My Dog Won’t Eat!

You can trust a dog to guard your house, but never trust a dog to guard your sandwich! If you find that statement to be true then you are one of the many pet parents who has a great eater…but many dogs can be picky.

“My dog won’t eat” is something veterinarians hear often. If your dog is a picky eater, getting them to ‘chow down’ can be hard work and quite worrying, but is there something else going on?

There are a number of reasons why your dog may have no appetite, or may have recently lost their appetite. So, it’s very important to figure out why they’re not eating before we can come up with a solution or treatment plan to get them back on track.

What’s Normal?

That’s a good question. How are you measuring your dog’s appetite? If they eat some of their meal, but not all, maybe they’re just full! If your worry is down to your dog not eating the amount suggested on the packaging for a dog of their size, remember those are average figures. Many perfectly healthy dogs eat around 75% of the amount stated on the packaging.

Feeding directions on most pet food labels overestimate the calorie needs of many adult dogs (and cats) unless they are very active, or if they are un-neutered adults. Conspiracy theorists often touted that this was to get your dog to eat more food more quickly, so pet food companies would make more money! What actually happens is usually far less nefarious. The calculations of dogs’ and cats’ calorie requirements are typically made from animals that were much more active than most of our house pets.

Dogs and cats are like us hoomans – the number of calories they need to maintain or reach an ideal body condition depends upon factors like age, activity level, genetics, and a variety of other individual factors. I found a great article on this topic from a veterinary colleague in Massachusetts, if you want to read more.

The outcome – don’t rely on the feeding directions on the packaging to decide if your pet is eating enough (or too much!) – always consult with your veterinarian.

Loss of Appetite can Indicate Illness

dog not eatingChange is what you need to look out for. It is important to seek veterinary care if you notice changes in your dog’s eating habits. Loss of appetite in dogs can indicate illness, and it’s important to respond promptly to a refusal to eat in dogs that usually eat well.

Even though most dogs can go a couple of days without food with no significant side effects, it’s best to address the problem early.

My Dog Won’t Eat! Possible Reasons Why…

Just like us, there could be a number of reasons why your dog won’t eat.  These include:

  • Illness. Loss of appetite is often a sign of illness. Is he/she showing any other symptoms? Vomiting and/or diarrhea. Lethargy? Just as with humans, loss of appetite doesn’t mean something serious is going on, it could be something simple, but it’s worth checking out promptly, especially if other symptoms are present.
  • Dental Issues. When you get a toothache, eating is no fun is it? It’s the same for dogs. He/she may not want to eat because something is causing pain in their mouth. Have them checked for a broken or loose tooth, severe gingivitis and even an oral tumor.
  • Recent Vaccination. A temporary loss of appetite is a common side effect to many canine vaccinations. The positives of these vaccinations still outweigh the negatives, as many serious and contagious dog diseases have been prevented. The majority of side effects, if any, are minor and brief .
  • Anxiety. Away on a trip? Moved home? If your dog’s appetite was fine and now it’s not, it may be that your dog won’t eat because of anxiety about their unfamiliar surroundings. Remember, you know you’re on vacation or in a new  home, your dog doesn’t know there is nothing to worry about! It’s the same if your pet stays home with a sitter, while you take a trip. Are you ever coming back? Dogs love routine, and a break in routine can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause loss of appetite.
  • Pickiness, Behavior, or Environmental Issues. Again, like kids…some dogs are just picky! Or their refusal to eat may be caused by feeding them in uncomfortable situations. Is there another dominant dog in the family? Is the bowl at an uncomfortable height? Do they not like the noise that their collar makes when it bangs against a metal food bowl? (Yes, that was a thing!) BUT…never assume that your dog is picky without investigating other possibilities first.

My Dog Won’t Eat! What to do…?

If your dog has refused to eat for one or two meals, and there are no other symptoms, give them time. A dog can go a day or two without eating. THAT SAID, if there are other symptoms – vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, etc. – then waste no time in consulting with your veterinarian. There could be something going on that requires immediate attention.

If there are no other symptoms and your dog’s refusal to eat stretches into a second or third full day, then it’s time to determine the cause of the problem by reaching out to your veterinarian. After a telephone consult, they may give you some instructions, tell you to monitor the dog, or they may tell you to bring him/her in. What happens next will depend on what your vet determines to be the problem.

prescription diet for dogsIf after examination and/or tests, appetite loss is due to a diagnosed illness, your vet may recommend a prescription diet. A prescription diet is designed to meet your pet’s nutritional needs while the underlying disease is being treated. The downside to prescription diets is that they are not particularly tasty. If your dog is ill, don’t starve it to get it to eat the prescribed diet. Instead, stay in touch with your vet and ask about alternative options. In more severe cases, your vet may prescribe appetite-stimulating medications, recommend syringe-feeding a liquid diet, or even insert a feeding tube.

If no medical issues are diagnosed, and your dog’s decreased appetite is believed to be an environmental or behavioral issue caused by pickiness or unease at mealtime, here are a few things to try.

  • Reduce the Treats – If their hunger is being wholly satisfied by treat calories, cut back the treats!
  • Regular Schedule – If you don’t already do it, feed your dog on a regular schedule. Dogs thrive on routine. Usually feeding at least twice a day is best – around the same time each morning and evening.
  • Making Meals Fun – If it’s a behavioral issue where your dog associates meals with fear for some reason, try to make it a fun experience. Play with a toy that dispenses food (not treats). Reward your dog with food (not a treat) for obeying a command – sit, stay, down, come, etc.
  • New Food – If your dog is bored of kibble, try a canned food…or vice versa. Chat with your vet about the options, and also about transitioning between diets to avoid short-term GI issues.
  • Stimulate Appetite – Take your dog for a walk before mealtime – just don’t feed them within about 45 minutes of strenuous exercise.
  • Dog eating from elevated bowlChange of Environment –  If you usually feed your picky dog with other animals, try feeding alone. You can also try using different bowls or dishes at different heights to see if that encourages them to eat. Side note: elevated feeding stations can have quite a few benefits. Alternatively, if you have a crate where your dog feels safe, try feeding them in their crate. Or try putting food on the floor of the crate next to the feeding dish.
  • It’s All Gravy! If your dog is usually a kibble fan, maybe they’ve just got bored. Adding a little warm water to create a gravy can make the dish more appealing.
  • Add a Little Something Healthy! – I often recommend adding a little chicken baby food (stage 1) to meals to add some flavor and to stimulate appetite. For our overweight fur kids, you could try canned pumpkin with no sugar added, fresh frozen green beans, or cauliflower. Avoid starches such as peas, corn, and carrots for pups carrying too much weight. Let it sit for a while – within a nose’s reach – and then feed.

Contact Compassionate Animal Care Today

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet not eating, please talk to us, or your own veterinarian. Please call 480.774.6995 to schedule a clinic appointment with Compassionate Animal Care today, or call 602.359.2031 for a mobile vet appointment with the East Valley.

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