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My Dog Won't Eat: Understanding Loss of Appetite in Dogs

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If your dog is like most, he or she loves to eat. Whether they're scarfing up their normal kibble, a few tasty dog treats, or the occasional table scrap during dinnertime, eating is one of the great joys of life for our canine companions. 

That's why it can be concerning when your dog's appetite seems to be off. 

Dogs eat all kinds of food, including wet food, dry food, human food, treats, and everything in between. So if they're refusing to eat entirely, something is definitely out of order. But it's important that you don't panic right away because there is a wide variety of causes for loss of appetite in dogs. Some of them are less serious than others. 

Are you asking yourself why your dog won't eat? Read on as we examine the possible causes of your dog's appetite loss, go over what you can do at home to try and solve the problem, and explain when to seek help from your veterinarian. 

Causes of Loss of Appetite in Dogs

My dog won't eat: Cute white puppy kissing a woman

There are many possible reasons why your dog is refusing to eat their normal dog food. These reasons range from physical health problems and medical conditions to household changes and behavioral issues. Here are the most common reasons for your dog's lack of appetite. 

Pickiness

That's right — just like some humans, many of our four-legged friends are just plain picky when it comes to their dog food. 

A dog isn't usually born a picky eater. They're taught to be that way. Typically, dogs who've been offered a wide range of foods are the pickiest. They're used to being given something tastier than their dry kibble or canned food, so they're conditioned to wait until something they prefer comes along.

Is your dog refusing to eat his or her normal kibble but getting very excited about a new food or a delicious table scrap? It's likely that you have a picky eater on your hands. 

Illness or Injury

When you're sick with the flu or some other kind of illness, you don't usually feel like eating. The same goes for your dog. Illnesses, as well as physical injury and pain, are some of the leading causes of loss of appetite in dogs. 

Some of the most common medical issues that can lead to a loss of appetite include:

  • Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dental problems
  • Physical injuries that cause pain

Most of the time, other symptoms will come along with these health issues, like vomiting, diarrhea, uncharacteristic aggression, antisocial behavior, weight loss, and beyond. If you see these symptoms accompanying your dog's lack of appetite, let your veterinarian know right away.

Social, Emotional, or Behavioral Issues

Did you know that major changes in a dog's life can affect their eating habits? It's possible that moving to a new home, adding a new pet to the home, or making simple household changes like getting a new piece of furniture can affect your pooch's appetite. 

Stress at home can reduce a dog's desire to eat because they're more focused on the changes around them than they are on food. It's especially likely to affect older dogs, dogs who are very routine-based, or shy dogs. Depression is another possibility that can cause a change in how much your dog eats.

In most cases, a dog will get used to new changes around the house and resume their normal eating habits in a short time. But if the problem persists, you might need to seek the help of a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

Medications

If your dog has recently started taking a new medication, it could be the underlying cause of their appetite loss. Many medications can cause side effects like upset stomach in dogs, including common medications like antibiotics and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) given for pain. 

It's also possible that a recent vaccination or another simple medical procedure has your dog feeling a little under the weather. If the loss of appetite is caused by a one-off vaccine or medical procedure, your pooch should resume their normal eating habits in a few days.

Check with your vet to find out whether your dog's medications could be the cause of their loss of appetite. 

Aging

Although it's not the case for every dog, some of our canine companions seem to experience a decrease in appetite as they get older. Since most older dogs are less active than they once were, they generally need fewer calories to maintain their activity level. 

If your senior dog is in good health but seems to leave a bit more kibble in the food bowl than they used to, there's probably nothing to worry about. It's when a sudden change occurs or other obvious symptoms accompany the appetite change that dog owners should be concerned. 

Bad Food Quality

Of course, there's always the possibility that your dog isn't eating their food because it's gone bad or is stale. 

Dogs can usually detect when food has gone rancid, and they're not likely to eat it if that's the case. High-fat diets are more prone to this problem because the food goes bad when the fats inside it have degraded due to oxidation. 

Wet dog food can stay good for a very long time if it's unopened — years, in fact. But once canned food is opened, it should be thrown away after about a week or so to make sure it doesn't spoil, even if it's been refrigerated the whole time.

Dry kibble isn't as likely to become rancid, but it can grow stale after only a few weeks. Try to prevent this by storing kibble in an airtight container kept in a cool, dry, low-light environment. 

At-Home Remedies for Loss of Appetite

My dog won't eat: Black French bulldog sleeping

We've seen that many things can cause a dog to eat less than normal or stop eating altogether. Some of those causes are not immediately threatening to your dog's health, while some are serious medical issues.

If you think your dog's appetite loss is caused by a medical problem, contact your veterinarian for help. You'll want to have the underlying issue addressed as soon as possible so your dog can get back to full health quickly.

If you think your dog's eating habits have changed because of boredom with their food, minor stress, or plain old pickiness, there are a few things you can try at home:

  • Cut back on treats. When a dog receives a lot of tasty treats, he or she doesn't have much reason to wait around for their normal food. The same goes for table scraps. Keep these tasty morsels to a minimum. 
  • Implement a strict feeding schedule. Feed your dog only at specific times of day, and don't leave food sitting out for longer than 25 minutes or so. This way, your dog will get the idea that if they don't eat during those times, they won't eat at all. 
  • Exercise your dog before mealtimes. Giving your dog a good workout before mealtimes can stimulate the metabolism and improve their appetite.
  • Heat up your dog's food. Heating up your dog's food, or even adding a bit of hot water, can give it a stronger odor and entice your dog to eat it. Always check the food before serving it to your dog to make sure it's not too hot. 
  • Experiment with a different food. If you think your dog is bored with their same old food, try switching it up. A little change of pace may be all they need. Just remember to transition your dog's food slowly and according to package directions to avoid an upset stomach and further loss of appetite.

If the above methods don't seem to make a difference, let your veterinarian know. It might be time to seek professional help for your dog's appetite problem.

What Do I Do If My Dog Won't Eat?

If you've noticed a change in your dog's eating habits and your canine friend is eating less than he or she used to, don't panic. 

Sometimes, dogs get bored with their normal food. Sometimes, they're fed too many treats and table scraps. And other times, health or behavioral issues can cause a loss of appetite.

You know your dog best — if you think there's a medical problem, call your veterinarian. Otherwise, try switching up your dog's food, heating it up, or implementing a feeding schedule. And if the at-home remedies described above don't get your dog back to their normal eating pattern, seek help. 

For more information on your dog's nutrition and healthcare needs, visit the Pet Honesty blog.