured tooth; drooling

3. Consider Changes in Your Dog’s Life

Female owner feeding her cute pug at home

People tend to overlook their dogs’ emotions. Yet, dogs experience stress, anxiety, and grief like what you suffer. If your dog stops eating but otherwise seems healthy, examine your family’s history.

Have you recently moved? A new environment necessitates adaptations, and your dog will likely be a little stressed. Even if your dog is emotionally as solid as a rock, he may feed off of your stress.

Think about your son or daughter leaving for college or the military. Your dog may miss them from a special bond or because a member of his pack is no longer at home.

Do not forget your dog can mourn over the death of a family member or another household pet. Even if you have two dogs who never seemed to get along very well, grief will probably be profound if one of them dies.

Dogs can also suffer depression over other major changes in your life. Considerations are a divorce, marriage, a newborn baby, or the addition of a dog or cat.

4. Consider Dog’s Recent Treatments

Medication is a common cause of inappetence in dogs. Consider any pills or liquids your dog may be taking. Chemotherapeutic and antibiotic treatments are particularly hard on the digestive tract. Dogs on antibiotics may have diarrhea, vomiting, and no appetite.

Some treatments do not cause digestive problems but leave a lingering bad taste. Medication is tricky. You must distinguish between whether your dog refuses to eat from the original illness or from the treatment.

Medications that suppress the appetite are the following:

  • Heart medications
  • Dewormers
  • Flagyl – Used for giardia and bacterial overgrowth
  • Penicillins and Cefazolins

5. Check Dog’s Food

When your dog suddenly turns his nose up at his favorite dog food brand, take heed. No two dog food bags are the same, and you can occasionally buy a bad bag or can. Batches or shipments of food can range from lacking the usual freshness to being rancid, spoiled, or moldy.

If your pet seems particularly picky one evening, examine his food. Check texture, kibble size and integrity, and smell. Check for unusual greasiness, change in color, excess moisture, and visible mold. Discard spoiled food and replace it immediately. It is often helpful to contact the manufacturer with batch or lot numbers.

6. Check Your Recent Actions

Often our dogs cannot handle the variety we take for granted in our daily meals. Also, feeding too much food at one sitting may cause digestive upset and inappetence. 

Did you give extra treats because you were training a difficult trick or because Fido was particularly good? Your dog may not be hungry after an overindulgence.

Another phenomenon is the dog who gets too many treats or an especially sumptuous meal. He may hold out for more of the same by shunning his usual food.

7. Check the Environment

You put your dog’s supper down like usual and expect him to come running enthusiastically into the kitchen. Not only does he not show up, but you find him by the back door looking a little sick. He may have gotten into something.

If you recently had the exterminator put down bait for ants or cockroaches, your dog may have found them and made himself ill by ingesting a few. Many baits are safe for pets and children, but you never know if your dog might have an unusual reaction. Did you put down rat or mouse poison? Many rodenticides are toxic to dogs, causing bleeding or neurological problems.

Other common toxins for dogs are your medication and antifreeze. Finally, make sure your furry friend did not have access to the trash. The so-called “garbage gut” is a result of your dog feasting on a myriad of food he does not ordinarily ingest. Talk about a lack of discretionary diet and a sudden food change. Your dog’s visit to the garbage can cause a range of symptoms from a mild sensitive stomach for a day to severe illness and life-threatening pancreatitis.

15 Possible Reasons Why Your Dog Won’t Eat

Woman holding a bowl with food in front of the dog.

1. Your Dog Has Had Enough

While Beagles and other hounds have a reputation for insatiable appetites, some dogs are not so enthusiastic about mealtimes. For a few individuals, eating every other day is normal. Toy breeds may require quite a bit of coaxing or dressing up their food to eat. Other dogs might crave variety.

Another major consideration if your dog does not seem crazy about eating is how much should you be feeding him? Dog food labels are misleading for a few reasons. No formula fits every dog regardless of weight. Moreover, manufacturing labels usually error on the side of overfeeding your dog, sometimes by as much as 50% or more.

