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Most dogs are total chowhounds – so it’s concerning when your dog won’t eat. Though some dogs are habitual picky eaters, unusual anorexia in dogs is a cause for concern.
Your first stop if your dog won’t eat should be the vet. It’s far better to be safe than sorry! Even though your dog won’t starve if she skips a few meals, her lack of appetite could be a sign of a much more serious illness.
It’s important not to assume that your dog is just being picky or trying to “wait you out for better food.” Pickiness or reluctance to eat can be a sign of many, serious issues!
There are lots of potential reasons why your dog won’t eat. Let’s explore some potential causes here.
1. Stress (Good or Bad)
Just like people, many dogs are a bit less hungry when they’re stressed. Whether they’re too excited about an upcoming hunting trip or stressed about visiting relatives, temporary anorexia in dogs isn’t uncommon in stressful situations. This is also common in dogs that are recently adopted from the shelter.
2. Upset stomach
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation are all other symptoms that can indicate an upset stomach – or something more serious. If your dog’s stomach hurts, it’s not surprising if she doesn’t want to eat. The next question is: why does your dog’s stomach hurt? Your dog might not be eating because she’s nauseous, but the nausea could actually be due to another, more serious, underlying issue!
If your dog has recently eaten something unusual or just switched to new food, this is probably your culprit!
3. Dental Disease
Painful gums, oral ulcers, and loose teeth can all make your dog less excited about eating. Some dogs with dental disease will eat better if you soften their food first, but your real priority should be dealing with your dog’s dental disease.
Hip dysplasia, back pain, muscle soreness, arthritis, and more can all give your dog chronic pain. If your dog is distracted with pain, it’s not a surprise if she’s less hungry. Treating the source of the pain should help.
If your dog’s food upsets her stomach, she might be less interested in eating! Steer clear of cheap allergy tests if you suspect your dog has allergies – they just don’t work.
6. Ill-Advised Food Aggression Training
Archaic training techniques meant to deal with food aggression in dogs often actually make that aggression worse. In other cases, your dog might be too scared to eat! Attempting to show your dog that you’re the boss by messing with her food or punishing her for growling can actually cause your dog to be scared of eating. Read how to properly deal with food aggression here.
7. Drug Reactions
Many drugs and treatments can cause nausea or lack of appetite. Check with your vet if your dog’s lack of appetite cropped up after you started a new treatment.
8. Serious Illness, Such as Cancer
Myriad of serious diseases can cause a lack of appetite in your dog. It’s impossible to diagnose this without the help of a vet, which is why it’s so important to take your dog in for help! Your vet might want to check for pancreatitis, Addison’s disease, irritable bowel disease, kidney failure, urinary tract infections, pregnancy, leukemia, poisoning, and more.
Some parasites really hurt your dog’s stomach, making your dog less interested in food. Luckily, most parasites are easily treated at your vet’s to get your dog back to health!
SEE ALSO: What to Expect After Deworming a Puppy
10. Old Age
Some old dogs lose their appetite as they age. Generally, this is a symptom of other, underlying problems – but it can also be a simple reflection of reduced activity levels and increased rest time.
11. A Simple Cold
Taste is primarily driven by smell in humans, and likely the same is true with dogs. If your dog has a cold (or kennel cough), she might be less interested due to a clogged nose or just generally not feeling great. Colds are pretty contagious, so it’s important to talk to your vet even with a basic cold!
All of these are potential causes of loss of appetite in dogs. Unfortunately, in most cases, you really need to go see a vet to get to the bottom of the problem! Even if you figure out that your dog’s loss of appetite is due to a given problem, it’s important to treat the root of the problem with the guidance of a vet.
If there’s an obvious reason that your dog is less interested in food, you might be able to get your dog’s appetite back without help.
For example, my own dog won’t eat if we’re on our way to the ranch to go sheepherding – he’s just too excited! I solve this by feeding him before he knows we’re going herding.
When he ate a whole bunch of bananas last year and then skipped two meals, I wasn’t too worried. He started eating again after having diarrhea for a day. If his appetite hadn’t come back within another day or so, I would have taken him to the vet.
If you aren’t sure why your dog isn’t eating, it’s better to go to the vet sooner rather than later. Some causes of loss of appetite, like poisoning, are very time-sensitive.
While you’re waiting for the vet’s office to reopen or get you in for the appointment, here are a few other things to try:
- Give your dog something more tempting. Softening food, adding some shredded chicken or ground beef, or even warming food up a bit can help convince your dog to eat.
- Give your dog some time and space. Some dogs get a bit camera-shy, especially if they’re stressed out. Leave your dog’s food out and leave her alone with it.
- Offer food in a different area. If your dog is stressed or a bit nauseous, simply switching up how you offer the food can help. Some dogs will eat when their food is provided in a different bowl or a different room.
- Try hand-feeding. When I had a super-stressed-out foster dog who didn’t eat full meals for almost a week, she would still eat when I hand-fed her. Every day, twice a day, I put her kibble into my hands and praised her while she ate. If I put her food into a bowl, she wouldn’t eat. Some dogs need space to eat – other dogs need encouragement.
- Offer simple food. When my dog is nauseous, he generally will still eat a mixture of boiled chicken breast, brown rice, and canned dog food. I make this mixture and feed it for a few days whenever Barley’s stomach isn’t quite right.
Of course, none of these solutions is a long-term fix if your dog has parasites, allergies, kidney failure, a cold, or any of the other primary reasons that your dog won’t eat.
Once you get your dog to the vet, your vet will need to run a variety of tests to determine why your dog won’t eat. Treatment may range from basic antibiotics to inducing vomiting to full-on chemotherapy treatments.
While you’re waiting for your appointment at the vet, you might wonder how long your dog can go without eating. Luckily, your dog isn’t going to waste away if she misses a meal or two. Most dogs can go without food for three, four, or five days without too much long-term damage to their bodies.
Smaller dogs, dogs with less body fat, or dogs with other preexisting conditions will not be able to survive without eating for as long as a healthy, large dog.
That said, just because your dog can survive without food doesn’t mean you should wait that long before you go to the vet! You should get your dog to the vet long before organ failure and starvation sets in.