Dogs generally love eating, so sometimes, a decrease in appetite is the first sign of a larger problem. If you’ve noticed a change in your dog’s eating habits lately, the good news is that it doesn’t always have to be cause for major concern. There are several reasons your furry family member might be neglecting their food bowl, and not all of them signify a decline in health.
Sure, there are times when finding an untouched or semi-eaten meal in your dog’s bowl can be caused by medical issues. On the other hand, a lack of appetite could also signify a behavioral issue or a change in preference. In most cases, these factors can be easily corrected.
In this article, we’ll share the top reasons why your dog might not be eating, which will help you learn more about your pet and alleviate your anxieties – or get your dog the care it needs.
My Dog Won’t Eat: Am I Buying the Wrong Kind of Food?
Most often, this is the case. Through trial and error, you’ll find out what works and what doesn’t work for your dog. We have some tips to keep in mind so you won’t have to play guessing games.
The Best Foods for Different Ages and Breeds
If you have a new puppy, you should plan to feed them food tailored to puppies. Same goes for more senior dogs. When you go to the store, read the labels, and ask the clerk for help if you’re unsure of which food might be best. Buy small bags first until you know what will work best and look for buzzwords on packaging such as “puppy chow,” “elder,” “all stages of life.”
Puppies and small dogs need frequent smaller meals. Serving suggestions are just starting points and can be adjusted. For example, if your pet weighs 50 pounds and you want them to lose 10 pounds, you’d feed them the serving size of a 40-pound dog. It can be that simple.
If the dog is very small or young and you gave them too much food, it’s only natural you’ll see some leftovers. It is important to keep in mind their smaller stomach sizes! If you keep a close eye on the portion size and what’s left over later, you can adjust accordingly as time goes on.
A puppy is not going to eat large pellets. They need to develop their strong teeth, so they need smaller bits of kibble. On the other hand, a large, hyper labrador might enjoy the crunch of pellets over a plop of wet food. (If you’re an owner of a dog like this, you may be feeling like they’d eat just about anything!) Keep in mind, dogs will have healthier teeth if they eat both dry food and smaller kibble. If they need it, you can put a small amount of canned food on top to get them to start.
Staying on the topic of picky pets, we touched on textures, but now let’s talk a little about flavors.
Picky About Flavors
Just like humans, dogs can have taste and flavor preferences too. Dogs can also become bored with eating the same exact meal every day, and they may enjoy variety – however, we do not recommend jumping into new diets without research and vet consultation, as it can upset dogs.
Some veterinarians will tell you that it’s best to feed your dog the same food every day because they’re used to it. You may want to check with your veterinarian for their opinion, which will help guide the decision-making process. If you do decide to feed your food a brand they have never tried before, we recommend introducing it slowly to them. Mix a little bit of the new into the old kind they’re used to and gradually add more every day, especially if it’s of a new flavor or texture.
Something to note: we don’t recommend food with red dyes. Red dyes are made for humans – dogs don’t care about color, as they’re color blind. Plus, it makes them poop funny colors! We also don’t recommend semi-moist food in pouches, since these can contain a lot of preservatives.
Perhaps the problem has nothing to do with the quality of their kibble and is more about their preference for human food. Let’s take a look.
Too Much Human Food
We all know the look of the cute face begging at the corner of the table. Unless you’re pretty strict, you’ll give in and share part of your human food with your dog. How can you say no to those big, sad eyes? You love your pet, don’t you? You could think a little scrap won’t hurt them!
People very often find that once their dogs get a sampling of human food, they lose interest in their dog food. This is when it becomes a bad idea. While feeding your pet scraps of your human food may seem harmless, it can develop habits and tastes. Additionally, many human foods are toxic to your dog’s health, which can cause sickness, and in some cases, death.
Vets generally will not recommend giving human food to pets except for special circumstances which we’ll touch on later – especially excess fat, greasy things, and chicken skin. Be sure to do research on which foods are safe enough for dogs so you can be versed in that. There are many foods people can eat that could be harmful to your pet’s health, like chocolate, garlic, raisins, and things with xylitol.
The occasional scrap or two are okay as long as they’re healthy and within the recommended daily caloric intake for your pet. Do confirm though that it’s non-toxic to their systems. Beware of bad habits forming too, as they’ll likely start thinking your food is theirs.
Speaking of different things going on in your pet’s body, let’s move into a section that is less fun but very important. Don’t miss this one, as we dive into your pet’s health – keep reading.