Many factors should contribute to how you calculate the metabolic requirements of your pet:

  • Actual vs ideal weight – Is weight appropriate for your dog’s frame
  • Activity level
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Illness
  • Environment – Extremes in cold or hot climates require more nutritional input for your dog
  • Using caloric calculations is more precise than weight – 25 to 30 calories per day is a good starting point

2. Emotional Events

Dogs deal with anxiety in various ways. Many dogs will forego eating if they do not feel comfortable. Thus, a new home or traveling can make food seem off-putting to your pet, or he may simply be too preoccupied to eat.

Nervous or sensitive dogs can go without eating over seemingly insignificant occurrences. Changing the bowls or moving the furniture, or even the noisy chirping of a faulty smoke alarm can put your pet off food for days. If you rescue a dog, it may take several days for him to eat in your presence.

3. Dietary Indiscretion

Dietary indiscretion may happen more than you think with your dog. Without hands and opposable thumbs, dogs explore the world with their noses and mouths. Even if they do not put everything in between their jaws, they follow up every scent by licking their noses. Any powder or liquid droplets from chemical sprays or disinfectants can find their way into your dog’s digestive tract, irritating vital organs.

Puppies, like toddlers, are especially prone to grabbing things in their mouths and chewing and swallowing them. Pups are vulnerable to foreign bodies which may cause inappetence as well as vomiting.

A few common household toxins that can cause inappetence are as follows:

  • Chocolate – Specifically dark and semi-sweet
  • Raisins or grapes
  • Antifreeze – cause kidney failure
  • String – More common for cats
  • Small balls and pieces of toys like beads and eyes
  • Christmas decorations
  • Toxic houseplants

4. Mouth Pain

Some things are so obvious you may overlook them. A dog will readily refuse to eat if his mouth hurts. Dogs with exaggerated features such as shortened snouts are susceptible to dental malalignment and gum disease. Over time, gingival inflammation causes pain and loss of teeth.

Infection can also cause inappetence. Any trauma to the face will cause a dog not to want to eat, or he may be incapable of feeding. A broken jaw may be clearly visible, but dogs also suffer from broken or chipped teeth, tooth root abscesses, or even a bone stuck across the back of the mouth.

You may require your veterinarian to perform a complete examination of your dog. Always be cautious that a pet in pain has the potential to bite if you pressure him.

5. Sensitive Stomach, Allergies and Food Intolerance

Cute friendly dog lying near feeding bowl on floor in room

Although not exactly the same, dog owners often lump sensitive stomach and food allergies and intolerances together. All of them present similarly, whereby your dog stops eating or maybe even vomits after exposure to certain foods. Allergy testing can diagnose specific food-based allergies.

However, sometimes dogs do not have allergens to a particular food but react adversely to it when they ingest it. For example, eggs and wheat commonly set off allergic reactions, but some individuals have an intolerance to grains or milk.

German Shepherds and other breeds experience sensitive stomachs all the time and must be on easily digestible foods or bland diets. A dog with a sensitive stomach may have allergies, food intolerances, or both. Dogs who you suspect may have sensitive stomachs often have a negative association with food and can become picky eaters.

6. Cancer

Cancer can cause anorexia secondary to pain, organ failure, or treatment. Chemotherapy often produces nausea and weakness. depending on which medication the oncologist decides to use. Bone neoplasms cause pain from microfractures. Leukemias may cause fatigue from anemia, infection, and dehydration.

7. Kidney Disease

You can usually mark canine kidney disease in stages. Inappetence becomes more common as the disease progresses, but even dogs in early renal failure may stop eating as ammonia levels rise. Intravenous fluid therapy often readily restore energy and appetite.

8. GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus)

Primarily a condition of large and deep-chested dogs, GDV is when the stomach swells with fluid and excess gas and the twists. Other organs affected are the heart and spleen. Dogs cannot eat and may often retch reproductively. GDV is one of the acute and life-threatening causes of inappetence.

