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dog parent must-knows

Why is my dog not eating?

Picky eater or sick pup? Here’s a guide to help you figure out why your dog isn’t eating their food.

Updated August 27, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,

The essentials 

  • If your dog has suddenly stopped eating, don’t ignore it — It could be a sign of something more serious.
  • There are many reasons why your dog may not be eating — An underlying health or behavioral issue could be to blame.
  • 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.
  • Suspect your dog’s food or schedule is to blame? Try some useful tips to enhance your dog’s diet and daily routine.

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 because of underlying physical or psychological issues.

Common reasons why a dog won’t eat 

Underlying health issues

Your dog may not be eating because they’re facing one of these physical causes:

  • Illness. This 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.
  • Recent vaccinations. In some rare circumstances, recent vaccinations can have negative side effects on a dog’s body, one of which may be a loss of appetite. Vaccinations can make your dog feel drowsy and lethargic – these side effects are usually short-lived.
  • Medications. Certain medications may cause an upset stomach, making your dog not want to eat. If your dog is on chemotherapy or anti-inflammatory medicines, sometimes these cause nausea and stomach aches in dogs.
  • Dental disease. A painful mouth can cause your dog to stop eating. Your pup could have periodontal disease which causes loose or fractured teeth. Oral foreign bodies can also affect a dog’s appetite.

🚨 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.

Emotional and mental health issues

Dog’s have emotions too, and believe it or not, these feelings could be to blame for their lack of appetite:

  • Travel. Changes to a dog’s normal environment can cause them to stop eating. If you’re driving in the car, too much movement may make your pup motion sick — this can cause an upset stomach and vomiting.
  • Unfamiliar setting. Dogs like familiar places which they recognize by their sense of smell. If you move them to new environments where they feel threatened, they may stop eating.
  • Stress. General stress can make your dog less hungry. Avoid stress by treating them with constant care and by sticking to a healthy routine. Your dog could also suffer from separation anxiety which is when their caregivers leave for extended periods of time.

Issues with a dog’s food or schedule

  • Time of day. If your dog tends to eat at the same time every day, any changes to its schedule may cause them to stop eating.
  • Food preference. Your dog might just not like the food you’re feeding them. Certain dogs can be so picky that they’ll refuse to eat something that doesn’t meet their preference. Dogs are smart. They may catch onto the fact that if they don’t eat their food, they’ll get to eat something they do like (probably people food). Some dogs will hold out for days waiting for table scraps!
  • Food quality. Believe it or not, a dog may be able to sniff out bad-quality food. If this is the case for your pup, it’s time to switch up their food regimen.

My dog is getting older and eats less

As your dog gets older, you may notice that they 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.

👉 Try heating your dog’s food up! Heating food makes it smell stronger and better and may make it more appealing to your pet.

When should you visit the vet?

It never really hurts to take your dog to the vet, even if their lack of appetite is due to something harmless. It’s especially important to go to the vet if you answered yes to any of the above questions. Make sure to mention any other strange symptoms or behavior your dog is showing to the vet and they’ll proceed with other tests or a plan to help you feed your dog. The vet will rule out any potential causes of your dog’s change in eating.

The things you should pay attention to

  • How long has it been since your dog stopped eating? If it has been 24 hours, head to the vet, especially if your dog is diabetic.
  • Has your dog stopped drinking water? It’s a red flag if your dog stops drinking water. They could have a bladder infection, diabetes, or another illness that causes your dog’s thirst to decrease.
  • Is your dog vomiting, gagging, lethargic, or experiencing diarrhea? Take your pup to the vet immediately if they exhibit any of these extreme symptoms.

How to help your dog’s appetite 

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 — By simply swapping your dog’s food, they may begin eating again. If they’ve been eating dry food for a while, switch from a dry kibble to a high-quality wet food. Always be cautious when abruptly changing foods.  Before changing protein sources for your pup, try the same protein but in a different formula or food form.

“Always switch to a new food gradually, over five to seven days, in order to avoid causing an upset stomach.”

Dr. Erica Irish, DVM

Make their food more enticing — Do things like heating your dog’s food or adding a bit of warm water. Add a tasty treat on top, like pumpkin, sweet potato or chicken broth. You can also try using interactive food puzzles, like this treat-dispensing toy, which makes 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 hurt their tummy).

Take your dog on a walk Exercise expends energy and increases your dog’s appetite.

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.

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 a 48 hour period) 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.

👉 Don’t feed your dog something they could be allergic to. If you suspect your dog has allergies, consult your vet. 

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 in the stomach causes vomiting.

Why is my dog not eating but drinking water?

It’s a good sign if your dog continues to drink water. In fact, 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.