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Why is my dog not eating

The essentials

  • If your dog has suddenly stopped eating, don’t ignore it — A lack of appetite could be a sign of something more serious.
  • Take your dog to the vet if you notice red flags — Vomiting, diarrhea, or a lack of thirst are all signs that you should get your dog to the veterinarian.
  • Their food or schedule may be to blame — Try to enhance your dog’s diet and daily routine to encourage them to eat.

Is your dog’s food bowl always full? Are they turning down their favorite treats? If your dog stops eating their food, something’s probably up. 

Dogs may go on hunger strike for a variety of reasons from underlying physical conditions to psychological issues. We’ll cover potential reasons your dog isn’t eating, things you should pay attention to, and how to get Fido to start eating regularly again.

10 reasons your dog isn’t eating

Dogs may stop eating for several reasons, and it often takes pet parents some process of elimination to figure out the root cause. A lack of appetite could be caused by anything from physical illness to emotional distress — yes,  believe it or not, your pup’s feelings could be to blame for their lack of appetite. Below are some of the most common reasons Fido might be skipping meals. 

1. Illness

Physical illness or a medical condition is probably one of the most common reasons why your dog isn’t eating. Look out for a fever, cough, or other cold and viral symptoms. Your dog’s eating should return to normal as they recover.

🚨 If your dog isn’t eating and has other accompanying symptoms, like vomiting or diarrhea, for more than 8 hours, you should take them to the vet.

2. Dental disease

Just like toothaches in humans, your pup may not feel like eating if they’re experiencing pain caused by tooth problems. Your pup could have periodontal disease which causes loose or fractured teeth. 

Oral foreign bodies can also affect a dog’s appetite, so it’s always a good idea to check your dog’s mouth when you brush their teeth if you suspect this might be the reason. 

Keep an eye out for foul-smelling breath, any loose teeth, or lots of tartar buildup — if you notice any of these things, it’s time to take them to the vet. 

3. Recent vaccinations 

On rare occasions, vaccinations can have negative side effects on a dog’s body, one of which may be a loss of appetite, or feeling drowsy and lethargic. These side effects are usually short-lived and fade within a day or two. 

If your pup is having a hard time eating after a vaccination, giving them a little plain chicken and rice can sometimes help with stomach upset and appetite loss.

4. Medications

Certain medications may cause an upset stomach, making your dog not want to eat. For example, if your dog is on chemotherapy or anti-inflammatory medicines, sometimes these cause nausea and stomach aches in dogs.

5. Travel or being in an unfamiliar setting

Dogs like familiar places. Changes to a dog’s normal environment can cause them to stop eating. 

A simple car ride may cause too much movement and make them motion sick, leading to an upset stomach. Or if you move them to a new environment where they feel anxious, they may stop eating.

6. Stress

General stress can make your dog less hungry. Being anxious can send them into “fight or flight” mode, making it hard to relax or have an appetite. 

Your dog could also suffer from separation anxiety. Some dogs won’t touch their food when their owner is out of the house. By nature, dogs are pack animals, so most feel more comfortable eating when someone is home with them. 

7. Time of day

Dogs are creatures of habit, so if your dog eats at the same time every day, any changes to its schedule may cause them to stop eating. As a dog owner, if you need to make permanent changes to your dog’s feeding schedule, do so gradually and over time to reduce stress and make it an easier transition. 

8. Food preference

Your dog might not like the food you’re feeding them. Certain dogs can be picky, just like humans, and refuse to eat something that doesn’t meet their preferences. 

Add a food topper, try a few new kibbles, or try warming food — heating it makes it smell stronger and may make it more appealing to your pet.

9. Food quality

Believe it or not, Fido may be able to sniff out bad-quality dog food. If your dog suddenly stops eating the same food he’s been fed for years, first check to make sure the food isn’t spoiled. 

10. Age

You may notice your older dog begin to lose their appetite. Sometimes a dog’s senses start failing as they get older, which means that food doesn’t taste or smell as good as it once did. 

Senior dogs also tend to become less active, so their energy requirement and the food needed to meet that decreases.

When should you visit the vet?

If your dog loses their appetite for a day or two, but then returns to normal, there isn’t usually anything to be worried about. That said, it never hurts to take your dog to the vet, even if their lack of appetite is due to something harmless. 

It’s important to go to the vet if a lack of appetite persists beyond a couple of days. This is especially true if they’re also experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, lethargy, sudden weight loss, excessive thirst, or unusual stool. 

The vet will rule out any potential causes of your dog’s change in eating and help address these issues.

How to help your dog start eating regularly again

If your vet concludes that your dog isn’t eating because of their food or schedule, there are a few things you can do to help.

Change their food

Sometimes, dogs simply become bored of eating the same thing over and over. Can you blame them? It might be time to make a food change. 

Try swapping your dog’s food for something new, mixing between dry and wet food, or even mixing different brands. Before changing protein sources for your pup, try the same protein but in a different formula or food form. And always make changes gradually to avoid stomach upset.

Make their food more enticing

Things like heating your dog’s food or adding a bit of warm water can encourage an increase in your dog’s food intake. Add a tasty treat on top, like pumpkin, sweet potato, or chicken broth. You can also try using interactive food puzzles to make mealtime fun for your pup.

Cut back on treats

If you give your dog too many treats in between mealtimes, they might not be hungry at breakfast or dinner. Try to limit your dog’s treat intake and stay away from feeding them table scraps (these can also hurt their tummy).

Take your dog on a walk

Exercise expends energy and increases your dog’s appetite. Try taking your dog on a long walk, to the dog park, or play fetch for 30 minutes to help build up their appetite and get them ready for dinner.

Change their environment

Is your dog eating next to other pets in the house? This can make them feel nervous while they eat. Try switching up their environment or moving their food bowl to a new place in the house. Feed them out of a ceramic bowl instead of a metal bowl or switch up the height with raised bowls.

Keep your dog on a schedule

By sticking to the same feeding schedule every day, your dog will get into a habit and anticipate mealtime. Don’t leave their food out all day for them to graze, otherwise, it will be hard for you to determine how much they’re eating. Start your dog on a routine from when they’re a puppy.

Aside from simply following all of the above steps, you should always monitor your dog closely. Look for any changes to their daily routine and eating habits.

Sometimes getting Fido to eat regularly is as simple as changing up their food and making meal time more interesting for them. Other times, a lack of appetite can mean something serious. 

If you’re ever unsure, always make sure to visit your vet to get an expert opinion and help them address the underlying cause, look for signs of illness,  and rule out any medical or dental issues.

Frequently asked questions

How long can a dog go without eating?

If your dog has gone more than 24 hours without food you should call the vet. Anything more than that (especially any lack of food over 48 hours) could be a sign of a serious illness or an emergency.

What can you give a dog that refuses to eat?

You shouldn’t assume that your dog is just picky if they aren’t eating. Try healthy treats like pumpkin or bone broth to rule out pickiness. If this doesn’t work or if your dog exhibits other symptoms, you should always go to the vet to investigate.

Why is my dog throwing up bile and not eating?

If your pup is vomiting in the mornings and evenings or vomiting yellow fluid, they may have bilious vomiting syndrome (BVS). BVS causes decreased appetite and overproduction of bile can cause vomiting.

Why is my dog not eating but drinking water?

It’s a good sign if your dog continues to drink water. It could be an indicator that your dog’s lack of eating comes down to their being picky. Monitor your dog to see if their appetite returns.