Why is my dog not eating?

16 March 2021 - 5 min read
Dog not eating food from bowl

As dog owners, our happiness often hinges on the happiness of our pups. So when your dog won’t eat, it can be very stressful for us, and them. Dogs tend to have different eating preferences and patterns that most pet parents become accustomed to. However, it’s important to know when your dog not eating is a sign of something more serious and what you can do to help.

Why won’t my dog eat?

There are several possible reasons why your dog won’t eat his food. Some will need to be addressed by a veterinarian, while others may just require making small changes at home.

The main reasons your dog could be avoiding food are:

  1. Stress

  2. Dog illness 

Cause 1: Stress

Think of the things that typically cause you stress. Well, stress in dogs can be caused by similar events, like a change in their life, generalised anxiety, or illness. When determining if your dog is stressed, consider what your dog is currently experiencing. 

Have you recently brought home a new pet? How about a newborn baby? These scenarios can be very stressful for dogs. And because they can’t speak and tell us how they’re feeling (although, that would be adorable), sometimes they’ll try to get our attention in other ways — like not eating, urinating in the house, or isolating themselves.

Routine is the name of the game when it comes to dogs, so getting your four-legged friend back on a schedule can help get them back to their regularly scheduled eating habits. Give your dog support and some TLC to show them that a new change hasn’t altered their routine. Or your love for them.

It’s important to note that some dogs may not have a stressor but can still become anxious. And no matter what’s done to keep your dog’s routine the same, their anxiety may spiral. 

In these cases, it’s best to seek help from your veterinarian and/or a canine behaviourist to see how to manage your dog’s anxiety. Your veterinarian may start your dog on anxiety medications to help them feel calm and happy. These interventions will also help with appetite.

Cause 2: Dog illness

Just like how our appetite can disappear when we’re sick, dog illness can be another reason why your dog won’t eat his food. Many conditions can cause this. Any kind of internal illness, such as gastrointestinal or kidney disease, can decrease your dog’s appetite. 

These dog health problems can also cause nausea, which will decrease your dog’s appetite entirely. Other dog health problems like severe dental disease, liver disease, or even a skin infection can also cause a dog to lose his appetite.

If your dog hasn’t experienced any changes in his lifestyle that could cause anxiety, the next step is to have your veterinarian check for dog illness. Once your dog is evaluated, your veterinarian can prescribe medications, which, in many cases, will help bring back your dog’s appetite.

Dog sniffing a banana

When is my dog’s loss of appetite a problem?

How long is too long when your dog isn’t eating? Well, it depends on the dog and their normal eating habits. Certain breeds tend to want to eat in private or graze rather than lick a bowl clean in one sitting. If this is your dog’s normal behaviour and they skip a meal here and there, it’s probably normal. However, if your dog lives to eat and suddenly won’t eat his breakfast, it’s cause for concern, and a veterinarian should evaluate him for any dog health problems.

Appetite loss is also dangerous in pets that take medications like insulin. Diabetic animals should not skip any food and be given the same dose of insulin because it can cause them to become severely hypoglycemic. 

If you have a diabetic dog, your veterinarian will counsel you on how to navigate changes in appetite and adjust insulin dosing appropriately. It can also be a problem if your pet receives medication with food and they won’t eat. In that case, the best thing to do is to call your veterinarian for advice.

My dog isn’t eating but is acting normally

If your dog won’t touch their food, but otherwise seems happy and healthy in themselves, the best thing you can do is encourage them to eat (see more on that below). Many factors can affect a dog’s appetite and some may resolve by themselves. However, if your dog hasn’t eaten in 24 hours and you don’t see a return in their appetite, then you should contact your veterinarian. 

Bulldog eating food

How do I get my dog to eat?

Would you eat a bowl of spaghetti every single day and not get sick of it? Just like humans, sometimes dogs simply become bored with their food. Or need us to help them get excited about what they’re eating. Dog food preference is a lot like human food preference.

If you’ve determined that your pet isn’t sick or suffering from anxiety, there are different methods you can try to reverse the loss of appetite:

1. Make sure the food hasn’t gone stale 

Some bags of dry food may sit on shelves for months before they’re purchased, and the food can easily go off. If your dog is refusing to eat food they normally love, you also might have a bad batch. So it’s best to go get a new bag before switching the food entirely. 

If you get new food and your dog still won’t eat, they may just be tired of the flavour. But switch flavours before switching brands. This will help to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach. If this still doesn’t work, you can switch brands by slowly introducing it to your pup by combining the new type of food with the other food.

2. Add wet food to dry

Many dogs like it when there’s something stinky and wet on their food. Yum. This is where dog food preference and human food preference differ greatly. So adding a couple of spoonfuls of wet food may be the boost your dog needs to start eating their kibble again. If your dog is primarily on a wet food diet and doesn’t want to eat, you can try briefly warming the food in the microwave or adding some warm water to make the food warm and smell good.

3. Change where you feed your dog 

Sometimes dogs become frightened of the area where they’re fed and start associating eating with fear or stress. Try different locations, both indoors and outdoors, and see if that helps. If all of these measures fail to get your dog to eat, it may be time to have your veterinarian do another assessment and make sure that nothing else is going on.

The last bite

When it comes to your dog not wanting to eat, a good rule of thumb is to think about what’s normal for them. If they’ve never refused to eat before, then skipping a meal may indicate that they’re not feeling well.

However, if your dog has always been a picky eater, you can try some of the methods listed above. If none of them work, your veterinarian should be able to help. 

‘Bone’ appétit!

Oneal Bogan, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer

Dr. Oneal Bogan is a mixed animal veterinarian from Colorado. Dr. Bogan graduated from Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in 2013.