9. Viruses

Cute Puppy laying on the floor near food bowl.

The primary rule-out of inappetence in young puppies is parvovirus. Unlike distemper, it is wholly a digestive disease without a respiratory component. Puppies usually present first for not eating a day or two before they start vomiting. Certain breeds like Rottweilers and Pit Bull Terriers are more susceptible to the effects of parvovirus. Parvo causes shedding of the inner lining of the intestinal tract and is life-threatening through dehydration.

Other causes of anorexia in puppies besides foreign body ingestion are distemper, congenital heart disease, liver shunts, and a heavy worm burden.

10. Recent Vaccination

Vaccinations can cause a profound reaction in a few dogs. Rarely, a dog can have a serious allergic response with detrimental effects and system collapse. However, most canine vaccine reactions involve soreness, swelling at the injection site, lethargy, and lack of appetite. At most, it should last 12 to 72 hours.

11. Pancreatitis

Another potentially life-threatening condition, pancreatitis, can present as inappetence. Usually, pancreatitis progresses to vomiting, but one common and prominent symptom is abdominal pain. Pancreatic inflammation can affect other organs through the leakage of enzymes. The disease can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long history). Experts have linked repeated bouts of pancreatitis with diabetes.

12. Diabetes

Canine diabetes is different from type II diabetes mellitus in cats and humans. Diabetic dogs require insulin, and the disease has a limited response to diet. Inappetence can indicate high or low blood sugar levels. Anorexia may also result from a much more serious imbalance, ketoacidosis, that requires immediate medical intervention.

13. Anemia

Dogs suffering from a decrease in red blood cells often do not eat because of weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If your dog has a condition like leukemia or immune-mediated anemia, he may also not want to eat because of a fever.

14. Respiratory Illness

If your dog cannot breathe, he is not going to place a high priority on eating. Respiratory illness such as pneumonia may have complicating factors like a fever and congestion. 

Other respiratory causes of anorexia may be ones you do not think of at first, such as heart disease, a diaphragmatic hernia, heat exhaustion, a nasal tumor, and asthma.

15. Overexertion and Pain

Your dog may have a natural inclination to refuse food right after heavy exercise or  performance. However, painful and sore muscles or ligament tears may extend inappetence over a couple of days.

Arthritic pain is another oft-overlooked cause of lack of interest in food.

When Should I Worry About My Dog Not Eating

Golden retriever dog laying down by the bowl of dog food and ignoring it.

Except for the rare case, you know there will be occasions when your dog will not want to eat. When should you be concerned?

If Your Dogs Have Not Eaten for More Than 24 to 48 Hours

Ancient civilizations selected certain breeds like Siberian Huskies to sustain themselves on very little food. Dogs can survive without food for a couple of weeks. However, for the most part, if your dog shows no interest in eating for more than a day, red flags should go up. After two days of no eating, you should seek medical attention.

Your Dog Is a Toy Breed

Certain diminutive breeds like Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas may be susceptible to hypoglycemia if they go even six hours without food. You need to be particularly vigilant if you have a very small dog who will not eat. Watch closely for signs of weakness and depression.

Medical Illness

If your dog has a preexisting medical condition, he needs more fuel than usual. Therefore, if he has kidney or liver problems, inappetence for even half a day could indicate declining health or result in a worsening condition.

Dogs in the following situations should not even skip more than a meal without you consulting a professional:

  • Insulin therapy, diabetes, or ketoacidosis
  • Liver shunt
  • Fatty liver
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Very young puppies

Another Condition Accompanies Lack of Appetite

Always seek medical attention if your dog’s decreased appetite combines with a second condition. Such cases can be chronic or acute and often require advanced diagnostics like bloodwork and radiography.

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting, retching, or regurgitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression, lethargy, weakness, or exercise intolerance
  • Mood changes
  • Dehydration
  • Pale mucus membranes
  • A missing object in the household – particularly with puppies

Appetite Solutions: How to Get a Dog With No Appetite to Eat

How do you get a reluctant dog to eat? The methods you can use to encourage or get your dog to eat will depend on the underlying cause.