My Dog Won’t Eat: Is He or She Not Feeling Well?
As we’ve discussed, many non-worrisome factors could lead your dog to skip a meal. Your dog’s appetite can depend heavily on their health and how they’re feeling, much like humans. If you’re concerned, a trip to the vet might be in order.
Dogs tend to get into things and places where they shouldn’t be, as you may very well know by now. They can be mischievous! When left unsupervised, dogs and puppies will often find something of interest, food-related or not: paper, plastic, or even another dog’s feces! This will cause an upset stomach, as will overfeeding them with kibble, treats, and human food.
Since they can’t verbalize their pain in words, dogs will sometimes eat grass when they have an upset stomach. Some dogs enjoy it and find grass settling to their stomach, while others do it to vomit. Other signs of upset stomachs include excessive gassiness and bad breath.
Many upset stomachs will go away on their own, and you won’t need to do anything but wait it out. You can try feeding them simple human foods like boiled chicken and plain rice, which is easier to digest. However, if their symptoms start to worry you, take them to your veterinarian.
There are cases where you should definitely take your dog to rule out serious ailments. There could be an underlying medical condition that your vet will be able to detect.
Underlying Medical Conditions
If you notice your dog is abnormally lethargic, vomiting, drinking more water than normal, drooling a lot, or has diarrhea or bloody stools, DON’T wait. Pack your pet into the car and head to the vet! There’s a chance your fur baby could have gotten into something poisonous or serious ailment. Professional intervention is needed.
As we mentioned, lots of dogs will get into things like plastic, paper, and more. While ingesting a tiny piece while you weren’t watching likely won’t cause significant problems nor be cause for worry, continually getting into things can cause a buildup of that material.
If you’re realizing that your dog won’t eat, and it’s been more than a day, your dog might have a blockage that they weren’t able to pass through their droppings. This will likely require surgery. If this is the case, stay calm, call the vet with a detailed description of your concerns.
A loss of appetite may also be caused by a disease or illness, of which you may be aware or must be diagnosed by your dog’s vet. We know we’ve mentioned vets and the doctor’s office a lot in this section. This is not to stress you out but to help make you aware of what to look out for.
Part of being a dog parent is being vigilant, but things happen. If you’re doing your best to supervise your dog’s activities and ensure your dog stays as healthy and out-of-trouble as possible, we’re confident you’ll be quick to take action if an issue does come up.
Let’s not overlook the perhaps less physical part of this medical category – healthcare comes in many forms, and one we have not yet talked about is mental health.
If a person can be anxiety-ridden, so can a dog. Rescued pups are more likely to show some anxieties. Many dogs may be nervous when their surroundings are different than what they’re used to. You may enjoy change, but your furry buddy might not like change quite as much. Did you perhaps change their feeding schedule or even change their sleep schedule on any given day? Keep in mind dogs typically respond best to routines.
Dogs can also experience depression or grief, just like people do. You can try playing with them more or offer new toys until they seem to be feeling better, and their appetite is back.
If a dog has anxiety, you especially don’t want to introduce a new dog to your home too suddenly. Dogs can become possessive over food, and a new dog might start eating the first one’s food. A new dog might try asserting dominance, and if your dog is the submissive type, they will feel intimidated eating around the other dog. Keep the two (or three, or more!) separate during meal time until they get used to each other.
“Bone” Appétit! My Dog Won’t Eat: Solved.
You now know the most common reasons why your dog won’t eat. As you can see, it’s not something to overlook. If your dog is acting abnormally, pay close attention to monitor the situation and see whether it’s a basic upset stomach that only lasted an hour or two or whether you should get to the vet.
Even if it’s not quite a cause for real concern such as an emergency vet trip, there could be minor factors bothering your dog that cause a change in appetite. We all want for our pets to grow up big and strong – they’re our babies and our best friends. Getting essential nutrients will give them the energy to play and ultimately, with your help, have a good, happy life.
Observe, assess, and try to figure out what could be throwing your dog off, so problems can be solved in a timely manner – and you both can get back to enjoying your time together!
If you’re a bit newer to the world of dog companionship, check out our FAQs. On the same page, you’ll see a portal where you can download our best guide on what to do after bringing home your new pet. It’s chock-full of helpful information and will get you right on your way. You are also more than welcome to reach out to us with any questions you may have (if an emergency, though, please call your local vet first).