A dog not eating can be significant for some and normal for others. For some dogs, fussy eating is a way of life, but for others, a loss of appetite is out of character and must be taken note of.

If it’s unusual that your dog won’t eat, monitor them carefully. Be alert for other symptoms, such as sickness and diarrhea, and if the dog is unwell always contact your vet.

To better understand why dogs may not eat, PetPace has this overview.

  1. The Fussy Eater
  2. The Attention Seeker
  3. Stressed or Depressed
  4. Bad Associations
  5. Too Many Treats
  6. Spoilt Food
  7. Dental Disease
  8. The Nauseous Dog
  9. The Medicated Dog
  10. The Feverish Dog
  11. The General Symptom Dog

Behavioral Reasons

A behavioral cause of poor appetite implies the dog is healthy but they choose not to eat. Typical reasons for this include:

#1: The Fussy Eater

Dogs are smart, really smart. If a dog refuses to eat their kibble and then a sausage appears on the plate, what does he learn?

They learn that refusing a boring food results in something more tasty appearing. In other words, this fussy appetite is rewarded. For the unsuspecting owner, down this path lies the task of tempting the dog with ever more scrumptious foods to get their perfectly healthy dog to eat.

If a fussy appetite is the dog’s only issue, pandering to them makes mealtimes a constant battle. The dog has to learn a different lesson, which is that they eat the food on offer or go hungry. Give them some tough love by putting their food down and if it isn’t eaten, take it away until the next meal time.

#2: The Attention Seeker

This is a variation on the fussy eater, only the dog gets a kick out of attention rather than tasty food. The attention-seeking poor eater thrives on being fussed over by their anxious owner. Again, not eating is rewarded by petting and cooing, which for some dogs is more valuable than a full stomach.

Again, the answer is tough love. Put the dog’s food down and leave the room for 10 minutes. If the food hasn’t gone by the time your return, ignore the dog, pick up the bowl and throw the food away. Then follow the same routine at the next meal time.

Eventually, the penny will drop that the only consequence of not eating is an empty belly, and the attraction of refusing food to get attention is removed.

#3: The Stressed or Depressed Dog

A stressed or depressed dog may lose their appetite, just like people do.

This emotional distress can be triggered for many reasons such as a change of routine, the loss of a close companion, or the arrival of a new pet.

These dogs may not be deliberately seeking attention. but even so, don’t fall into the trap of rewarding their loss of appetite. Instead, keep their routine as normal as possible, since this adds a sense of security. And, just as for #2 don’t make a big deal out of mealtimes.

A significantly depressed dog should see the vet to check they are otherwise well. Some dogs may need medication to help them through a rough patch.

#4: Bad Memories

Remember that time you mixed antibiotics into Mr. Fluffles food and he refused to eat? Well, some dogs have long memories.

Dogs can develop ‘food aversion’. This is where they decline food because they associate it with something unpleasant. This can also happen when a dog is offered a particular food when they feel ill. Ever afterward, they have only to smell that food for the memories of feeling sick to come flooding back… and they refuse to eat.

Try to avoid food aversion happening in the first place, by mixing the medication in food you don’t need the dog to eat on a daily basis.

#5: The Too-many Treats Dog

Remember how your Mom used to tell you not to eat between meals?

A dog that constantly gets treats may feel too full to eat their food. If you need to give treats in order to train the dog, then put a portion of their dinnertime kibble in a container and use this for rewards. That way, they get a square meal but spread out over the day.

#6: The Food’s Off

If that bag of kibble has been open for a while, it might have gone rancid or mice have gotten in. For a dog with sensitive taste buds, this can put them off their show.

Buying bulk bags can be a false economy if they last for too long and go stale.

Medical Reasons

If your dog won’t eat and this is out of character, check in with a vet. It’s important that the underlying cause is identified and treated, to get the dog back on their paws.

Here are some of the most common medical reasons for loss of appetite.

#7: Dental Disease Dogs

Toothache is miserable, but unfortunately, dental disease is all too common in dogs. This includes sore gums (gingivitis), wobbly teeth, and infected tooth roots.

Clues to dental disease include:

  • Foul breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • The dog seems hungry but refuses to eat
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Dropping food out of the mouth
  • Excessive drooling and/or blood-tinged saliva

Dental disease needs treatment by your vet.

#8: The Nauseous Dog

If a dog feels sick, they won’t want to eat. There a many reasons a dog may feel nauseous with some examples including

  • Incubating a stomach upset
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Kidney disease

The important thing here is not to guess but have a vet examine the dog to get the answer.

#9: The Medicated Dog

Is your dog taking medications?  

All drugs have the potential for side effects. For example, pain relievers may cause stomach ulcers as a side effect.

If your dog takes medications and then stops eating, contact your vet.

#10: The Feverish Dog

A dog running a high temperature is unlikely to eat.

Again, don’t guess as to the reason but seek professional help.

#11: The General Symptom Dog

Not eating or ‘anorexia’ is a general symptom. From the pain of pancreatitis to the toxins linked to pyometra, there are many medical reasons why a dog’s appetite might fail.

Seeking veterinary attention is vital, so don’t delay seeking help.

My Dog Won’t Eat: Should You See the Vet?

Last but not least, how do you know whether to visit the vet or not.

If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the following, then at least phone the clinic for advice.

  • A poor appetite is out of character
  • The dog’s general behavior has changed
  • The dog has lost weight
  • They lack energy
  • They have other symptoms such as sickness, diarrhea, a cough, excessive thirst, or a fever
  • Not eating means the dog won’t take vital meds (such as heart or epilepsy medications)
  • The dog has another health problem, such as diabetes
  • The dog is pregnant
  • You’re worried

My dog won’t eat?  Always listen to your gut instinct. If your dog won’t eat and it’s out of character, don’t worry about making the diagnosis yourself, instead, seek professional help and see your vet.