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essential nutrition advice for your pet.

Why Won't My Dog Eat? Causes & How to Get a Dog to Eat

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Why Won't My Dog Eat? Causes & How to Get a Dog to Eat

February 14, 2014 / (7) comments

Pet owners understandably become concerned when they think that their beloved companion is not eating enough. When I’m presented with a case like this, the first thing I do is try to determine if a problem truly exists. Sometimes owners mistake picky eating for not eating. As long as the pet is not too thin and is maintaining his or her weight, then caloric intake is fine. Conversely, if the pet is underweight or has been losing weight, we do have a problem. The challenge is to find out why the dog is not eating enough.


So Why Won't My Dog Eat?


There are a few reasons that may explain why your dog won't eat, and they can be categorized as problems with food or medical problems. A few questions will usually identify or rule out a problem with the food itself. If the owner purchases 40 pound bags of kibble for a 10 pound dog, the food is either losing its appeal at best, or at worst, starting to turn rancid. Dry food remains fresh for about one month after the bag is opened. It stays fresher in a tightly closed bag or container. Canned food is only good for about 3-5 days after opening if it is kept refrigerated.


Most dogs readily accept new foods, but if the type of food was recently changed, the dog may truly prefer the old variety. Trying the previous food again will determine if this is the case. Environmental factors can play a role too. If it’s too cold or hot, the aroma (or lack thereof) of the food may not be enticing the pet to eat.


Once I’ve ruled out a problem with the food, I’m left with the possibility of a medical problem. Unless the answer is readily apparent on a physical examination (e.g., an oral tumor), I next recommend a complete blood profile, urinalysis, and fecal examination to rule out diseases that affect the taste and smell of foods. Conditions such as kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and liver disorders can reduce the dog’s sense of smell and taste (extrapolated from studies in humans and expected to hold true for dogs as well), but any disease that makes a pet feel nauseous or weak can reduce his desire to eat. Most conditions can be identified through some combination of a good physical examination, lab work, and imaging studies (e.g., X-rays or ultrasound).


How to Get Your Dog to Eat


Once a medical problem is identified and treatment started, how can you make food more appealing to your dog? Warming it to body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) using a microwave or warm water will increase its aroma, but take care not to overdo it and burn the dog’s mouth. Serving the meal right after an enjoyable activity, like a walk, hand feeding, and praising the dog after he takes a bite may also help encourage him to eat.


If a dog just won’t eat a particular food, try a different brand or formulation. Older dogs (over 7 years of age) may enjoy a senior diet as these foods are made to be more palatable for dogs that may have a reduced sense of smell. You can also try adding small amounts of other foods to encourage him to eat. Adding a small amount of syrup, honey, or salt-free chicken broth may entice him. Fruits and veggies are also good additives, but avoid grapes, raisins, and onions, which can be toxic.


If none of these recommendations do the trick, talk to your veterinarian. Some dogs need the help of an appetite stimulant or feeding tube as they recover and regain their appetites.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Patryk Kosmider / Shutterstock


Comments  7

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  • Dog Food
    02/17/2014 11:45pm

    "If none of these recommendations do the trick, talk to your veterinarian."

    Quite honestly, I would think that the first step should be talking to your veterinarian. In my opinion, a full history is essential, especially if there have been eating problems in the past.

  • 02/21/2014 11:10pm

    You should never give brown chocolate for an encourage. Continually give healthy and balanced food and also Scientific research Diet programs or you just encourage the dog with lots of love and particular attention.


  • Drug reaction
    02/21/2014 05:02am

    My dog was on a combo of cephalexin and ketaconazole and stopped eating. The vets treating him did not believe me. On the first visit, I was told this drug combo is well tolerated. The second visit I was told If my dog wasn't eating it was because I was over feeding. The third visit I was told he was a healthy weight. At that point I pushed back and said he had lost 10 lbs in 6 weeks. "Oh, he's anorexic" was the response.
    He tolerates cephalexin, but ketaconazole makes him sick.

  • Could it be psychological
    04/28/2014 03:52pm

    It is well known that animals, especially dogs, enjoy food. In the case of my own 13 year old dog, which has wrongfully been brought up as a "human" in the family, gets her bowl of dog food but is constantly a beggar and scavenger for food.

    I recently left my family home to study. Since my departure my mother had noticed that my dogs behaviour had changed. Among many things she had stopped eating, lost a lot of weight, and was disinterested by food. Naturally she thought it was because the dog was now old and had gotten sickly. The vet had no diagnosis for my dog, she was clear of any medical conditions, but we had no answer to the sudden distaste in food. He did however suggest to my mother that I, having left home, may have had an impact.

    The only thing my dog would drink was milk. This confirmed my vets theory, dogs can get depressed and stop eating, as I would leave my dog the left over milk in my cereal bowl every morning.

    Dogs are very possessive and loving animals with which humans strongly bond with but we must also realise that they too feel this bond. Could the reason for a dog's change in eating habits be psychological?

  • 04/28/2014 07:27pm

    Grief can cause pets to stop eating, but even if that is the "only" cause, it needs to be addressed. Your dog's symptoms are serious enough that they warrant a complete health work up and if nothing of significance is found, symptomatic treatment.

  • Dog may be starving
    09/10/2014 10:08pm

    Our dog recently had a large number of infected teeth removed - we took her in to remove 2 abscessed teeth and the vet removed 16! We were stunned, to say the least. Now, about 6 weeks out, she has lost a great deal of weight (she was overweight, but now so boney we can seek her spine and ribs and she looks starved to death) and has quit eating. We have tried tempting her with all kinds of favorite foods. Some have been accepted initially, and then she won't eat (but will drink water) anything at all. Not sure what to do, but we are really worried.
    Any suggestions? She is actually mother's dog and mom can't stand the idea of going back to the vet.

  • 09/11/2014 04:58pm

    I'm afraid that the only way to find out what is going on and how best to address it is to have her examined by a veterinarian. If your mom is not comfortable returning to the original vet clinic, she could always see someone else.