What to do when a puppy won’t eat

February 8, 2024 - 7 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
A black and tan Dachshund with a shiny coat looking up while standing next to an overturned green food bowl with dog kibble scattered around on a light background.

Making sure that puppies get the nutrition they need is critical to their growth and development. Pay attention when your pup won’t eat! Regardless of the reason behind a puppy’s loss of appetite, not eating enough can quickly lead to health problems.

Is it common for puppies to stop eating?

Some adult dogs are picky eaters, only chowing down when it’s obvious that something “better” isn’t on the menu that day. However, a new puppy who isn’t eating well is probably sick. Picky eating in the absence of an underlying issue isn’t very common in puppies.

Before we start: While we provide helpful information here, if you've noticed significant and persistent changes in your dog’s appetite, you should always call your vet first.

Puppy lying down on stairs

Why won't my puppy eat?

Puppies might stop eating for many reasons, some of which you may be able to address on your own.

You've recently changed your puppy's diet

Some pups develop strong preferences for certain types, or even a single type, of food. Other factors can come into play as well. Medications or supplements mixed in with food can significantly alter its taste and lead to food refusal.

CTA _16

Top-ranked* puppy insurance

Yup, puppy insurance is worth it.

Puppies can be even more accident-prone than adult dogs. Get insurance today and enjoy no fees and no annual payout limits. *According to Forbes Advisor’s “Best Pet Insurance of 2023”

CTA _16

You've changed your puppy's usual feeding spot

Changes in where, when, and how you feed may also turn dogs off of eating. If you’ve recently changed anything to do with your pup’s food or mealtimes, go back to what worked previously and see if that takes care of the problem.

Their puppy food is no longer fresh

Food can also go bad, or at least lose some of its appeal, as it gets older. Dry foods stay fresh for about a month after being opened, so don’t buy a huge bag if your pup is tiny. Wet foods should only be refrigerated for three to five days before being tossed out.

It's your new puppy's first day home

If your puppy just arrived at your house today, they might be feeling a bit too nervous to eat. Give them some time to settle in, and do your best to ensure they have a safe, cozy spot to retreat.

Your puppy is stressed or anxious

When puppies are stressed or anxious, they may simply be too overwhelmed with worry to eat. So take a look at your pup’s overall demeanor.

Common signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include the following:

  • Being overly watchful

  • Avoiding certain situations

  • Hiding

  • Whining or barking

  • House-training setbacks

  • Pacing

  • Excessive licking

  • Trembling

  • Panting, drooling, lip licking, “wet dog” shaking, or yawning at unusual times

If you think your puppy is suffering from stress or anxiety, try to figure out the underlying triggers and take steps to eliminate or alleviate them. A puppy with separation anxiety, for example, may need you to be present while they eat. Make feeding time as calm and predictable as possible.

Puppies tend to do best on a routine, so if you must make changes to your pup’s feeding schedule, do so gradually. Your veterinarian can help you determine the underlying causes of your puppy’s behavior and recommend appropriate treatment.

It's hot out

Excessive heat can lead to a reduction in appetite and food intake. Dogs tend to be less heat-tolerant than people, so even if the temperature feels comfortably warm to you, your pup may be hot.

Shade, air conditioning, fans, a cooling pet bed, appropriate grooming, maintaining a healthy weight, and providing chilled water will all help dogs stay cool and hopefully improve their appetite.

Your puppy has teething or other oral pain

A puppy’s baby teeth fall out, and their adult teeth come in when they are between twelve weeks and six months of age.

Puppy's mouth with arrow pointing to tooth

Teething can be uncomfortable and may lead to a reluctance to eat. Softening dry foods by soaking them in warm water for fifteen minutes or so can help.

Puppies love to chew and are at high risk for mouth injuries. When dogs stop eating, dental issues are often to blame. Examine your pup’s tongue, teeth, and gums for any obvious sources of pain like wounds, infections, foreign objects, or a broken tooth from a chew toy.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you see anything unusual in your pup’s mouth or if your pup reacts painfully when you touch their face.

Your puppy's stomach hurts

An upset tummy commonly leads to a loss of appetite. Sometimes the cause is relatively benign, like new foods or treats or when a pup eats something they shouldn’t have.

Gastrointestinal parasites, bacteria, viruses, ulcers, inflammation, and obstruction may also be to blame. Puppies with GI problems often develop symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea in addition to having a poor appetite.

Your puppy is sick

Problems outside of the gastrointestinal tract can also make a puppy stop eating. For example, dogs experiencing liver disease, kidney failure, diabetes, or other diseases often experience a loss of appetite and weight loss.

Dog lying down next to treat dispenser

What should I do if my puppy won't eat?

As you can see, there are lots of potentially serious reasons why a puppy may have stopped eating.