Domestic life with pet. Feeding hungry labrador retriever. Owner gives his dog bowl of granules.

Solve the Underlying Condition if Possible

You may not be able to give your dog a new liver or kidney. However, work with your veterinarian to address the issues you can:

  • Resolve nausea – Antiemetics
  • Supportive fluids and vitamins – to get a puppy over a virus
  • Hospitalization – to support through episodes of temporary illness like pancreatitis and hepatitis
  • Supportive care and antidotes – if available, for toxin exposure
  • Intravenous fluids – for inappetence from dehydration
  • Steroids and IV fluids – for immune-mediated cases of anemia
  • Blood transfusions – for anemia
  • Discuss alternative medications
  • Dental work – Cleaning, pulling teeth, antibiotics

Force Feeding

Force-feeding is viable as a very temporary means to ensure your dog gets some nutrition when he will not eat on his own. Some examples are after an extended hospital stay or post-surgery. Many times hand feeding and coaxing will eventually stimulate your dog to start eating.

You should force-feed your dog on a limited basis and only on orders from your veterinarian. Never force-feed a dog who is too weak to sit up, not able to properly swallow, having breathing difficulties, or vomiting. Use soft food or syrupy nutritional additives like Nutrical or Nutri-Vyte. Unlike medications, never administer food towards the back of the mouth.

Alter Dog Diet

You can alter your dog’s diet for picky eaters or if you are dealing with specific diseases. Royal Canin and Hill’s pet food companies have formulated special diets for the liver, kidneys, and small intestine to name a few. Hill’s Science Diet requires you to have a prescription for many of their foods. Special diets come in dry and canned forms, but picky eaters often find them unappealing. 

If your dog will not eat a specific diet, consult with your veterinarian because nutrition is always more crucial than a formulation. Homemade diets often inspire picky eaters and can also address particular diseases if you work with your veterinarian or a nutritionist to ensure balance. 

Most experts recommend gradual changes in your dog’s diet. The exceptions to slow introductions are between similar lines within the same brand, your dog is accustomed to a varied diet, or your pet is intolerant of what you are feeding.

Occasionally, you may have to discard food because it arrives spoiled or goes bad. Other times, you will have to eliminate certain ingredients because of sensitivity.

Natural Dog Appetite Stimulation

Owner feeding his little dog at home

You can utilize natural stimulants for picky eaters. Be cautious that dressing your dog’s food with gravy, canned food, tidbits, or broth may worsen pickiness. You can simply add warm water to bring out the flavors of dog food. Warming canned food slightly in the microwave may enhance its appeal.

Exercise can be another natural stimulant for pets. Remember, overexertion causes inappetence, so you want moderate exercise. Simulate prey-chasing activities like fetch. Another stimulus is making food more interesting by using it in puzzles.

Additives

Herbs like peppermint, ginger, and garlic can serve as appetite stimulants but always consult with your veterinarian. Many times results are unpredictable and unproven, and your dog could have an adverse reaction. Your veterinarian may recommend a pharmaceutical stimulant for cancer and renal patients.

Altering Environment

Finding a more comfortable or private place for a nervous dog can be an effective stimulus. Dogs who are food aggressive are obvious, but your pet may display the opposite. Picture the cheetah who will yield her food readily to a hyena or lion. Your dog may not want to eat around your children, the cat, or your English Mastiff. Especially with puppies, figure out what preferences your pet has for mealtimes.

Conclusion

When your dog is not eating it can be frustrating but not always worrisome. However, if your pet refuses to eat for more than a couple of days or shows signs of illness, there are a few actions you can take to get to the root of the problem. Once you have a good idea of the cause of your dog’s anorexia, you can try nutritional supportive products like Nutri-Vyte or altering your dog’s diet or environment to customize mealtime.

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