Why is my dog not eating — 10 reasons for loss of appetite
Previously, your dog would leap merrily around you as soon as you got anywhere near his food bowl, but now he is not remotely interested. If your dog experiences an occasional loss of appetite, that isn’t necessarily anything to worry about. But if this unwillingness to eat occurs frequently, you should investigate the cause.
From diet to health to hormonal causes: we have compiled 10 reasons to help you answer the question: why isn’t my dog eating?
How long can a dog go without food?
You do not need to worry about your dog starving through lack of food any time soon. Not that you should let it come to this, but a healthy adult dog can survive up to 25 days without food. On the other hand, if your dog is not drinking, that is more problematic: it would take about six days for dehydration to set in. Either way, if your dog is not eating, you will want to investigate why before any problems arise – the sooner you try to work out the reason for your dog’s loss of appetite, the better.
10 possible reasons why the dog is not eating
Just like humans, dogs are sensitive to stress. Have you moved house with your dog? Has something changed in his social environment, maybe another new pet or an unfamiliar human resident? Could he be pining for an absent caregiver or a long-time canine companion? Is there a female on heat in the vicinity who has attracted his attention? Or has something changed in terms of everyday routine? This can cause stress to your dog and put him off his food. Even the weather can have an impact on appetite.
2. Pain or injury
If a dog suddenly starts refusing food, an injury or pain could be the reason. Check for a foreign body in the dog’s mouth or for damage or inflammation affecting the gums. In this case, you need to head to the vet! If there is gum inflammation, our “Dental care for dogs” guide also has tips on how to avoid this in future.
Illness can also be revealed through loss of appetite. Bacterial infections, kidney problems, digestive complaints and other conditions can result in your dog refusing to eat. If this is accompanied by symptoms such as a temperature or vomiting, you should definitely consulta vet as soon as possible to rule out the possibility of a serious illness being the cause of your dog’s loss of appetite.
If your puppy does not want to eat, this could be due to teething. The pressure of the new teeth can feel very unpleasant in the mouth. This usually abates once the milk tooth gives way to the new tooth. You can speed up the teething process by giving your puppy special toys to chew on and make life easier by soaking dry food in lukewarm water until the teething period is over. Dogs generally start teething at about 4 months, the process takes about three months and is complete by the age of nine months. The length of time it takes to lose the milk teeth depends on the dog’s size: large breeds usually finish teething earlier than small breeds.
Chewing sticks that facilitate the change of teeth
5. Hormonal changes
When female dogs are on heat or during false pregnancy, they sometimes lose their appetite. Male dogs can also be indirectly affected: male dogs have been reported to go off their food if there is a female on heat in the vicinity. During this “oestrus phase” the male simply has other things on his mind than eating. However, since female dogs are only on heat once or twice a year, this hormonally induced disinterest in food is limited and there is no need to worry.
Older dogs have lower energy requirements and thus sometimes less interest in food. If an older dog shows a permanent loss of appetite, however, this could be a sign of illness, a diminishing sense of smell or taste, or stiffness. In the latter case, the dog is less flexible, which makes getting down to the food bowl to eat more difficult. You could see whether it helps your dog to reposition the food bowl a bit higher, making it easier to reach. Some older dogs also feel satiated more quickly than their younger counterparts, so you could try dividing their food into several smaller meals spread across the day to see if this improves their eating habits. If in doubt, you should get your dog examined by a vet to check whether a health issue could be causing the problem.
7. Fussy dogs
A little treat here, some leftover food there, and the occasional dog chew? Adding a bit of meat to dry food and then serving something entirely different in the morning? This is not a good idea because it encourages fussiness! If a dog gets all sorts of other treats in addition to their usual food, or if their daily diet is “pepped up” with little extras, this can make the dog fussy and so demanding you may struggle to cater to their discerning tastes. The solution is to avoid any snacks between meals to get the dog back on track. You should also avoid changing the feed too often.
8. Frequent changes of food
Does it feel like eating the same thing would be boring? While this might be true for us humans, the same does not apply for dogs. When it comes to food, dogs are creatures of habit, the canine digestive tract is not designed for frequent changes and the response can be stress, diarrhoea or other complaints. If you regularly change or vary the food, your dog may develop strong preferences and end up refusing certain varieties of food. Fussiness alert!
Desired changes of food should always be tackled slowly using a cautious approach, and you should stick to one variety once you have made your decision and are confident this meets your dog’s needs. Some dogs need longer, for example, to make the switch from wet to dry food. Transitioning from a lower quality product with a high sugar content to a higher quality food can also take a certain amount of time.
Between the age of 7 and 11 months some dogs go through their so-called “adolescent phase”. During canine puberty, dogs will test the limits. If your dog becomes much less obedient than usual or if you suspect signs of dominant behaviour, this could be linked to puberty. Your dog may refuse food (to some extent) to see what happens. It is important not to just give in or offer alternative food or treats. Otherwise, this teaches your adolescent that he can win through this behaviour and your dog is likely to continue trying his luck into adulthood.
10. Your dog is full
If your dog is not eating, keep a close eye on what other food is being offered outside main mealtimes. Sometimes a whole bunch of treats may have been consumed during the day in the form of various rewards, or because visitors have offered a well-intentioned snack. Then, when it comes to the main meal, your dog is simply full. Any additional little treats provided should be calculated as part of your dog's overall nutrition plan. This gives you a better overview and avoids your dog constantly leaving leftover food.
A couple more final tips
Once health reasons have been ruled out by your vet, you can help your dog rediscover his appetite if he has gone off his food.
Here’s a summary of how to encourage your dog to eat again:
- Physical activity makes you hungry – as we know for ourselves. So, grab your dog and get out on a long walk, maybe go jogging in the woods, or take a splash in the lake. This alone may well be enough to stimulate your dog’s appetite!
- Avoid putting your dog under any pressure when offering food; stay patient and allow plenty of time. And most importantly of all, don’t get angry, otherwise your dog will learn to associate negative energy with feeding.
- Offer lots of smaller meals and always keep the bowls clean.
- Only give your dog treats when a reward is really warranted.
- Never offer any of your own leftovers from the table – you’ll just have to resist that imploring doggy expression!
- Choose a high-quality dog food and avoid frequent changes of food.
High-quality dog food, also for fussy furry friends
In summary: there are many reasons for loss of appetite
If you are wondering “why won’t my dog eat?”, there are many potential underlying reasons. Go through our list, checking specific issues with a vet where appropriate. If there are no health reasons for your dog’s fussy eating behaviour, you can generally breathe a sigh of relief. Follow the various tips we’ve provided to get your dog back to more normal eating habits. If you offer treats as a reward when you are out and about, make sure you factor these in as part of your dog’s food plan. Be consistent, keep to regular feeding times and pay close attention to your dog. If in doubt, some extra petting sessions might help. After all, the way to a dog’s heart is through his stomach. Bon appétit!