Call your vet first

If you're worried at all, call your veterinarian. Puppies have fewer fat reserves than adults, so missing more than a meal or two can lead to big problems.

Once your pup has a clean bill of health, try some of the following strategies for getting your pup to eat more:

Consider switching puppy foods

Perhaps your puppy simply doesn’t like their current diet all that much. Pet food manufacturers change their formulations from time to time, and occasionally, a batch of food will be contaminated or turn dogs off for other reasons.

High-quality foods are usually tastier than cheaper options, so switching to a premium brand might help. These foods also tend to be more nutrient-dense, so puppies can eat less but still meet all their nutritional needs.

You can also switch to different flavors of food—chicken, turkey, beef, fish, bison, duck, lamb, pork, rabbit—almost anything you can imagine is available. Some puppies prefer wet over dry foods or will start eating if a small amount of wet food (or cooked white meat chicken or boiled hamburger) is mixed in with their dry kibble.

Try warming up your puppy's food

Warming food increases the odor it gives off. Since dogs have a great sense of smell, warmed food may simply prove irresistible. On the other hand, some dogs prefer their food at room temperature or even chilled. Play around a bit and see what your puppy likes best.

Make any changes to your pup’s diet slowly. Take a week or so to gradually mix in increasing amounts of the new food with decreasing amounts of the old. This will help your pup adjust and reduce the likelihood that they’ll turn up their nose at the new food or get an upset stomach.

Avoid free-feeding your puppy

As odd as it may sound, when a puppy’s appetite isn’t great, it’s best not to leave food out all the time. You want your pup to get a little hungry between meals, and constant nibbling, even if it’s just small amounts, will hinder this.

Offer three to four meals a day, but pick up any uneaten food after fifteen minutes.

Avoid over-treating

In a similar vein, stop offering your pup treats if they're not eating enough. Treats don’t provide all the nutrients dogs need but can reduce their appetite at mealtime.

All told, treats should only make up about 10% of a puppy’s caloric intake. If you need to give more treats, say as a training aid, try setting aside a portion of your pup’s regular food to use as a treat. This way, you can reward your puppy for a job well done while still ensuring they get the nutrition they need to thrive.

Boost your puppy's exercise

Make sure your puppy is getting plenty of activity, particularly right before meals. Play and leash walks are the best forms of exercise for young puppies. Fun activities like this will stimulate a puppy’s appetite and put them in the mood to eat.

Change up your puppy's feeding spot

You can also change where you feed your puppy. There may be something in their current feeding location that is scary or causing distraction. You should also praise them when they do eat. Puppies love to make their people happy!

Dog laying down at a veterinarians office in Philadelphia

What if my puppy still won't eat?

Maybe you’ve tried changing up your pup’s food, schedule, or feeding location, but their appetite still isn’t what it should be. If so, an underlying medical condition may be affecting your pup's eating habits.

You should always reach out to your vet first if anything seems off with your pup, especially if any of these apply:

  • Your puppy hasn’t eaten anything in 24 hours

  • Your puppy hasn’t been eating well for more than two days

  • Your puppy is vomiting

  • Your puppy has diarrhea

  • Your puppy is uncomfortable or is in pain

  • Your puppy is showing signs of lethargy

  • Your puppy is showing signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) like weakness, unsteadiness while walking, seizures, and even coma

  • Multiple dogs in your home or among your circle of friends are also experiencing decreased appetite

  • You know your pup has recently gotten into the trash or eaten something potentially toxic, like human or pet medications, chocolate, cleaning agents, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or plants

Your veterinarian will start your pup’s health work-up with a thorough health history and a physical examination, possibly followed by lab work, X-rays, and other diagnostic tests.

Treatment will depend on your puppy’s diagnosis and the severity of their symptoms.

Terrier holding a carrot

What to look for in puppy foods

Once your pup is eating well again, make sure the food you offer provides complete and balanced nutrition specifically designed for puppies. Only purchase foods that have an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement of nutritional adequacy printed on their label.

It will look something like this:

Puppy Food A is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and reproduction/all life stages.

Or even better, this:

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Puppy Food B provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth and reproduction/all life stages.

Good puppy diets also contain appropriate levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is critical in the development of a puppy's brain and eyes.

How puppy insurance can help

Navigating the challenges of a puppy's health, especially when they're not eating, highlights the unpredictability of pet ownership.

That's where great puppy insurance comes in. If your puppy runs into an unexpected accident or illness (as long as it’s not a pre-existing condition), pet insurance can help reimburse you for the cost of qualified vet visits, prescriptions, and more.

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer, Editor, and Consultant

Dr. Jennifer Coates is a writer, editor, and consultant with experience in veterinary medicine, science, animal welfare, conservation, and communications. She has written for outlets including petMD, Chewy, and ManyPets.