It can be alarming for any pet parent when their dog refuses to eat. When a dog loses their appetite — known in the veterinary world as anorexia — it could be stemming from a long list of potential causes. But why is your dog not eating? The answer may not be so obvious.
Keep reading to learn about possible causes, what to look for, how to respond and possible treatments. As always, consult with your veterinarian for the most accurate information concerning your pet’s unique health history.
There could be a number of reasons why your dog won’t eat. Typically, it’s related to health conditions, issues with the food, or behavior problems.
According to the American Kennel Club, health issues are the most likely reason for a dog not eating.3 These can range from minor issues to serious concerns that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Either way, it’s best to speak with your vet.
There are many possible health-related causes for a reduced appetite. The American Medical Center states a few potential issues like:4
- Dental problems and disease
- Gastrointestinal issues (e.g., stomach upset, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.)
- Infection and fever
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
- Medication or vaccination side effects
Your dog’s decreased appetite could be an issue with the food itself. Many dogs can be hyper aware of a food’s smell or taste, especially if the food is stale or spoiled. Make sure to store your dog’s food properly to avoid feeding expired kibble or wet food. If it smells off or is past its best-by date, throw it away.
Food preferences are very common among pets. If your dog is a picky eater, it may take a while to find a food they prefer. Just remember to gradually switch foods. Changing foods abruptly can lead to an upset stomach and a worsened appetite.
Senior dogs’ and puppies’ eating habits can play into food-related issues too. Dry food can be hard for older dogs to eat, causing dental pain. A puppy not eating could be a sign they’re adjusting to kibble. Speak with your vet should you have any concerns with your senior or puppy’s nutritional needs.
Behavior issues could be contributing factors when your dog stops eating.
Dog anxiety can manifest in a number of ways. One of them is not eating. Sudden changes in their routine or environment, travel, or intimidation from an aggressive dog can all contribute to the issue. Try to eliminate any stressors or fears from your dog’s feeding routine and stick to the same times of day.
On a less alarming note, some pups are just too smart for their own good. They may have figured out that they can get treats or tasty human foods if they don’t eat their meal. Do your best to avoid feeding your dog table scraps and keep treats to a minimum.
If your attempts to address your dog’s anxiety or stubbornness don’t work, you may need to explore medication or behavior modification training. Contact your vet for the best options for you and your dog.
Closely monitor your dog and consult with a vet or emergency clinic. You may want to prepare answers for some common questions your vet might ask, including:5
Does your dog have any symptoms?
- Is your dog not drinking water?
- Will your dog eat wet food?
- Will your dog eat treats?
- Have you recently switched dog foods?
Seek care within 8 to 12 hours if your dog is lethargic, vomiting, or having diarrhea. These could be signs of a more serious medical condition. Other signs of serious condition could also include drooling, difficulty breathing, along with increased drinking and urination.4
As long as your dog is otherwise acting normal, treatment can be fairly easy. Your vet may recommend a few actions you can take at home to increase your dog’s appetite. According to VCA Animal Hospital, these simple steps may include:6
- Adding a canned food to their diet
- Heating canned food
- Adding low-sodium chicken, vegetable, or beef broth to enhance flavor
- Preparing a homemade diet approved by a veterinary nutritionist
If it becomes a recurring issue and no underlying medical condition is identified, your vet may order a prescription diet. More serious intervention strategies if the problem persists include appetite-inducing medication, syringe feeding, or a feeding tube.5
Finding the right food and schedule for your furry family member is a balancing act that takes time. Continue to work with your vet and seek expert advice. You can learn more about dog nutrition basics with our dog food guide.
A healthy appetite is only one sign of a healthy dog. Their health depends on consistent care and attention. Vet visits are crucial but can add up. A dog insurance policy can help provide reassurance knowing your pooch’s health is covered.2 Find out how MetLife Pet Insurance1 can work for you.